Tang Xianzu (T'ang Hsien-tsu) 1550-1616

The most gifted playwright of the Ming dynasty, best-known for his masterpiece Mudan ting [The peony pavilion]. A native of Jiangxi, Tang pursued a low-key official career, his principled character leading him to avoid those with political power and influence. Upon retirement in 1598, he wrote some of his best plays. His first work, Zixiao ji [The purple flute], proved to be an enormous success, and his follow-up to it, Zichai ji [The purple hairpin] was a recasting of the same basic story. The Peony Pavilion, the intricate story of the love of Du Liniang and the scholar Liu Mengmei, features an intricate plot that includes the return to the land of the living of its heroine from the netherworld. The play demonstrates its author's belief in the powers of emotion over reason, makes use of many symbolic devices, and reveals an exuberant word-play. Two last plays, Handan ji [Record of Handan] and Nanke ji [Record of Southern Bough], are testimony to a change in outlook, with Tang shifting to a more contemplative and philosophical view of existence.

Works available in English:

  • The Peony Pavilion (Cyril Birch). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980;
       Boston: Cheng & Tsui Co., 1994.