Sunrise 日出: A Contemporary English Translation

A drama in four acts

Cao Yu (1910-1996) is China’s most celebrated modern playwright, yet his work is scarcely known outside the country. He wrote Sunrise in 1936, during the Chinese Civil War, intending it as a “cross-sectional exposition” of the troubled society he observed around him in the Nationalist-controlled Northeast. It is a story of underdogs struggling valiantly against corrupt banks, opiate addiction, and anti-migrant discrimination in a system rigged against them -- themes relevant to any contemporary audience.

This translation intends to introduce non-Chinese audiences to a bold and powerful voice in Chinese drama.

“Edward Columbia’s translation of Cao Yu’s play, Sunrise, is a stunning literary feat.” -- Professor Kang-i Sun Chang, Malcolm G. Chace ‘56 Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale University

I am interested in collaborative opportunities for readings/performances of this play. To learn more about this play, e-mail me at

(Excerpt Below)

From below the window of the brothel comes the sound of a busker, playing a rythm with hand-clappers and freestyling.

Blind Busker:
Hey, hey, whatya say
Let me clap a little as I rap a little
I’ma change up the pace and sing you a ditty
About this temple of beauty in the middla the city
These ladies don’t get up for any old john that hollers
Here the gentleman callers are some classy scholars
You broke boys can stay for a pot of tea
But rich guys better spring for the overnight fee
The boss knows how to treat all her guests right
Got sweets on hand to last the whole night
All you young dudes, find a pretty face
You’re in the right place for a dream embrace.

(changing back to a pitiful voice) Hey there, boss. Take pity on a blind old bum.

Cui Xi: Scram! Quit darkenin’ my door, ya hear. I don’t got any money.

She flicks her cigarette out the window.

Cui Xi: There’s a free drag for ya.

She watches the beggar pick up the cigarette butt.

Cui Xi: That’s what I call a discount miracle! Throw down a measly cig, and the blind man can suddenly see.

Blind Busker: (moving offstage) I’m only blind in one eye, boss. See ya ‘round.