The Injustice to Dou E

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Dou E Yuan
Traditional Chinese 竇娥冤
Simplified Chinese 窦娥冤
Literal meaning The injustice to Dou E
Gan Tian Dong Di Dou E Yuan
Traditional Chinese 感天動地竇娥冤
Simplified Chinese 感天动地窦娥冤
Literal meaning The injustice to Dou E that touched Heaven and Earth

Dou E Yuan, commonly translated as The Injustice to Dou E, and also known as The Injustice Done to Tou Ngo and Snow in Midsummer, is a Chinese play written by Guan Hanqing (c. 1241–1320) during the Yuan dynasty. The full Chinese title of the play is Gan Tian Dong Di Dou E Yuan, which roughly translates to The Injustice to Dou E that Touched Heaven and Earth. It remains one of Guan's most popular works.[1] The story was repeatedly used and modified by later dramatists.



Dou Duanyun, a young maiden from Chuzhou (楚州; present-day Huai'an District, Huai'an, Jiangsu), is sold to the Cai family as a child bride because her father, Dou Tianzhang, owed people a lot of money and could not repay his debts. She is renamed 'Dou E'.

Act 1

Dou E's husband died two years after their marriage, leaving behind Dou E and her husband's mother to depend on each other. Dou E and her mother-in-law are bullied by Sai Lu Yi, an unscrupulous physician. He almost kills Dou's mother-in-law by strangling her. Dou E and her mother-in-law are saved by Zhang Lü'er and his father. However, unfortunately for them, Zhang turns out to be a hooligan and he moves into Dou E's house under the pretext of offering them "protection". He tries to force Dou E to marry him but she refuses.

Act 2

Dou E's mother-in-law has a sudden craving for soup. Zhang Lü'er plots to murder Dou E's mother-in-law so that he can seize Dou E for himself after the older woman dies. He blackmails Sai Lu Yi for poison by threatening to report the physician to the authorities for attempting to murder Dou E's mother-in-law earlier. He then puts the poison in the soup and hopes that Dou E's mother-in-law will drink it and die. Unexpectedly, Zhang's father drinks the soup instead and dies from poisoning. Zhang Lü'er then frames Dou E for murdering his father.

Dou E is arrested and brought before the prefecture governor, Tao Wu, who subjects her to various tortures to force her to confess to the crime. Dou E does not want her mother-in-law to be implicated so she admits to the murder. Tao Wu sentences her to death by beheading.

Act 3

Dou E is brought to the execution ground. Before her execution, she swears that her innocence will be proven if the following three events occur after she dies:

  • Her blood will spill on her clothes but will not drip onto the ground.
  • There will be heavy snowfall in the sixth lunar month (in the midst of summer) and the thick snow will cover her dead body.
  • Chuzhou will experience a drought for three years.

The three events really did happen after Dou E's death.

Act 4

Three years later, Dou E's ghost appears before her father, Dou Tianzhang, who has become a lianfangshi (廉訪使; a senior government official) in the Anhui and Jiangsu region, and she tells him all her grievances. Dou Tianzhang orders a reinvestigation of the case and the truth finally comes to light. Dou E is posthumously proclaimed innocent while the guilty parties receive their due punishments: Sai Lu Yi is exiled to a distant land; Tao Wu is dismissed and barred from entering office again; Zhang Lü'er is given the death penalty.

Dou E also wishes that her father can allow her mother-in-law to live with him, and that he will help to take care of her mother-in-law. Dou E's father agrees. The play ends here.

Main characters

  • Dou E (竇娥), the main character, originally named Dou Duanyun (竇端雲).
  • Dou Tianzhang (竇天章), Dou E's father.
  • Dou E's mother-in-law, referred to as Granny Cai (蔡婆) in the play.
  • Zhang Lü'er (張驢兒; lit. "Zhang the mule" or "Zhang the donkey"), the man responsible for Dou E's plight.
  • Zhang Lü'er's father, referred to as Zhang's father (張父) in the play.
  • Sai Lu Yi (賽盧醫; lit. "equivalent to the Physician from Lu"), the physician who provided the poison that killed Zhang Lü'er's father. "Physician from Lu" (盧醫) is the nickname of Bian Que, a famous physician in ancient China. Guan Hanqing was probably adding a touch of satire or irony when he named this character as such.[citation needed]
  • Tao Wu (桃杌), the prefecture governor who sentenced Dou E to death.


Chinese opera

The story is performed both a zaju and kunqu.[2] Modern versions include the co-composition of Chen Zi and Du Yu in the 1960s, and Taiwanese composer Ma Shui-Long's 1990 version.[3]

Film and television

The play has been adapted into films and television series:

  • Liu Yu Xue (六月雪; Snow in the Sixth Month), a 1959 film starring the Cantonese opera actress Fong Yim Fun (芳豔芬) as Dou E.
  • Chinese Folklore (民間傳奇), a 1976 Hong Kong television series produced by TVB, about various Chinese folk tales. One part is about Dou E, starring Louise Lee.
  • Tianshi Zhong Kui (天師鍾馗; Heavenly Master Zhong Kui), a 1994 Taiwanese-Singaporean co-produced television series about Zhong Kui. One part of the series, titled Liu Yu Xue (六月雪; Snow in the Sixth Month), is about Dou E, starring Fu Juan (傅娟).
  • Qian Nü Qiyuan (倩女奇冤), a 1998 Chinese television series adapted from the story of Dou E and other tales.
  • Zhongguo Chuanshi Jingdian Mingju (中國傳世經典名劇), a 2005 Chinese television film series based on several well-known Chinese operas and plays. One section, spanning three episodes, is about Dou E, starring Su Jin (蘇瑾).


  1. Chan, Sin-Wai and David E. Pollard (2001). An Encyclopaedia of Translation: Chinese-English, English-Chinese. Chinese University Press. p. 178. ISBN 9789622019973.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Chinese Kunqu Opera - Page 18 Xiao Li - 2005 'Dou E Yuan (the lnjustice to Dou E)', performed by the Jiangsu kunqu Opera Theater.
  3. A Critical History of New Music in China - Page 554 C. C. Liu - 2010 His 1990 composition Dou E yuan [Snow in summer] (see Example 2) employed recitation in the singing style of Peking opera, accompanied by voices, suona and percussion, and was described by critics as “both modern and Chinese.