Kenneth Pai (Pai Hsien-yung / Bai Xianyong) has been described as a "melancholy pioneer."
He was born in Guilin, Guangxi, China at the cusp of both the Second Sino-Japanese War and subsequent Chinese Civil
War. Pai's father was the famous Kuomintang (KMT) general Pai Chung-hsi, whom
he later described as a "stern, Confucian father" with "some
soft spots in his heart." He was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of
seven, and during which time he lived separately from his siblings (of which he
would have a total of nine). He lived with his family in Chongqing, Shanghai, and Nanjing before moving to Hong Kong in 1948 and Taiwan in 1952.
Pai went abroad in 1963 to study literary theory and creative writing at the
University of Iowa. That same year, Pai's mother, the
parent with whom Pai had the closest relationship, died, and it was this death
to which Pai attributes the melancholy that pervades his work. After earning
his M.A. from Iowa, he became a professor of Chinese literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has
resided in Santa Barbara ever since. Pai retired from UCSB in 1994.
Crystal Boys (1983; English translation, San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press, 1990), tells the story
of a group of homosexual youths living in 1960s Taipei largely from the viewpoint of a young,
gay runaway. Other famous works include Fallen Immortals (1967); Wandering in the Garden, Waking from a Dream (1968; English translation, Indiana Univ. Press,
1982); Taipei People (1971; Chinese-English bilingual edition, Chinese Univ. of Hong
Kong, 2000); and Lonely Seventeen (1976). Bai’s works have been translated into English, French, Korean, Japanese, German, and
A higher proportion of Pai's work has been turned into films, TV or stage
plays than almost any other contemporary Taiwanese writer. Stories works as Jade
Love, The Last Night of Taipan Chin, Crystal Boys, and Wandering in the Garden,
Waking from a Dream are recognized classics of Chinese-language fiction.
Regardless of whether he was writing creative
works in Taiwan or teaching Chinese literature at UC Santa Barbara, Pai’s love affair with Kun opera has never weakened. He was involved in two prior
productions of Peony Pavilion, in
1983 and 1992, but those were abridged versions of the
original opera. For this version, he took on the task of creating an adaptation
that is suited to modern tastes and yet remains faithful to the original opera,
including all the traditional performance practices of kun opera.