Qiu Jun

Qiu Jun (1421--1495) was a playwright of early Ming dynasty, courtesy name Zhongshen (deep), also known as Qiongtai (the pavilion of Qiongshan) or Qiongshan. He originated from Jinjiang, Fujian, and had migrated to Qiongshan, Guangdong by the end of Yuan dynasty. In 1444, the ninth year of the Zhengtong era, he was entitled a recommendee (juren, candidates who pass the provincial exam)  and later in 1454, the fifth year of Jingtai era, he became a presented scholar (jinshi, candidates who pass the national exam). He had served as Bianxiu (in charge of drafting imperial edicts and confidential documents)  and member of Hanlin Academy (hanlin yuan), assistant minister of Rites (libu shilang) and concurrently the head of the imperial college Guozijian (guojijian jijiu), Minister of Rites(libu shangshu) and concurrently member of Pavilion of Literary Source(wenyuan ge), prince teaching assistant (taizi shaobao) and concurrently member of Hall of Martial Valor (wuying dian) and then Minister of Revenue (hubu shangshu). He had written some books on Neo-Confucianism (li xue), including the Deduction of Great Learning (daxue yanyi bu), A Study on Zhuism (zhuzi xue di ), A Study on Family Ritual (jiali yijie) and Outline of the History (shishi zhenggang), with which he was known as “Master of Neo-Confucianism (lixue daru)”. He had also written four legendary novels including Five Cardinal Relationships (wulun ji), Dropping Pen for Sword (toubi ji), Lifting the Tripod (juding ji), and Silk Bag (luonang ji). The first three of the above are known to be extant, while the score of the fourth partly remains. The kunqu episode Confering a Dukedom (feng hou) is taken from Dropping Pen for Sword.  (Yu Weiming)

Shao Can

Shao Can (birth and death date unknown) was a playwright of early Ming dynasty, courtesy name Wenming, and known as Hongzhi. His exact birth and death date are unknown, but it is said that he was still alive in year five of Chenghua era (1469). He was born in Yixing (in today’s Jiangsu). He studied in public school and liked playing chess. He was good at appreciating music and writing song lyrics. He had written the The Story of A Fragrant Bag (Xiangnang Ji), which is about a man named Zhang Jiucheng in Song dynasty, who devotes himself to the country. Zhang Jiucheng’s story of “filial piety and loyalty” is even known to the imperial court. The texts are elegant and the narratives are mainly in couplets. It was the first of its kind in Ming dynasty, which became a fashion. In A Study of Southern Drama (Nanci Xulu), Xu Wei criticized him by claiming “he read too much The Book of Songs (Shijing) and poems of Du Fu, from which he borrowed many texts. Many of his narratives are filled with quotations, and he even tells stories in couplets, which are very difficult to understand… laities in Sanwu area even thought it elegant, and all asked their slaves to perform it, as a result, it soon prevailed. For southern drama, nothing is worse than this nightmare”. Shao Can also wrote The Collection of Happiness and Goodness (Le Shan Ji), and kept it in his own house. It hasn’t been printed.        (Zhu Guofang)

Zheng Guoxuan




Xu Lin








Li Rihua













Wang Ji







Lu Cai









Wei Liangfu











Zhang Yetang






Li Kaixian







Cao Hanzhai

Zheng Guoxuan (years of birth and death unknown) was a playwright of early Ming dynasty, known as Anchoret of Zhe County (zhejun yishi). There is no reference for his life experience. He wrote The Story of Peony (mudan ji, lost), The Story of Liu Hanqing and White Snake (liu hanqing baishe ji, the blocked-printed copy of Ming dynasty is known to exist). Later, The Story of Liu Hanqing and White Snake was adapted into The Story of Phoenix Hairpin (luanchai ji) and some episodes are still performed on Kungu stage.                                   (Yu Weiming)

