A Combined Collection of Sao Songs from the Wu Area, Selected and Published by Baixuezhai


This work, in four juan, is also called Wu sao he bian (A combined collection of Sao songs from the Wu area). It was compiled by Zhang Chushu and Zhang Xuchu of the late Ming. Zhang Chushu of Wulin (present-day Hangzhou, Zhejiang), named Qi, style names Saoyin Jushi and Baixuezhai Zhuren, was skilled in ci and qu poetry. Zhang Xuchu, style names Banling Daoren and Lingqiao, was Zhang Chushu’s younger brother. The work contains prefaces by the Zhangs, Chen Jiru, and Xu Dangshi. It was printed during the years of Chongzhen (1628−44) of the Ming, in Wulin, by Zhang Shiling of Baixuezhai. The first three juan were compiled by Zhang Chushu and edited by Zhang Xuchu. Juan one has a preface by Chen Jiru, followed by selected songs, and it includes another work by Zhang Chushu entitled Heng qu chen tan (Casual conversation on Qu), in four chapters. Juan two and juan three both have prefaces by the Zhangs, followed by selected songs, with commentaries by the compilers, and 30 illustrations. Zhang Xuchu compiled the last juan and included some poems. Juan four became known as Wu sao he bian, connoting that these Kunqu songs followed the poetic style of Chu sao. The selections were mainly the southern Kunqu songs (the earliest mature dramatic form in Chinese opera that flourished during the end of the Northern Song and early Ming, around the 12th−14th centuries). To achieve wide circulation, the Zhangs selected the best Ming songs and poems, with qualities of erudition and sincerity. Each song reflects the ornate Ming language. Many of the songs are followed by the compilers’ commentaries. The work’s delicate and meticulous illustrations depict scenes in the songs in a way that evokes a rich and leisurely mood. The technique shows classic elegance. Human figures are depicted among the landscapes, characteristic of the Wulin wood-block style. The engraving masters included Xiang Nanzhou of Wulin and Wang Chengpu of Shexian. Xiang Nanzhou represented the Wulin, Zhejiang school, while Wang Chengpu was of the Anhui school. The illustrations cover both pages, with inscriptions on the side so they do not obstruct the images. Scenes such as ponds, pavilions, window curtains, and grass and trees are all skillfully laid out across the pages, which also include the characters in the song and reflect the narrative. The wood-block engraver Xiang Nanzhou, courtesy name Zhonghua, was a native of Wulin, as were the Zhang brothers. He was very famous during the Chongzhen reign (1628−44). His engraving was delicate, meticulous, and varied. He also did the illustrations of Xi xiang ji (Romance of the west chamber), jointly with painter Chen Hongshou and illustrator Wei Xian.

Last updated: June 25, 2015