The Injustice to Dou E

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 mother-in-law to depend on each other. Dou E and her mother-in-law are bullied by Sai Lu Yi, an unscrupulous physician. Sai Lu Yi almost kills Dou's mother-in-law by strangling her. Dou E and her mother-in-law are saved by the hooligan Zhang Lü'er and his father. Zhang pretends to offer them "protection" and moves into their house against their will, and then 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 his earlier attempt to murder Dou E's mother-in-law. He puts the poison in the soup and hopes that Dou E's mother-in-law will drink it and die. However, 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:

The three events happened 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 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


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]


A contemporary reimagining of the play will be staged in 2017 by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The play will be directed by Justin Audibert and specially adapted by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig.

Film and television

The play has been adapted into films and television series:


  1. Chan, Sin-Wai and David E. Pollard (2001). An Encyclopaedia of Translation: Chinese-English, English-Chinese. Chinese University Press. p. 178. ISBN 9789622019973.
  2. Chinese Kunqu Opera - Page 18 Xiao Li - 2005 'Dou E Yuan (the Injustice 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.
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