In 1644, the Qing forces were helped by Wu Sangui to enter China through the Shanhai Pass and occupied Beijing. The army marched to the south swiftly and replaced the Sourthern Ming Dynasty. Wars and displacement drove away Kunqu troupes and professionals, and the opera performance had come to halt especially in Nanjing. As the post-1644 means Nanjing is no longer the Capital, and gone is all glamor in the city. “The change of dynasty brings everything different, ten years are gone like a dream, and I can still recall the busy street of Yangzhou, now all is gone and weed is everywhere” (preface to Ban Qiao Za Ji). When the Qing army attacked the city, officials, rich families and scholars hid there all fled away. And the family troupes also left. The once flourishing theatre now is reduced to bleak and desolate, other tropes followed suit and moved to other places. However, Suzhou suffered little as the attack went well, thus the bustling city didn’t change much. In 1667 the Jiangsu Province was established, and the chief secretary and Province Governor all stationed Suzhou, making it a political center. Economy booms and the old-day life of opera performance and enthusiastic audience resumed, with more professional opera troupes include: Shenfu Troupe, Jinfu Troupe, Quansu Troupe, Hanxiang Troupe, Ningbi Troupe, Miaoguan Troupe and Yacun Troupe. And distinguished opera players and singers were on the rise, such as Zhou Tiedun, Wang Zijia, Jin Junzuo, Song Ziyi, Chen Mingzhi, Su Youzhan, Zhan Ziwang, Li Wenzhao, Lu Shijiao and Xu Dasheng etc. A few of the rich gentries still keep troupes in house, for example, You Dong has 10 singers in house and once performed his own play Jun Tian Yue and Hei Bai Wei. Wang Yongning, Wu Sangui’s son-in-law often had opera performance in banquet in Zhuo Zheng Yuan; he also used boats as performance stage at Shihu Lake, setting the trend for a long time

At the time a group of short story writers represented by Li Yu appeared in the city. Li Yu is from Wu County and has 34 short stories: Yi Peng Xue, Ren Shou Guan, Yong Tuan Yuan and Zhan Hua Kui. His works were published in the end of the Ming Dynasty and grew successful. Qing Zhong Pu and Wan Min An, written in early Qing Dynasty, were based on two citizen fights in Suzhou in 1573-1605. The two real story-based Kunqu plays only second to Ming Feng Ji. Wan Min An is a story of citizen rebellion against heavy levies, and didn’t survive. Qing Zhong Pu is about the conflict between the Dong Lin Party and the eunuchs, and sympathy and support from people like Yan Peiwei in fighting against the eunuchs. The scenes were grand and thrilling. Compared with the former plays, Li Yu pays attention to the real life, Yi Peng Xue is inspired from true stories at the time: Yan Shifan, son of Yan Song the prime minister of the Ming Dynasty, took away the Jade Cup named Yi Peng Xue and framed the Mo Huaigu family. Moreover, Li Yu intends to care about people live at the bottom of the society, main characters are created such as the weaver Ge Cheng in Wan Min An and the oil seller Qin Zhong in Zhan Hua Kui.

Other members in the group are: Zhu Sucheng from Wu County has 19 short stories (with 3 collaborated with others): Shi Wu Guan (also called Shuang Xiong Meng), Fei Cui Yuan, Wei Yang Tian (also known as Jiu Geng Tian). Zhu Zuochao, Wu County person, has 30 something short stories (with 2 collaborated with others), but now only 14 of of them survived. His masterpiece Yu Jia Le is usually performed onstage. Qiu Yuan is from Changshu and has about 10 short stories, and only 3 remained. Dang Ren Bei is popular and part of Hu Nang Tan survived. Bi Wei is also from Wu County; he has 6 short stories but only 2 survived: San Bao En and Zhu Ye Zhou. Ye Shizhang, another man form Wu County, has 11 short stories (with 2 collaborated with others), Hu Po Chi is popular among the survived 2 stories. Zhang Daxia from Suzhou used to live in the Hanshan Temple, and has 6 poetic lays and 30 short stories. The 6 poetic plays were created for celebrating the birthday of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, and none of them survived. Only one play from the Tian Xia Yue survived and often performed. He also compiled Hanshan Tang Xin Ding Jiu Gong Shisan Diao Nan Qu Pu. Sheng Jishi from Wu County has 4 short stories, and only 2 survived: Yan Zhi Xue and Ren Zhong Long. Zhu Yuncong is also from Wu County, and he has 14 short stories but only 2 survived: Er Sun Fu and Long Deng Zhuan. Selected scenes such as Bie Di, Bao Xi, Xia Shan and Yan Hui are all frequently performed. Chen Erbai is from Suzhou. He has 4 short stories, and only Shung Guan Gao and Cheng Ren Xin survived and spread.

