Romance of the West Chamber with Chen Meigong’s Critical Comments
Ding juan Chen Meigong xian sheng pi ping Xi xiang ji (Romance of the West Chamber with Chen Meigong’s critical comments) is a work by Wang Shifu (circa 1250–1307), a successful playwright of the Yuan dynasty, with commentary by Chen Jiru (also called Chen Meigong, circa 1558–1639), a painter-calligrapher and man of letters. This is a late-Ming edition in two juan, with two juan of explanatory text, one juan of Pudong shi (Poems of Pudong), and one juan of Qiantang meng (Dream of Qiantang). It was printed at Shijiantang, in the workshop of Xiao Tenghong of Jianyang, Fujian Province, which produced many plays and operas. The main text is printed in black, punctuated with red circles. The layout of the title page is rarely seen in original copies. The illustrations are executed in the style of famous paintings. The play, 21 scenes in five acts, tells the story of a secret love affair between Zhang Sheng, a young scholar, and Cui Yingying, the daughter of a chief minister of the Tang court. The pair first meets in a Buddhist temple, where Yingying and her mother have stopped to rest while escorting the coffin of Yingying’s father to their native town. Zhang Sheng immediately falls in love with Yingying but is prevented from expressing his feelings while the object of his love is under her mother's watchful eye. He writes a love poem, which he reads aloud from behind the wall of the courtyard of the house in which Yingying is lodging. Meanwhile, word of Yingying's beauty reaches Sun the Flying Tiger, a local bandit. He dispatches his men to surround the temple, in the hope of taking her as his consort. Yingying's mother declares that whoever drives the bandits away can have Yingying's hand in marriage. Zhang Sheng then contacts his childhood friend General Du, who subdues the bandits. Yingying's mother regrets her rash promise, and refuses to sanction the marriage with the excuse that Yingying is already betrothed to the son of another high court official. Yingying's maid, Hong Niang, takes pity on the lovers, and ingeniously arranges to bring them together in a secret union. When Yingying's mother discovers their affair, she reluctantly consents to a formal marriage, but on one condition: Zhang must travel to the capital and pass the civil-service examination. Luckily, Zhang proves to be a brilliant scholar. He passes and is appointed to high office. The story ends on a happy note, as the two are married. Chen Meigong’s commentaries appear at the tops of pages, between lines, or separately, and express his appreciation and understanding of the play. His summary comments at the end are elaborate and precise. Dramas traditionally were printed with illustrations on the upper portions with text below, but this copy has illustrations covering both half sheets in a continuous way. Cai Chonghuan, a prominent painter from Jiangsu, and Liu Suming, a woodblock engraver from Jian’an, Fujian, contributed to the work. The National Central Library has another copy of Story of the West Chamber, printed at Xiangnanzhou of Wulin, with critical comments by Li Zhuowu.
Xiao Tenghong, Jian'an, Fujian, China
Title in Original Language
Type of Item
6 juan, 1 volume ; 22.2 x 14.4 centimeters
Last updated: May 24, 2017