Ten Misidentifications, or Riddles of the Spring Lantern Festival, a New Yonghuaitang Edition


Ruan Dacheng (circa 1587–1646) was a well-known late-Ming poet and dramatist from an influential family in Huaining, Anhui Province, and also a corrupt politician of unsavory reputation. He received his jin shi degree in 1616. While in office, he allied with Wei Zhongxian (1568–1627), a powerful eunuch, and was dismissed after the eunuch’s downfall. He retired to his native town, and later to Nanjing, and began writing poetry and drama. In 1644 he joined the court of the Ming loyalist Southern Ming (1644–62) regime, and rose to the rank of president of the Board of War and grand guardian of the heir apparent, whereupon he used his power to revenge himself against his enemies. After he surrendered to the Manchus, he was killed en route to Fujian with the Qing army. As a dramatist, Ruan Dacheng followed the school of Tang Xianzu (1550–1616), author of Mu dan ting (The peony pavilion), and used the prevalent chuan qi, or Southern, style. Presented here is an early Qing edition of one of Ruan Dacheng's plays, in two volumes, with illustrations that extend over double sheets. The 14 illustrations depict bird’s-eye views, street scenes of the lantern festival at the Huangling Temple, and human figures. Beside each image is inscribed the name of a musical tune. The story is full of twists and turns, subplots, and minor characters. The hero Yu Wenyan and his parents travel to his father’s post by boat. Yu goes ashore to see the festival celebrations at the Huangling Temple. Meanwhile, the heroine, Wei Yingniang, travels with her father and attends the same event in disguise. Both the hero and the heroine win prizes in the riddle competition and are invited by the temple acolyte to drink wine, where they compose poems in response to each other. Returning from the celebration, they board the wrong boats. The hero’s mother accepts and adopts the heroine as her daughter. But the heroine’s father sends the hero to jail after he finds his daughter’s poems on him. The judge, however, turns out to be the hero’s own brother who takes an assumed name due to a bureaucratic error. The hero also uses an alias so that he will not bring shame on the family. The judge finds him not guilty and sets him free. In the end, the hero takes the imperial examination and wins the highest degree. When the judge marries the heroine’s sister, he also arranges for the hero to marry his adopted sister, that is, the heroine. On the wedding night, all truths are happily revealed and the play ends with a great reunion.

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Physical Description

2 juan, 2 volumes : illustrations ;  20 x 13.9 centimeters


  • Only 8 illustrations are included in the WDL presentation.

Last updated: December 24, 2013