The group of writers often spends time together in discussing rhyming patterns and rhymes, sometimes collaborating on writing play. Li Yu’s Qing Zhong Pu is a collaboration of Bi Wei, Ye Shizhang and Zhu Sucheng; Zhu Sucheng collaborated with Zhu Zuochao, Qiu Yuan and Ye Shizhang on Si Da Qing etc. These writers are all influenced by Li Yu, especially for Zhu Sucheng and Zhu Zuochao. The focus of the group is social issues at the turn of dynasty change, with a particular touch on people from all walks of life. They created beyond the age-old romance of men and women, thus expanded the subject matter and injected new blood into writing. They are experts in rhyming and rhyme, stage-setting, story-telling and wordplays in the world of opera writing in early Qing Dynasty.

Outside of the writer group, there were great short story writers in Suzhou. Xue Dan, Suzhou person, is a talented but unrecognized. He is absorbed in play creating and he has around 10 short stories and poetic plays. Wu Weiye is from Taicang, and his “Tong Tian Tai, Lin Chun Ge and Mo Lin Chun are all lament about the change of dynasty, revelation of his true feelings” (You Dong, Xi Tang Za Zu San Ji, vol.3 Mei Cun Ci Xu). Wang Bian from Taicang has 4 short stories and 2 poetic plays, but only Deng Bian Lou survived. Wang pays attention to stage performance in the first place rather than play writing. You Dong moved from hometown Wuxi to Suzhou, and he has 5 poetic plays and one short story. His Jun Tian Yue described the ugliness of the imperial examinations; Wan Jin Ji collaborated with anonymous people also touched on similar subject, such exposure helped circulation of the two short stories. Li Yu highly commended on Jun Tian Yue: “this play is marvelous; I find it breathtaking upon reading.” He even compared You Dong with Ma Zhiyuan and Gao Zecheng, the celebrated playwrights (Li Weng Wen Ji, vol.3 Reading Note Five on Mr. You Dong’s Work). You Dong’s poetic plays such as Du Li Sao (story of Qu Yuan), Diao Pi Pa (story of Wang Zhaojun), Tao Hua Yuan (also known as Zui Tao Yuan, it’s about Tao Yuanming), Hei Bai Wei (story of Nie Yinniang) and Qing Ping Diao (also known as Li Bai Deng Ke Ji, it’s about Li Bai, Du Fu and Meng Haoran), all being popular. You Dong’s plays were mostly performed by his own troupe; some by other troupes such as Hei Bai Wei was performed by Mao’s Xiangjia Troupe in Rugao. You’s plays were very popular among scholar-officials in Wuzhong, which speaks volume of his influence.

In the reign of Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty, Suzhou saw theatres appear in the city. According to Gu Gongxie’s Xiao Xia Xian Ji, “During the rule of Emperor Yongzheng, the Guo Theatre opened and expanded, meeting opera lovers’ needs.” In the rule of Emperor Qianlong, more theatres were operating, “Jinchang is a bustling business city with businessmen and gatherings come and go; theatres were as many as 10, daily performance could feed ten thousand people work here”.

The above-mentioned examples suggest that Suzhou resumed its status as center of Kunqu opera even after the Qing overtook Ming Dynasty. Stable political situation and recovering economy contributed to the trend of Kunqu opera even beyond Suzhou.

During the reign of Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Shunzhi once banned banquet activities and present-giving between officials, no singing and opera performance was allowed in the capital city. But in the royal palace the Department of Music was inherited from the Ming Dynasty, which is exclusively for the purpose of opera performance of Kun Tune and Yiyang Tune (Zhuang Qingyi, Nan Fu Zhi Yan Ge). The Emperor instructed Wu Qi to compile Zhong Min Ji (the story of Yang Jisheng) and performed in the palace. Emperor Kangxi was even more enthusiastic about opera performance in his reign, “both Kunqu Tune and Yiyang Tune have respective department, and performancec are played almost every day” (Mao Qin Dian Jiu Cang “Emperor Kangxi’s imperial edict”). Zhi Zao Fu was established in Suzhou in 1674 to administer tribute and sacrifice issues, and select excellent opera singers and players to perform in the palace, making it something of a system. With this practice, the former ban of Emperor Shunzhi gradually eased, and officials “have opera performance in every banquet, a full house of guests on every occasion” (Zhang Chen, Ping Pu Za Ji). At the time, there were 3 renowned troupes: Juhe (or Neiju), Sanye and Keyu, as well as troupes like Nanya, Lanhong and Jingyun in the city. Kunqu and Yiyang tunes are staged in theatres in Qian Men and Si Yi Yuan every day. Wan Shou Tu Juan written in 1715 recorded splendid Kunqu performances celebrating birthday along the way from Shen Wu Men to Chang Chun Yuan, showing the popularity and grandness of Kunqu opera in the Capital in early Qing Dynasty.

