Patriotic Princess also known as Princess Chang Ping was written as a piece of Cantonese opera in 1957 in Hong Kong. Set in the last days of the Ming dynasty, Patriotic Princess focuses on the life of Princess Chang Ping, 长平公主, the eldest daughter of the last Ming emperor Chong Zhen, 崇祯皇帝.
Fall of Ming dynasty
When the rebel armies of Li Zi Cheng, 李自成, began entering Beijing in the spring of 1644, Emperor Chong Zhen ordered his Empresses and consorts to commit suicide rather than be captured and humiliated by the rebel troops. The emperor attempted to stab Princess Chang Ping but only managed to injure her arm. After she fainted from her injury, Emperor Chong Zhen hanged himself at the Coal Hill (Prospect Hill) behind the Forbidden City.
Princess Chang Ping was saved by a Ming minister who attempted to present her to the Manchu emperor who had ousted Li Zi Cheng and established the Qing Dynasty in China.
The princess escaped and hid in a nunnery and was later reunited with her prince consort, Zhou Shi Xian, 周世显. The couple came up with a plan to offer themselves as hostages to the Qing court under the conditions that the Qing court arrange a proper funeral for the deceased Emperor Chong Zhen and release the former Ming Crown Prince, half brother of Princess Chang Ping.
To the Qing emperor, it was a great political publicity. To hold a wedding for the Ming princess and to adopt her as a foster daughter (in reality as a hostage), the Qing court was able to show that the former imperial family had submitted to and accepted Qing rule in China.
After the Qing Emperor fulfilled his promises, Princess Chang Ping and Prince Consort Zhou Shi Xian were married in the palace. On the wedding night, they committed suicide by toasting each other poisoned nuptial wine. This scene is performed in the last section of the opera and is considered one the most important highlights of the opera.
Set in a garden that serves as their nuptial chamber, the lyrics juxtapose symbols of wedding and funeral to bring forth a complex fusion of determination interlaced with a sense of despair while professing their love for and commitment to each other.
Princess Chang Ping laments about her desire to grow old together with her Prince Consort but how that desire shall end with their suicide. She asked who would want blood flowing like the dripping wax on a wedding night.
She then sang about using her phoenix crown as burial clothes, expressed sadness that her beloved Prince Consort should have to die with her and how their tomb shall become their bridal chamber.
Suicide as political resistence
Patriotic Princess is essentially a work of political resistance and develops death as a complex and multi-dimensional mechanism to demonstrate political resistance, and a dramatic means of declaring political allegiance, loyalty and filial piety.
By offering themselves as hostages, Princess Chang Ping and Prince Consort Zhou fulfilled filial duties of the time by giving her deceased parents a proper burial. By negotiating for the release of the Ming Crown Prince, the couple fulfilled their political obligation to the fallen dynasty. The released crown prince could serve as a figure head to rally anti Qing forces and should they overthrow the Qing conquerors and restore the Ming dynasty, the dynasty would immediately have an emperor.
On the other hand, to accept their position as foster children of the Qing Emperor would also acknowledge the Manchu’s mandate to rule China. That acknowledgement was removed through their act of suicide and as a final show of loyalty and allegiance to the fallen Ming dynasty.