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III. Rêve et fictions chinoises : une « autre scène » de la subjectivité

This Fearful Object of Desire: On the Interpretation of a Bad Dream in Wang Shifu’s Story of the Western WingGlossary

Ce terrifiant objet du désir : à propos de l’interprétation d’un mauvais rêve dans Le Pavillon de l’Ouest de Wang Shifu
Rainier Lanselle
p. 205-238


Zhang Sheng’s dream at the end of the fourth book of the celebrated zaju of the Yuan period—The Story of the Western Wing (Xixiang ji) by Wang Shifu—has attracted little attention. Yet it is of central importance as it involves essential information concerning the relationship between the two main characters of the story and their contradictions. This is highly consequential, as the Xixiang ji features at the core of the Chinese imaginary of love during the whole premodern period. This particular dream scene inherits from a long lineage of textual tradition, and in turn has had a lasting influence on other texts. The interpretation of this dream by Jin Shengtan, which we can infer through his own edition of the play in the 17th century, is highly compatible with a modern approach, as could be drawn from Jacques Lacan’s theory of desire, the subject, and the Other.

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The love story and the love dream
The evolution of the theme
The feminine figure remodelled
Rewriting and interpretation
The elusive Other of the dream
Is there something beyond the dream?
Conclusion: the long-lasting destiny of an unremarkable dream

First lines

If one would think of the theme of dreams in great Chinese classical plays, the first example to come to mind would probably be Tang Xianzu’s (1550-1616) series of four chuanqi, the “Four Dreams of Yuming Hall”, or “of Linchuan” (Yumingtang si meng, Linchuan si meng), four works in which dreams play a pivotal role. If one would think about love dreams, one would even more readily mention one of the titles of this group, The Peony Pavilion, alias The Return of the Soul, Mudan ting Huanhun ji, in which the heroine meets her perfect match in a dream and love has the power to bring the dead back to life. The impact of this drama on the readers and society of its time has been tremendous, and this reception is not immune to the fact that here, dreams clearly direct reality—put in Freudian terms, they are undoubtedly the perfect fulfillments of wishes.

What I will address in this paper is more modest, as it deals with a much more down-to-earth dream, one that has drawn little attention, al...

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Bibliographical reference

Rainier Lanselle, “This Fearful Object of Desire: On the Interpretation of a Bad Dream in Wang Shifu’s Story of the Western WingGlossary”Extrême-Orient Extrême-Occident, 42 | 2018, 205-238.

Electronic reference

Rainier Lanselle, “This Fearful Object of Desire: On the Interpretation of a Bad Dream in Wang Shifu’s Story of the Western WingGlossary”Extrême-Orient Extrême-Occident [Online], 42 | 2018, Online since 01 December 2020, connection on 12 May 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Rainier Lanselle

(fr) Directeur d’études à l’École Pratique des Hautes Études (IVe Section, Sciences historiques et philologiques) et directeur du CRCAO, Centre de recherche sur les civilisations de l’Asie orientale, UMR 8155. Son domaine d’études est la littérature de fiction des Yuan aux Qing (roman, conte, théâtre), notamment en relation avec les formes d’expression de la subjectivité. CV, présentation des activités et liste des publications sur [].
(en) Ph. D. student at the East Asian Civilisations Research Centre (CRCAO-UMR 8155) and Université Paris Diderot (Doctoral School 131). Her doctoral dissertation explores the aspects of subjective writing in Chinese fictional dream accounts of major works of the early and mid-Qing period. Her research revolves around stories of the supernatural—including themes such as journeys to the netherworld, death, and rebirth.

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