At the turn of Emperor Shunzhi and Emperor Kangxi, theatres in Qinhuai (present Nanjing) resumed operations, with more Kunqu troupes appeared. In 1962, Cao Yin took office as Chief of Zhi Zao Fu in Nanjing. He lived here for 20 years and made friends with many scholars and playwrights such as You Dong, Yu Huai, Gu Jingxing, Gu Cai and Hong Sheng. Cao also has opera troupe, and You Dong’s Qing Ping Diao was performed in his house. He received Hong Sheng from Songjiang to Nanjing in 1704, “the grand gathering draws scholars and Cao provides the seat of honor for Hong Sheng”. Chang Sheng Dian (The Palace of Everlasting Life) was once performed “for 3 days and nights on stand” (Jin Zhi, Jin Xiang Shuo), which was widely praised for a long time. Given Cao Yin’s status as a high-ranking official, his efforts contributed a lot to the thriving Kunqu opera in Nanjing in early Qing Dynasty.

In Yangzhou where the Qing army crudely attacked caused shutdown of all theatres. But with the economy grew, Kunqu opera came back to life in a decade. Short stories about the conflict between the loyal and the wicked of the Ming Dynasty were created and performed (Zhong Min Ji, the story of Yang Jisheng). Big events about the fall of the Ming Dynasty were also written into stories and performed in Baoying in Yangzhou (Qiu Xiangsui, Xi Xuan Ji Nian Ji). Xu Shiqi in Jiangdu has 4 short stories but not survived. His 4 poetic plays survived: Mai Hua Qian, Da Zhuan Lun, Nian Hua Xiao and Fu Xi Shi. Qiaolai troupe in Baoying is the most popular in Yangzhou. In 1628, Emperor Xuanye visited in the south and had Qiaolai troupe performed for him, and rewarded Guan Liu the player a golden collar, thus the Qiaolai troupe renamed as Cijin Troupe (the reward by the Emperor). Qiaolai has a short story Qiying Hui Ji.

In Rugao, Tongzhou, Mao Xiang, the grandson of Mao Mengling refused to serve the Qing government, and managed Kunqu troupe in his house. Mao Xiang is talented and has many celebrated friends such as Dong Qichang, Wu Weiye, Huang Zongxi, Wang Shizhen and Kong Shangren. His has built Quantang and Sanwu Tang in his home at Shuihui Yuan in Rugao, where the houses were brightly-lit and opera performance never stopped. Opera players were mentored by Mao Xiang and improved. Other excellent players like Xu Ziyun, Yang Zhi, Ling Chou and Qin Xiao were trained by him. Xu Ziyun has solid literary knowledge, a good voice and touching performance, and his performance in “Linchuan Si Meng (The Four Dreams of Linchuan)” and Yanzi Jian were very popular, together with Wang Shizhen’s Ziyun Qu and Xulang Qu of Deng Hanyi from Taizhou, were praised as “the best on earth”. Mao’s troupe was popular far and wide, even Wu Weiye in Taicang requested for rehearsal upon completing Mo Ling Chun. Celebrated opera master Su Kunsheng was also invited to Quan Tang for lecturing. Lu Xiang said in Mao Chao Min Zhuan: “the guests are from all parts of the country: friends from Donglin, Jishe and Fushe; officials from other provinces; and fortune-tellers and hermits. The 40 years of development of Mao troupe under Mao Xiang’s management witnessed the best time since 1621. Less famous troupes such as Huashijun Troupe in Nantong and Chen Troupe in Luxiang Yuan in Tongzhou were recorded in the reign of Emperor Kangxi.

