The Orphan of Zhao was the first Chinese play to have been translated into any European language. The Jesuit father Joseph Henri Marie de Prémare translated the play, which he titled L'Orphelin de la Maison de Tchao, into French in 1731. In Premaré's work, the dialogue was translated, but not the songs. Premaré sent the translation to France, so it could be delivered to Étienne Fourmont, a member of the French Academy. However, the play came in the possession of Jean Baptiste Du Halde instead, who published it in his Description de la Chine in 1735, although he had no permission from Prémare or Fourmont to do so.Whatever the circumstances, Du Halde published the first European translation of a genuine Chinese play. Prémare's translation would soon be translated into English for two distinct English editions of Du Halde's book, which appeared in 1736 and 1741 respectively. The first one was translated was by Richard Brookes in 1736, and the second one was translated by Green and Guthrie in 1738–41. In 1962, a third English translation of Prémare's work was done by Thomas Percy, which was a revision of Green and Guthrie. However, many of Prémare's mistranslations remained, as did the omission of the songs. In his book, DuHalde (1739) remarked: "There are Plays the Songs of which are difficult to be understood, because they are full of Allusions to things unknown to us, and Figures of Speech very difficult for us to observe." Nevertheless, The Orphan of Zhao was well-received throughout Europe with the vogue of chinoiserie at its height. Between 1741 and 1759, the play was adapted into French, English, and Italian.
In 1741, William Hatchett wrote and published the earliest adaptation of the play, which was in English; it was titled The Chinese Orphan: An Historical Tragedy. However, in essence, it was written as a political attack to Sir Robert Walpole, who was likened to Tu Angu, renamed as Saiko in Hattchett's play. Thus, Hatchett's work was never produced and—in the words of John Genest—"totally unfit for representation." In his work, Hatchett made a dedication to the Duke of Argyle in the context of the play, where the characters could be recognized as the people whom he satirized:
In Vienna, the Italian playwright Pietro Metastasio had received a request from Empress Maria Theresa to write a drama for a court performance.Thus, in 1752, he produced L'Eroe cinese. For the play, he had taken inspiration of The Orphan of Zhao and specifically mentions the story in Du Halde's book. However, as Metastasio was restricted by the number of actors (namely five) and duration, his play had a rather simple plot.
In 1753, Voltaire wrote his L'Orphelin de la Chine. About his adapted play, Voltaire's thesis was that of a story exemplifying morality, that is as he explained, thatgenius and reason has a natural superiority over blind force and barbarism. Voltaire praised the Confucian morality of The Orphan of Zhao, remarking that it was a "valuable monument of antiquity, and gives us more insight into the manners of China than all the histories which ever were, or ever will be written of that vast empire". However, the play was still considered barbarous by him as it violated the conventions of the unities of time, action, and place, likening it to some of Shakespeare and Lope de Vega's monstrous farces as "nothing but a heap of incredible stories". Although the story of the orphan is retained in Voltaire's play, he is placed in the setting of invading Tartars. The orphan, as the royal heir, is entrusted to the official Zamti by the Chinese monarch, who was later killed by the Tatars of Gengis Kan.Voltaire introduces the theme of love (which is absent in the original play), where Gengis Kan has a secret passion for Idamé, the wife of Zamti, but he is rejected by her as she stands firm to the lawful conduct of her nation. Voltaire had altered the story to fit his idea of European enlightment and Chinese civilization, whereas, the original play is considered a stark and relentless story of intrigue, murder, and revenge. In the end of L'Orphelin de la Chine, the conqueror was to be conquered and reconciles as an admirer of Chinese civilization in light of the virtue and wisdom of Zamti and Idamé. On August 1755 at the Comédie Français in Paris, L'Orphelin de la Chine was for the first time performed on stage. The play became highly acclaimed with many people—like Jean-Jacques Rousseau—who viewed with approval the staging of a play which exalted the virtues of an ancient civilization.
In 1756, the Irish playwright Arthur Murphy wrote his Orphan of China. He stated that he had been attracted by Premare's play, but his play even more resembles Voltaire's L'Orphelin de la Chine. Murphy's Orphan of China was first performed in April 1759 and became highly successful in England. In his 1759 edition, Murphy criticized Voltaire for adding a theme of love—which he thought was unsuitable in this play—and for having a "scantiness of interesting business". He also reasserted the story of revenge, which was omitted in Voltaire's play. Although different, Murphy's play approached the original Chinese play closer than any other European adaption of the time. The Orphan of China was well-received in the literary circles of London. In 1767, Murphy's play was brought to the United States, where it was first performed at the Southwark Theater in Philadelphia.
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