Xu Lin (1462--1583) was a playwright of the middle of Ming dynasty, courtesy name Ziren (benevolence), also known as Ranxian (the deity of beard), the old man of the Kuanyuan Garden (kuaiyuan sou), and Jiufeng Taoist (jiufeng daoren). He was burn in Huating, Jiangsu (today’s Songjiang County, Shanghai), and later moved to Shangyuan (today’s Nanjing, Jiangsu). He had been very smart since he was a child, known as a prodigy. He was good at calligraphy and painting, writing songs and appreciating music. During the imperial inspection tours[孙1]  of Emperor Zhengde of Ming dynasty to southern China, introduced by Zang Xian from the imperial music office (jiaofang), Xu Lin composed some songs for the emperor. The emperor liked him very much and paid two visits to his house in Nanjing and intended to give him a title in the imperial music office, but he declined. Then he was appointed the officer of the Embroidered Uniform Guard (jinyiwei) (see Zaolinzazu by Tan Qian). Xu Lin built a Kuaiyuan Garden east of Nanjing Wuding Bridge, and asked his slaves to perform drama for entertainment. He befriended celebrities from different places, and had close interactions with Shen Zhou, Wen Huiming, and Zhu Yunming, three of the “four masters in the Jiangnan area” and sanqu writer Chen Duo and Shen Yi. He and Chen Duo are known as “the greatest sanqu writers” (qutan jijiu). He produced eight legendary dramas, and The Embroided Short Coat (xiuru ji, some say the author is Xue Jingun) and The Story of Shang Lu (shanglu sanyuan ji) are known to exist and some episodes are still played on Kunqu stage.                    (Yu Weiming)

Li Rihua (years of birth and death unknown) was a playwright from the middle of the Ming dynasty. It is estimated that he lived around 1522, the first year under the reign of Jiajing Emperor of the Ming dynasty. He originated from Wu County, Suzhou Perfecture, and was known for his Southern Romance of the Western Chamber adapted from Romance of the Western Chamber by Wang Shifu. He had also written A Record of the Four Seasons and Southern Tale of the Lute, which were lost. As Wang's play was made "only for string instruments, not wind instrument", Rihua decided to adapt it into the southern style", consisting of 38 sections. People remained divided since its appearance. Xu Fuzuo mentioned in Sanjia Cunlao Weitan (Essays by Three Old Village Committees): "Li Rihua has made a bad move in adapting the northern Romance of the Western Chamber to the south." Li Yu also criticized the work in saying: "Such a pity to reduce something invaluable into something valueless." Li Tiaoyuan said: "It's just like adding length to a duck's legs by cutting short a crane's when Li forced the words into another style of tone." However, Zhang Chushu highly prized Li's work in Hengqu Chentan (a book emphasizing the role of “emotions” in xiqu): "He removed all the unfitted northern characteristics, so swiftly that can be done by no other man." Current plays such as Youdian(travelling on the palace), Naozhai(religious service), Huiming(Huiming the disciple), Jijian(sending an invitation), Tiaoqiang(wall-jumping), Zhuoqi(chess-playing), Jiaqi(wedding day), Kaohong(interrogating Hongniang), Changting(the pavilion) are popular Kunqu episodes taken from this play. Disagreement exists as to the author of Southern Romance of the Western Chamber. Hundred Rivers Bibliographical Notes recorded that "Edited by Cui Shipei from Haiyan, Zhejiang Province, and added by Li Rihua from Wumen, Jiangsu Province." In the Xinkan Chuxiang Yinzhu Hualan Nandiao Xixiangji(a book about Southern Romance of the Western Chamber with illustrations and notes) published by Fuchuntang (Hall of Wealth and Spring) in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province during the reign of Wanli Emperor of the Ming dynasty, everything added by Li was accompanied by an explanatory note saying "newly added". Min Yuwu from the late Ming dynasty copied Southern Romance of the Western Chamber into his Six Illusions of the Romance of the Western Chamber. Liang Chenyu wrote in the postscript that "Li shamefully took something from Cui who took something from Wang." Wu Mei wrote in the postscript of Southern Romance of the Western Chamber that "Li Rihua takes a fancy to writing lyrics. He managed to get Cui's version, changed the author's name and combined it with melody." Confusions also arise when it comes to distinguishing Li Rihua from Li Junshi of a later time. Li Junshi from Jiaxing, Zhejiang province was also named Rihua. He justified himself in Assoted Notes Composed at the Purple Peach Veranda that "When I was the official in charge of legislation in Jiangzhou, some high officials used to ask me for Romance of the Western Chamber. Perhaps Li Rihua's version was popular then. I only dismissed it with a laugh after knowing why."  