In early Qing Dynasty, the scope of Kunqu performance was much wider than in the Ming Dynasty. Zhejiang is bordering Jiangsu, thus it’s common for Kunqu troupes come and go between the two provinces. Kunqu performances could be seen in Jiangxi, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan in the southeast and southwest. “Duxiu Troupe in Guilin could perform Kunqu Tune and speak the Wu dialect to the extent of matching players in the Wu areas” (Lv Tian, Yue You Ji Cheng), and often perform in Guangdong and Guangxi. In 1663, “8 people who were good at Kunqu came to Sichuan from Suzhou and performed vocal Kunqu in Hehe Dian of Jiangnan Guan, Chengdu (Hu Gan, Shu Ling Za Zhi). In Yunnan, He Weiwen of Langqiong ethnic nation created 5 short stories, all being Kunqu Tunes. His She Shen Guang was reviewed by professional writer in Songjiang and later performed by Kunqu troupes in Yunnan. This is one example of the Kunqu performance in Yunnan. In Nanchang, Fuzhou, Ganzhou and Jiujiang in Jiangxi Province, massive Kunqu troupes rose in early Qing Dynasty. For example, the native Haiyan Tune demised and replaced by Kunqu Tune finally in Fuzhou, “Singer in the Wu and player in the Yue were practiced by farmers in off-season as a result of the the remoteness of the region” (Kang Xi, Linchuan Xian Zhi). Private troupes of officials and gentries were on the rise, too. For example, Li Taixu from Nanchang was the third candidate of the imperial examination in around 1620, and retired in 1638-1661, “built a pavilion surrounded by smartweeds called Canglang Ting, and had female players perform there selected from the Wu regions”. “Li once sung Mudan Ting (The Peony Pavilion) and Moling Chun; esteemed guests packed his house; some poets wrote this performance down” (Qiu Junhong, Xijiang Shi Hua). Zhang Daquan from Pengze who lived in Jiujiang has one Kunqu troupe at the end of the Ming Dynasty. In 1684, Lu Lu took office as Commissioner of Fuzhou. He financed the rebuilding of Yuming Tang of Tang Xianzu which was destroyed in wars. On the day of completion, “he let his opera players perform Mudan Ting (The Peony Pavilion) till the sunset, and he wrote two poems to record the performance. People in the Jiangzuo (southeast region) kept talking about the performance” (Wang Shizhen, Juyi Lu). In northwest, Kong Shangren said in Pingyang Zhuzhi Ci: “in the northwest of Mountain Taihang, Kunqu tune could also be heared.” The rich family of Kang in Pingyang, Shanxi has its own troupe, “in around 1680, new stories from Changsheng Dian (The Palace of Everlasting Life) were performed and cost 400, 000 Liang (equivalent of 80 million RMB today)” (Yu Yue, (Chaxiang Shi Xu Chao)). Li Yu once saw his new work Huang Qiu Feng (A Love Story) performed in local troupe in Pingyang on the way to perform in Shanxi in early 1650. In Pingyang, “at ceremonies to thank deities for harvest, opera performances were staged to show people’s sincerity” (inscriptions of opera performance in Baishan Temple, Pu County in 1668).

Besides Li Yu, short story writers at this time include Li Yu, another important writer at the turn of dynasty change (from Ming to Qing). Li Yu’s family was in Lanxi, Zhejiang Province, but he was born in Zhigao, Yangzhou (today’s Rugao) and lived in Jinhua, Zhejiang. He failed twice in provincial examination and moved to Lanxi and made a living by creating his own troupe in early Qing Dynasty. In 1651 (some say 1650), he moved to Hangzhou, and rose to fame as he made friends with renowned scholars and officials and performed plays together. Seven years later he moved to Nanjing and lived here for 20 years. He built a Jiezi Yuan as bookstore to feed and train female singers and players. His troupe was of semi-professional as it’s for the purpose of self-entertaining and performing for officials. He used to travel to perform in Yanjing, Shannxi, Gansu, Shanxi, Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Hubei. He has 10 short stories collectively called Liweng Shi Zhong Qu and all performed by his troupe. Yu Saotou (also known as Wan Nian Huan), Bimu Yu, Nai He Tian (also known as Qi Fu Ji), Huang Qiu Feng (also known as Yuanyang Zhuan), Shen Luan Jiao and Qiao Tuan Yuan (also known as Meng Zhong Lou) were wrote in Nanjing. His works were easy to understand and entertaining, thus enjoyed popularity. He also wrote 6 volumes of Xian Qing Ou Ji, and block printed in Nanjing. Ci Qu Bu (Section of Words and Music), Yan Xi Bu (Section of Performance and Practice) and part of Sheng Rong Bu (Section of Voice and Appearance) from the book dealt with the creation of short story and the art of performance, making it the first systematic and complete work of play theory in China.

The pinnacle of short story writing in the period of 1654-1722 was represented by Hong Sheng and Kong Shangren. Their masterpieces are Changsheng Dian (The Palace of Everlasting Life) and Taohua Shan (The Peach Blossom Fan).

