->''"Love is of source unknown, yet it grows ever deeper. The living may die of it, by its power the dead live again. Love is not love at its fullest if one who lives is unwilling to die for it, or if it cannot restore to life one who has died. And must love that comes in dream necessarily be unreal? For there is no lack of dream lovers in this world. Only for those whose love must be fulfilled on the pillow, and for whom affection deepens only after retirement from office, is it an entirely corporeal matter.''
-->-- Preface to ''The Peony Pavilion''

Tang Xianzu's kunqu opera ''The Peony Pavilion'', or 牡丹亭 (Mǔdāntíng), was Ming-dynasty China's answer to ''Theatre/RomeoAndJuliet''. A lyrical celebration of romance that premiered in 1598, it ignited the Chinese equivalent of the Romantic movement-- the cult of ''qing'', or sensibility. It also spawned an outpouring of FanArt, {{Fanfiction}}, and FanWank in the form of readers' commentaries, making these behaviors OlderThanSteam. Crazed {{Fan Girl}}s were said to offer themselves up to Tang on a regular basis, while FanBoy[=s=] busied themselves painting miniatures of the play's [[PerverseSexualLust winsome young heroine]] to sell for cheap.

Budding {{ingenue}} Du Liniang ditches her lessons one day to take a nap in the garden. Asleep, she meets dashing scholar Liu Mengmei, who romances her in her dreams. Long after she wakes up, Liniang continues to obsess over her dream and begins to waste away from literal lovesickness. She dies, but not before leaving behind a portrait of herself at the height of her beauty.

Liu Mengmei shows up in her old haunt, the flower garden, looking for the beautiful maiden he fell in love with once in a dream. He takes up residence in the shrine dedicated to his unknown lover's memory and pores over her self-portrait each night with no clue who the subject is. Meanwhile, Liniang descends to the underworld, where a sympathetic judge decides she deserves one last shot at love.
!! ''The Peony Pavilion'' contains examples of:
* AgentScully: Liniang's father Du Bao.
* AgentMulder: Daoist nun and shrine-keeper Sister Stone.
* AllJustADream: Subverted. A dream ignites the entire plot.
* BackFromTheDead: Du Liniang.
* BawdySong: Intro aria of wacky Daoist nun Sister Stone.
* BoyMeetsGirl: In a dream.
* CantHaveSexEver: Sister Stone's hymen is rock hard-- hence the name-- forcing her to leave her marriage for the cloisters.
* CelestialBureaucracy: Okays Liniang's return to the world of the living so she can get her man.
* ComicallyMissingThePoint: Liniang's tutor assigns her a bunch of love poems from the ''Book of Songs'' for her moral instruction, making her even more dreamy and lovelorn.
* DeathBySex
* EroticDream
* TheFairFolk: The Flower Spirit who watches over the lovebirds when they first consummate their affair. Liniang also gets mistaken for one when she shows up in ghostly form.
* FantasticRomance: when Liniang is a ghost (who can apparently still have sex), before Mengmei helps restore her to her earthly body.
* FlatEarthAtheist: Liniang's father Du Bao.
* FlowerMotifs
* GentlemanAndAScholar: Liu Mengmei. Also playwright Tang Xianzu himself.
* GoodPeopleHaveGoodSex
* HappilyEverAfter
* HilarityEnsues: Liu Mengmei, fresh from pwning the imperial examinations, comes to pay his respect to his father-in-law who... mistakes him for a graverobber?
* IllGirl: Du Liniang.
* TheIngenue: Du Liniang.
* TheJudge: CelestialBureaucracy functionary who helps Liniang come back to life.
* LittleMissSnarker: Liniang's maid, Chunxiang.
* LoveBeforeFirstSight: Neither protagonist met each other in person before they fell in love.
* LoveHurts: Enough to kill.
* MeaningfulName: Liniang's name means "bridal". Liu Mengmei is "Willow Dream-of-Apricot"-- a name he chose after the garden dream to make himself more easily identifiable by his dream lover.
* PerverseSexualLust: Liu Mengmei really admires Liniang's self-portrait.
* RealisticDictionIsUnrealistic: It's a kunqu opera-- allusions all over the place.
* RomanticismVersusEnlightenment: The Chinese version, li (rationality) verses qing (sensibility).
* ShoutOut: To the ''Analects'', and other classical texts.
* SlidingScaleOfIdealismVersusCynicism: Way towards the idealistic end.
* SpiritualSuccessor: To ''Romance of the Western Chamber''.
* TakeThat: To orthodox Confucianists. Was also subjected to this by Kong Shangren in ''Peach Blossom Fan''-- he basically said the Ming dynasty fell because people liked ''The Peony Pavilion'' too much.
* TechnicalVirgin: After her resurrection, Liniang mentions she's still a virgin even though Mengmei slept with her in both dream and ghost form already.
* ThePowerOfLove: Practically the trope codifier in the Chinese canon.
* PurpleProse
* SternTeacher: Liniang's tutor, Chen.
* TallDarkAndHandsome: Liu Mengmei
* WhatTheHellHero: Mengmei fails to recognize the ghost of Liniang when she appears, even though he's been staring at her portrait every night.