Wang Ji (1474--1540) was a playwright of the middle of Ming dynasty, courtesy name Boyu, also known as Yuzhou (rain boat), Ziran Xianbo (an old man with purple beard) and Baitie Taoist (baitie daoren). He was born in Wucheng (today’s Huzhou, Zhejiang) and student of the imperial college Guozijian . Then he served as Tongpan (assistant and supervisor of local governor) of Hengzhou (today’s Heng County, Guangxi). Later, he required to retire and returned hometown for his aged mother. He was wealthy and befriended Zhu Yunming, Wen Huiming, and other celebrities. Wang Ji, together with Liu Nanxun, Sun Taichu and Zhang Jiuqing, founded the Xianshan Society (a literary salon ). Wang Ji was a very productive writer who had produced poem collections such as A Man From Baitie Mountain, Guying, Lady Pistil and A Record of Local Customs in Hengzhou , and three legendary dramas including The Deadfall (lianhuan ji), collectively known as The Pavilion of Green Phoenix Tree. Now only The Deadfall of the three is known to exist in block-printed copiesof Ming dynasty. The Deadfall is a very popular drama, of which some episodes are still performed in scenes on Kunqu stage.                           (Yu Weiming)  

Lu Cai (1497-1537) was playwright of the middle of the Ming dynasty. His original name was Zhuo, courtesy name Zixuan. He was also known as Tianchi (heavenly lake) and Qingchisou (a high-hearted maniac old man), originating from Changzhou (today's Suzhou, Jiangsu Province). He was a bold person who rarely cared about official career, never being a part of official circles. He was very fond of traveling and xiqu, and had written five legendary novels. Three of them are extant: The Luminous Pearl, Southern Romance of the Western Chamber (or Roman of the Western Chamber by Lu Tianchi) and Huaixiangji(a love story between Jia Wu and Han Shou). All the three novels have been handed down through copies from the Ming dynasty. Fenxieji(a moving story about Cheng Pengju and his wife) is lost, and Jiaoshangji(a story advocating loyalty and filial piety) partly remains. The Luminous Pearl served as the first legendary novel in Suzhou area before the rise of Kunqu. Wang Shizhen in The Opera Theory claimed that "The Luminous Pearl is the same thing as Tale of Wushuang, which was Lu Cai's work improved by his brother Junming (Lu Can). Yet there is still room for enhancement." Qian Yiqian said in The Biographies of the Ming Poets that "(Lu Cai) wrote Tale of Wang Xianke and Wushuang at the age of 19; Ziyu (Lu Can) made some improvement." But Lv Tiancheng in Opera Aesthetics held that "Lu Can the advisory official drafted and Lu Cai completed the novel subsequently." As for Southern Romance of the Western Chamber, Lu Cai wrote in the preface that "I've always been working on it after retiring." Lu Cai never retired for he never worked, so people held that the novel was either written by Lu Can or co-written by Lu Can and Lu Cai. Lu composed the work for he thought Li Rihua's Southern Romance of the Western Chamber was not so satisfying. The monologue of Lu's work is especially rude and rough. Lu's Huaixiangji much resembles Wang Shifu's Romance of the Western Chamber in plot. Lu was also the author of 10 volumes of Lansheng Jitan(travel notes) and 5 volumes of Tianchishanren Xiaogao(a collection of his poems and articles).                                    (Zhu Guofang, Wang Yongjing)

Wei Liangfu (years of birth and death unknown), courtesy name Shangquan (love for spring), was an innovator of Kunqiang (Kunqu Opera) during the middle of the Ming Dynasty. He came from Yuzhang (today known as Nanchang), Jiangxi Province and resided in Loudong (near today's Kunshan and Taicang areas, Jiangsu Province). His artistic activities mainly took place during the reigns of Zhengde and Jiajing emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1506-1566). Wei had learned Beiqu (Northern Opera) in his early years, yet dedicated himself to Nanqu (Southern Opera) due to the idea that his friend Wang Youshan was more talented than him. At that time, Kunshanqiang (Kunshan tone), Haiyanqiang (haiyan tone) and other southern tones popular in the Wuzhong area tended to be somewhat primitive, with unestablished rules. Considering that southern tones were "bluntly simple" and "so basic that raised no aesthetic mood" (see in Yu Huai's A Record of Hearing Singing in Jichang Garden), he started off on the reform of the tone. During his reform, a group of excellent xiqu (traditional Chinese opera) musicians such as Guo Yunshi, Zheng Sili, Tang Xiaoyu, Huang Wenqin, Zhang Xin, Zhao Zhanyun, Lu Jiuchou, Xie Linquan, Zhang Meigu and Zhang Yetang, as well as his students Bao Langlang, Dai Meichuan and Zhang Xiaoquan all gathered to support him, forming a musician club, with Wei Liangfu at the center. On the basis of the former Kunshanqiang and other tones, they spent a decade in breathing life into the old tones and a new "Kunshanqiang" finally took shape. The new tone represented a combination of the gentle and ethereal southern opera and the stirring and staccato northern opera. "Well manage the four tones (level, falling-rising, falling and entering tones) and syllables (vowels and consonants); cultivate into depths the purity in one's sound so you can sing with a gentle and smooth tone, and end with a pure and fine tone." (see in Shen Chongsui's Handbook for Qu-singing) It's known as the elegant "water-milled melody" featuring refinement, melodiousness and gentleness. In terms of playing, Wei added variations into the monotonous southern accompaniments by combining the merits of southern and northern tones and integrating three kinds of instruments, namely Xiansuo (string instrument), Xiaoguan (wind instrument) and Guban (drum and clapper). The varied instruments made the tones more charming. And the new tone soon overshadowed the many others since its birth, spreading across the nation. Wei also gained his fame from within, renowned as "master of the state", "sage of xiqu" or even "founding father" of Kunqu. His masterpiece Guide to Southern Arias (or Rules of Qu) played an important role in studying singing techniques.                            (Gu Lingsen)