Hong Sheng was born in a family of scholar-official in Qiantang, Zhejiang Province. Hong was very talented and gained his fame in literature at a young age. In 1668 he studied in the Imperial College but didn’t graduate. He then went back home in Hangzhou and lived separately with his parents. Six years later he went to the capital city and was broken and suffered hardship all along the way. He was apprentice of Mao Xianshu, Lu Fanchao, Wang Shizhen and Shi Runzhang, and made friends with celebrated scholars such as Zhu Yizun, Mao Qiling, Wu Shufu, Zha Shenxing, Li Shiyu, Wu Wen and Zhao Zhixin. Yuan Yulin and Li Yu were friends of his. He studied on rhyming and rhyme, and wrote Yun Xue Tong Zhi (On Rhyming). In 1679 he wrote Chenxiang Ting (a pavilion) and adapted Wu Nichang (a dance); in 1688 he adapted Changsheng Dian (The Palace of Everlasting Life) and finally finished after 3 drafts in 10 years. The adapted Changsheng Dian (The Palace of Everlasting Life) was performed by Neiju Troupe in the capital city the next year, and he was expelled from the Imperial College as the performance violated the ban of performance on the days of former Emperors and Empresses. In 1690 he left the Capital for home and drowned in Wuzhen in 1704and died at 60 as a result of over-drinking. In his writing of Changsheng Dian, Hong Sheng has consulted Xu Lingzhao, the famous playwright in Gusu, “when I was discussing with Xu about Rhyming, I paid attention to every single word” (Introduction to Changsheng Dian). “his words and sentences are succinct and profound, and the story is coherent and smooth. Writers love his words, and musicians love his rhyming. That’s why this work worth spreading and people copied the work for reading and learning. Excellent players who perform the work were worthy of hundred to thousand times more (Preface by Wu Shufu to Changsheng Dian (The Palace of Everlasting Life)). Private troupes competed to perform the work, “at a time Changsheng Dian was performed in rich and official families, as well as restaurants and bars” (Zha Weiren, (Lianpo Shi Hua)). But performance of the work was banned as he was expelled from the Imperial College. A few months later, the performance of the work resumed in the capital city and many other places, Wu Shufu said: “my friends travelled in Sichuan and saw performance of Changsheng Dian (The Palace of Everlasting Life) for several times, people in the north and south of the Yue region all knew the wok.” (ibid) Li Xu, chief of Suzhou invited master to teach him opera performance in Changsheng Dian after 3 years of ban” (Shi Yunyu, Suzhoufu Zhi). Several years later the Kang troupe and Cao troupe have performed Changsheng Dian. It’s widely spread that each household could sing the lines in the work, proving the huge impact at that time. Hong Sheng remained a civil writer all his life, but his work Changsheng Dian (The Palace of Everlasting Life) was passed down from generation to generation.

Kong Shengren, Qufu, Shandong person, the grandson of the 64th generation Confucius. Kong failed in the provincial examination at early age and stayed in ever since. He abandoned himself in writing Taohua Shan (The Peach Blossom Fan) at home. At 34 he was enrolled into the Imperial College. In 1684, when the Emperor Xuanye visited the south and worshipped Confucius in Qufu, Kong explained the Buddhist scriptures for the Emperor and commended. The next year saw him take office as Teaching Director in the Imperial College. At the end of the same year he went to Huaiyang for river administration, and he made friends with Mao Xiang and Huang Yun. He searched for the romance and houses of Hou Fangyu and Li Xiangjun in Nanjing. Five years later he went back to Beijing, the Capital, and socialized with famous scholars like Wang Shizhen. He collaborated with Gu Cai on Xiao Hu Lei, and meanwhile started to create Taohua Shan (The Peach Blossom Fan). In 1695 he promoted as Minister of Finance and 4 years later the Taohua Shan was completed after 3 drafts in 20 years all told. Royal families, officials and gentries all followed the trend of copying the play, raising the price of paper. In autumn that year, the play was demanded by royal family and performed by Jindou troupe the next year. What followed was daily performance of the play in Chang’an (timeline of Taohua Shan) and in other places. In February, Kong Shangren promoted as Vice-Governor of the Guangdong Province, and was removed as a result of a doubtful case. He finally returned to home after 2 years of retention in Beijing. Kong Shangren has created many great works such as Huhai Ji, Antang Gao, Changliu Ji, Shimen Ji and Zhantang Ji; he also compiled many books on local geography, relics and customs.

Both Changsheng dian (The Palace of Eternal Youth) and Taohua shan (the Peach Blossom Fan) were composed during the reign of Emperor Kangxi of Qing Dynasty (an eleven-year gap between the two creations) in Beijing and were premiered in Beijing as well. Both of them attracted the attention of the inner court and consequently culminated in the circle of Kunqu opera and even the whole Chinese opera circle. As Jin Zhi says in his poem: “Two operas flourished during Kangxi’s reign; they were performed in Imperial Palaces. Even there are many scripts from the entertainer guilds of Yuan Dynasty, Kong Shangren’s and Hong Sheng’s operas are preferred on the stage” (Peach Blossom Fan Inscription).

