The Story of the Jade Box, with Li Zhuowu‘s Critical Comments


This work is by Mei Dingzuo (1549–1615), who based it on a Tang-dynasty romantic work entitled Liu shi zhuan (The story about the woman Liu) by Xu Yaozuo, and another work, Ben shi shi (Stories in verse), by Meng Qi. Mei had a large circle of literary friends, among them literary scholars Wang Shizhen and Wang Daokun and playwright Tang Xianzu. After repeatedly failing to pass the civil examinations, Mei devoted himself to writing poetry, novels, and dramas, and eventually became a prolific author. Among his best-known works are Kunlun nu (The Kunlun slave), Yu he ji (The story of the jade box), and Chang ming lü ji (The story of longevity threads). Yu he ji, in 40 scenes, takes place during the rebellion of An Lushan, a Chinese general of Iranian and Turkish descent, who proclaimed himself emperor in 755–63, and established a rival Yan dynasty against the Tang, which caused major disturbance and fighting. The play is a love story about Han Hong and Zhangtai Liu and their separation and reunion. Zhangtai is the name of a place in Chang’an, the capital, where the singing courtesans gather. The newly minted jin shi Han Hong and the courtesan Liu fall in love with each other. He presents her with a jade box as a token of love. During the rebellion of An Lushan, the hero follows Hou Xiyi, the military commissioner, into battle against the rebels, while the beautiful heroine tries to escape the war by entering a Buddhist temple. She is abducted by the Tibetan general Shazhali. After peace is restored, Han Hong returns and, with the help of the general Xu Jun, rescues Liu, after which the couple finally marry. One of the scenes depicts Han Hong testing the heart of Liu, who comes to epitomize the virtuous woman of ancient China who remains determinedly chaste. This work was printed at Rongyutang, a workshop owned by a Huang family in Wulin, Hangzhou, during the Wanli period (1573–1620). The commentaries are by Li Zhi (1527–1602), courtesy name Zhuowu, a prominent late-Ming philosopher, historian, and writer. The woodblock illustrations are the work of the famous Huizhou engravers of the Huang family.

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Publication Information

Rongyutang, Hulin, Hangzhou, China


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Physical Description

2 juan, 4 volumes : illustrations ; 22.3 x 13.7 centimeters


  • Only 20 illustrations are included in the WDL presentation.

Last updated: January 3, 2018