The New Edition, with Sound Notations and Illustrations, of the Story of Shang Lu Earning Triple First Place in the Civil Examinations


The author of this qu (song drama) is unknown. Historically there have been two versions of the story of an individual’s winning triple first place in the civil examinations. One was entitled Feng Jing san yuan ji (Feng Jing earning triple first place in civil examinations), which was written by Shen Shouxian, who lived around 1475. The National Central Library has a Jiguge edition of Ming, with Qing dynasty repairs, in which a script indicates that it was a work by Shen. That story begins with Feng Jing’s father who, after many years of childlessness, did many good deeds that moved the gods. He was rewarded with a son, who achieved triple highest degrees in the provincial, national, and palace civil examinations. The story ends when the emperor orders an honorary title bestowed on the Feng family. The other version, from which the copy shown here derives, was entitled Shang Lu san yuan ji (Shang Lu earning triple first place in civil examinations). It was also called Duan ji ji (Breaking the weaving loom). It tells the story of Shang Lu who, after his father died, was raised by Qin Xuemei, his father’s fiancé. As Shang Lu’s mother, Xuemei broke the loom in order to teach her son to study. At the end he achieved the three highest degrees in the civil examinations and brought honor to the whole family. The main theme in the story is of a chaste woman who taught her son to study. The two stories are not the same, but both versions promote good deeds, belief in the heavenly gods, and the importance of accumulating good deeds to the doer's credit in the nether world. This work, comprised of 38 scenes in two juan and two volumes, was published in Jinling during the late Ming period. During the Ming dynasty, the Jinling area of Nanjing produced the largest number of fiction, drama, and illustrated books of any place in China. Jinling also had the highest number of publishers who specialized in poetic dramas. Fuchuntang, the publishing house that produced this edition, paid particular attention to the quality of the illustrations. The images cover single pages, with the titles placed above. The length of the illustration titles vary; some have six, others seven characters. The style is simple and unadorned. The illustrations are closely related to the text, and include such scenes as Shang Lin dying of lovesickness after seeing beautiful Xuemei, Xuemei bidding farewell to her parents and moving to live with the Shang family to preserve fidelity, Xuemei breaking her weaving loom to instruct her son, Shang Lu taking civil examinations, and Shang Lu’s triumphant return and reunion with his family. Several illustrations, such as “Lord Superior Wen Chang rewards the hidden merits of the Shang family” and “Xuemei meets her husband in the nether world in her dream,” appear naturalistic, with square-shaped interwoven lines for the floor forming an inverted V-shaped space, an attractive visual effect. This was a traditional style used in Jinling woodblock engraving. The complete work is presented here.

Last updated: October 29, 2015