Most of the rest contemporaneous Chuanqi opera (Legend) playwrights were active in Suzhou, as said before. In other areas, there were also some playwrights. For instance, Gu Cai, who was close to Cao Yin, was from Yixing. Gu’s works include Xiao Hu Lei Chuanqi opera (co-authored with Kong Shangren), and Nan Taohua Shan adapted from Kong Shangren’s Taohua Shan. Wan Shu, also from in Yixing, served as a private secretary of Wu Xingzuo, governor of Guangdong and Guangxi. During his spare time, Wan would compose iambic verses. Shortly after Wan finished a composition, Wu Xingzuo would let singers sing it with beats and rhythm. Wan’s known works include 8 Zaju plays and 8 (some say 9) Chuanqi operas (Legends). Extant three Chuanqi operas including Kong Qing Shi, Feng Liu Bang and Nian Ba Fan are collectively referred to as Three Operas about Yong Shan Yan. Ji Yongren, from Wuxi, wrote Chuanqi operas including Yangzhou Dream and Shuang Baoying and a Zaju play, Li Sao Continued. Cao Yin, whose ancestral home was in Liaoyang, was a member of the Plain White Banner of Han Army. He wrotes Chuanqi operas including Biao Zhong Ji (also known as Narrow Escape from the Tiger's Mouth), Pipa Continued (also called the Follow-up Story of Pipa). Some believe that he also wrote Zaju plays Bei Hong Fu Ji and Taiping Le Shi (including 9 local operas). He compiled Lian Ting Cang Shu Shi’er Zhong, where two scrolls of the Record of Ghost Book by Zhong Sicheng of Yuan Dynasty were included. Xu Shiqi, from Yinxian, Zhengjia Province, moved to Jiangdu, Yangzhou. He exceled at painting, writing poems, and in particular, composing iambic verses. He lived in seclusion. He wrote 4 Zaju plays including Mai Hua Qian (Money on Prostitutes), Da Zhuan Lun (Big Wheels), Nian Hua Xiao and Fu Xi Shi; they are extant. He also wrote 4 Chuanqi operas but they are missing now. From the 38th year of Kangxi’s reign, Zhang Jian, from Nanjing, started to write Chuanqi opera Meng Zhong Yuan; after that, Meihuan Zan, Huai Sha Ji and Yu Shi Zhui came out; these four were compiled together as Four Operas about Yu Yan Tang. Fan Xizhe, from Qiantang, was a good friend of Li Yu. He wrote 3 Zaju plays, which were combined into San Huan Ji. He wrote 8 Chuanqi operas. The Stealing Armors fold of the Tou Jia Ji or Yanlin Jia (Yanlin Armors) is still performed in Kunqu or Peking opera. Shi Cu Ji is also known as Man Chuang Hu, acts of which including Na Qie (Taking a Concubine), Gui Men (kneeling outside the door), Xie Jia (Unloading Armors), Feng Wang (Prince Title Granting) are quite popular. Qiu Lian, from Cixi, was a well-known young talent, wrote several famous books before stepping into post-adolescence. He started to take prefectural examination of Yingtian when he was 71 years old and a year after that, he became a Jinshi (metropolitan graduate). He wrote 12 Zaju plays but now only 4 are extant including Kunming Chi, Jicuiqiu, Jianhuyin and Qiting Guan, combined as Si Yunshi (Four Romantic Stories). All the 4 plays are about romances of literary intellectuals of Tang Dynasty as well as demonstrating their indignation. He also wrote 6 Chuanqi operas but only two, female Kunlun and Wanshou Shengping are still extant.

During several decades of the early Qing Dynasty, the number of private Kunqu opera troupes along the south of the Yangtze River was significantly reduced because the imperial court of Qing forced wealthy families in the area to pay arrears of money and grains due in the 17th year of Shunzhi’s reign. Severely affected by that, ordinary scholar officials and wealthy gentries could not afford to hire operatic singers any longer. During Yongzheng’s and Qianlong’s reign, the imperial court repeatedly banned incumbent officials from owning private opera troupes. And consequently ordinary gentries stop hiring singerss. During that period, only a handful of wealthy gentries and merchants possessed private opera troupes. For instance, Wang Wenzhi from Dantu owned 30 operatic performers and singers. Wang “had a petite for iambic verses and operas. Wherever he went, far or near, he would take singers with him; When guests came, he would enjoy the operas together with them. And day in and out, music would never bore him. When it comes to temperament, he must pursue excellence.” (Ci Yu Cong Hua (Gathered Talks on Verses) by Yang Enshou of Qing Dynasty). But more and more folk Kunqu opera troupes sprung up in order to satisfy the theatrical amusement of officials and gentries, to provide entertainment for the vast majority of urban and rural people as well as to put on performances during idolatrous processions on important seasonal festivities and rituals. According to Lao Lang Miao Li Nian Juan Kuan Hua Ming Bei (Donation Record Monuments of Lao Lang Temple) of Suzhou established during the 45th to 56th year of Qianlong’s reign, there were 45 Kunqu opera troupes in Suzhou alone and they kept providing Kunqu opera professionals for other localities and provinces. These monuments also record that apart from local Kunqu opera troupes, the donation for Li Yuan Zong Ju (State Bureau of Pear Garden (Opera Academy)) in Laolang Temple, Suzhou also came from more than 30 Kunqu opera troupes and Ju (bureaus) from including Jiangsu, Huguang, Zhejiang, Henan, Shandong, Shanghai, Anhui, Shanxi, Beijing, Tianjin, Fujian, Hebei and Taiwan. “Jus” refer to Li Yuan associations, under which there are several or tens of opera troupes. As they donated money for Li Yuan Zong Ju of Suzhou, most opera troupes under their management were supposed to be Kunqu opera troupes. Were those troupes in other localities that didn’t connect with or didn’t donate for Li Yuan Zong Ju counted in, the number would be greater. For instance, Guangzhou was not mentioned in the monument. Built in the 45th year of Qianlong’s reign, Waijiang Li Yuan Hui Guan Bei Ji (Inscription of Waijiang Pear Garden Association) shows that there were Chuntai opera troupe of Anhui and Jixiu opera troupe of Hunan. Built in the 56th year of Qianlong’s reign, Li Yuan Hui Guan Shang hui Bei Ji (Shang Hui Inscription of Pear Garden Association) shows that there were at least another 11 opera troupes in Suzhou and other troupes including Baohe opera troupe of Anhui and Puqing opera troupe in Changsha, Hunan. In Jiangxi, according to an anonymous Diary on Opera Watching, there were Jiangyi, Yihuang Jixiu, Yihuang Xulun and Ganzhou Huayu opera troupes. The most frequently performed operas were popular and famous Kunqu operas. Among these opera troupes, Jixiu opera troupe was the best-known one, there were two types of Jixiu opera troupes. Earlier Jixiu opera troupes refers to the ones that “accepted only the topflight performers”, which was depicted in the fifth scroll of Yanlan Xiaopu by Wu Changyuan of Qing Dynasty. In the 49th year of Qianlong’s reign, in order to celebrate the 60th birthday of Hongli (Emperor Qianlong), Jicheng opera troupes were established through Kunqu opera talent selection in Suzhou, Yangzhou and Hangzhou, after the former Jixiu opera troupes were dismissed, Jicheng opera troupes was renamed Jixiu opera troupes. There were many Kunqu opera troupes which had a strong presence in concert halls of officials, gentries and merchants, in downtown opera theaters and in simple outdoor stages of rural areas. Kunqu Opera was definitely a hit at that time.