Zhang Yetang (years of birth and death unknown) was an innovative Kunqu musician during the reign of the Emperor of Zhengde and Jiajing (1502-1566) of the Ming dynasty. Born in Shouzhou (today’s Shou County, Anhui Province), he was exiled to Taicangzhou in Suzhou and later settled in Cangzhou. The Kunqu Master Wei Liangfu lingered for three days on end upon listening his northern drama. Wei Liangfu had a daughter; “gentries and officials were all eager to marry his daughter, but he rejected them all” (see Song Zhifang, Suo Wen Lu). Wei Liangfu favored Zhang Yetang for his talent and married his daughter to him. Since then Zhang helped Wei in reforming the Kunqu by elaborately creaming off the northern drama and the southern drama. Wei Liangfu “is good at singing but not playing (instrument) (see Li Kaixian, Ci Xue), therefore his doughter-in-law, Zhang Yetang altered the instrument into three strings for him to play. Zhang Yetang also contributed to the successful reform of the “Shuimo Tune” (Kunqu).                           (Gu Lingsen)

Li Kaixian (1502-1568) was a dramatist and drama critic of the middle Ming dynasty. His courtesy name was Bohua, and his literary name Zhonglu or Zhonglu Fangke. Born in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province, he was the secondary candidate of the Imperial examination in 1529 and later worn many hats such as Minister of Revenue, premier of the Department of Scrutiny, Deputy Director, Administrative Director and then was promoted as head of the Taichang Temple of Ethnic Office. In 1541, he was removed from office and returned home. He was talented in poem and drama creation; together with Wang Shenzhong, Tang Shunzhi, Xiong Guo and Lv Gao, they were called “the Eight Scholars of Jiajing” (1522-1566). His works include one collection of poems and articles Xian Ju JI, three short stories Deng Tan Ji, Bao Jian Ji and Duan Fa Ji, six poetic plays Yuan Lin Wu Meng, Da Ya Chan, Jiao Dao Chang, Qiao Zuo Ya, Hun Si Mi and San Zhi Hua Da Nao Tu Di Tang, as well as two lyric verses Zhonglu Yuefu and Zhonglu Xiaoling. His work of drama Ci Xue was selected as the third volume of Zhongguo Gudian Xi Qu Lunzhu Ji Cheng (Collection of Traditional Chinese Works of Drama). His Yeben Baojian Ji (Running at Night) was frequently performed onstage as an important Kunqu opera and is very popular till the present day.

Cao Hanzhai (the years of birth and death unknown) was an amateur artist for pure singing under the reign of the Emperor Jiajing (1522-1566). He was born in Jintan (today’s Jiangsu province) and originally named Dazhang. His courtesy name was Yicheng and literary name, Hanzhai, Binghua Meishi and Pinghua Meishi. In the twenty-fifth year of the Emperor Jiajing (1546), he passed xianggong (county level) examination. Then, he became jinshi and was appointed as the editor of Hanlin Academy. He eulogized Kunshan tunerenovated by Wei Liangfu and composed ditty to sing based on melody rules of Wei. In May of twenty-sixth year of the Emperor Jiajing, he wrote postscript for Wei’s Nanci Yinzheng (Guide to Southern arias), which was amended by Wu Kunlu. In 1570, he, Wu Kunlu, Liang Chenyu and other celebrities held liantai xianhui (the meeting of lotus tower immortals) on the bank of Qinhuai river of Nanjing and invited 14 courtesans to contest for singing. In memory of the meeting, Cao wrote Liantai Xianhui Pin (comment on the meeting of lotus tower immortals) with a postscript written by Pan Zhiheng in 1609. (Wu Xinlei)