During Qianlong’s reign, Kunqu Opera reached its heyday in both Suzhou and Yangzhou.

Commercial business of Suzhou reached its culmination during “High Qing” under Qianlong’s reign. Operas thereupon became popular. There were many professional Kunqu opera troupes as said above and the number grew to dozens during this period. As for rural outdoor stages and private theaters of officials, gentries and merchants, there were numerous. “Opera performances in Li Yuan (Pear Garden) prevailed during Emperor Qianlong’s tour down south” (Lu Yuan Cong Hua (Gathered Talks on Garden Walk) by Qian Yong). Suzhou was also the cradle of Kunqu operatic singers. “Famous operatic performers usually were from Wumen (Suzhou)” (the 31th note to Suzhou Zhuzhi Ci—Yan Suzhou (Bamboo Twigs Song)). Suzhou Textile Department sent good performers to the inner court (Nanfu Agency). Besides that, provincial officials, wealthy families and famous Kunqu opera troupes also kept looking for and buying Kunqu operatic singers. During this period, many aria singers were also active in Suzhou including Zhang Jiusi, Zhu Wudai, Wang Kechang, Sun Wugong, Monk Lihuan and other famous ones. In addition, Zhou Xiangyu, Xu Dachun and Ye Tang were good at both singing and even revision, studies and composition of songs. Xu came from a family of Kunqu performers, whose maidservants were able to refute composers nearby. Ye Tang created “Singing of Ye School”; his work Nashuying Qupu (Nashuying Scores) was quite popular and passed down through generations. Li Dou of Qing Dynasty in Yangzhou Huafang Lu (Record of the Painted Barges of Yangzhou) (fifth scroll) says that, “Recently, the singing of Ye Guangping (courtesy name of Ye Ping) School is the best, His work Nashuying Qupu is widely accepted by people while others are not.” Ahough aria singers did not wear makeup and costumes for performance, their excellent skills and performance were helpful for professional kunqu performers.

Yangzhou, since Tang Dynasty, had been the most important port in the north bank of Yangtze River in Jiangsu Province. It was best known for the salt industry. Prestigious gentries across the country also came to Yangzhou and made good friends here. It boasted rich culture. Some call it a “bamboo garden with music spreading to nearby.” Since the reign of Kangxi, salt business in Yangzhou was revitalized, which made Yangzhou as prosperous as Suzhou. And theatrical amusement also thrived. During Kangxi’s and Qianglong’s reign, Yangzhou’s Kunqu opera reached its heyday with the largest number of professional troupes of the highest level. “Every time when a new play script comes out, troupes would be eager to buy it and put on performance. As a result, many playwrights become profit-oriented. (Prelude to Qiting Ji by Cang Fu of Qing Dynasty) Yangzhou set up Liang Huai Salt Administration taking charge of dozens of large Huanghai Salt Field along the south and north of Huai River, thus the administration became an influential governmental and commercial conglomerate of salt industry, which could affect the economic lifeline in the southeast of China. Since the 16th year of Qianglong’s reign, Gaozong (Qianlong) toured down south for 6 times, and Yangzhou was a must-stop during these tours. The Lianghuai Salt Administration searched for opera performers in order to welcome the arrival Qianglong. It “continued patronizing Huabu and Yabu opera troupes for spectacles.” Yabu means Kunshan tune. “Kunqu opera prevailed since Xu Shangzhi, a merchant, started to recruit famous performers of Suzhou for Laoxu Opera troupe. Huang Yuande, Zhang Daan, Wang Qiyuan and Cheng Qiande also started their own troupes. Hong Chongshi established Dahong troupe; Jiang Guangda established Deyin troupe…” These Kunqu opera troupes were under the jurisdiction of Liang Huai Salt Administration and they were called the big 7 “inside troupes”. In addition, there were Xiannei troupe, Xiaohong troupe, Taiping troupe of Guangde, Weiyang, Baifu troupe, Shuangqing troupe (female kunqu troupe), etc. Their performers mainly were from Suzhou. For instance, 80 performers of theTaiping troupe came from Wuxian, Changzhou and Yuanhe under Suzhou. (See the namelist appendix of Taiping Troupe’s Zaju Operas) In Suzhou, the better performers of these troupes would be rewarded with more money, it was the same case in Yangzhou, but the number of leading performers who could get the largest share was more than 100, overtaking that of Suzhou. The most prestigious performers include Fumo[1] Yu Weizhen, Laosheng[2] Shan Kunbi, Xiaosheng[3] Chen Yunjiu, Laowai[4] Wang Danshan and Sun Jiugao, Damian[5] Zhou Defu, Baimian[6] Ma Wenguan, Ermian[7] Qian Congyun and Xiaodan[8] Jin Dehui. Each troupe had vast repertory and the there were frequent performance; their costumes and theatrical properties were sumptuous regardless of high cost. There were “Hong Quantang (costumes and props all in red) ”, “Bai Quantang (all in white)”, “Huang Quantang (all in yellow)”, “Lvchong Quantang” (all in green) and “Costume of the December flower goddess worth ten thousand gold tales of gold” (See the 5th Scroll of Yangzhou HuaFang Lu). Performers’ trunks were full of accessories of play.

In Yangzhou, there is a “Suchang Street (Su’s Singing Street)”, where many kunqu opera artists lived. The State Bureau of Li Yuan was also located here. The Bureau managed affairs concerning Yabu operatic artists as well as provided services for them. There were also singers of Suzhou style living in the same, they belonged to “Guan Yuebu (Official Music Minitry”; they only sung and would not perform. They sung for folk events like wedding ceremonies.

In Beijing, “during early years of Qianlong’s reign, in order to maintain national peace, Emperor Chun(Pure) (Qianlong) ordered Zhang Wenmin to write Yuanben plays and submit them for the Music Ministry to practice and perform. Performances would be put on on every imperial festival or seasonal festivity and monthly ritual” (Xiaoting Xu Lu (Continued Records of the Whistling Pavillion) by Zhao Lian), such as Yueling Chengying (Official Adapted Plays for Monthly Performances) for seasonal festivity and monthly ritual, Fagong Yazou Divine Performances of the Palace Play) for imperial auspicious ceremonies and Jiujiu Daqing (Double Nine Grand Celebration Play) for celebrating the emperor’s and empress’s birthdays. During Kangxi’s reign, Shengzu (Kangxi) had the inner court’s Music Ministry moved to Nanchang Street, therefore the Music Ministry was called “Nanfu”. Gaozong (Qianlong) expand the Music Ministry, which was separated into “Neixu (inner school)” and “Waixue (outer school)”, “Neixu” consisted of eunuch performers while “waixue” consisted of Li Yuan performers (often sent from the south). According to some scholars’ research, altogether there were around 1400 to 1500 performers in Neixue and Waixue. These performers lived in Jingshan’s northwestern corner, which was called “Suzhou Alley”. Zhang Zhao, Prince Zhuang Ke and other liegemen obeyed imperial orders and wrote play scripts including Quanshan Jinke, Shengping Baofa, Dingzhi Chunqiu, Zhongyi Xuantu, Zhaodai Xiaoshao, Fengshen Tianbang, etc. Each play script has 10 scrolls and each scroll has 240 acts, which were put on stage in the Forbidden City or in Rehe Imperial Palace. “The theatrical stage is as wide as nine rooms and as high as three-storeyed building”, and “the two flanking buildings are also used for living, the courtyard is big enough for camel and horse riding” (Yanpu Zajiu—Da Xi (Grand Opera scroll of Miscellanea during Basking under eaves) by Zhaoyi). The number of participating actors was so large that it could frequently reach hundreds or thousands. These grand court plays are eccentric and absurd yet they inherit many popular folk plays since Yuan and Ming Dynasties, so they helped preserve many precious plays.


[1] middle-aged male character with low social status, the supporting role

[2] middle-aged male character with high social status, the leading role

[3] young male role

[4] elder character with experience of life, such as high court officials

[5] a Jing role with red and black facial makeup

[6] a Jing role

[7] a Jing or Chou role

[8] young female roles