Story of Qi Prince Who Toiled as a Gardener, a New Edition with Sound Notations and Illustrations


Xin kan yin zhu chu xiang Qi Shizi Guan yuan ji (Story of Qi prince who toiled as a gardener) is by Ming playwright Zhang Fengyi (1527−1613), courtesy name Boqi, style name Lingxu, a native of Changzhou (present-day Wuxian, Jiangsu). An ambitious youth, Zhang was the highest-placed candidate in the provincial civil examinations, but he failed several times at the national level. He enjoyed a high literary reputation. His writing was characterized by florid and fancy phrasing, and he often used allusions in his plays. In his old age he made his living by selling his calligraphy, poems, and prose. This play has 30 scenes. It depicts Qi prince Tian Fazhang of the Warring States period (475−221 BC), who, together with his old retainer Wang Zhu, worries that the king’s debauchery and neglect of state affairs are blinding him to the fact that the dukes are plotting to attack Qi. Tian Fazhang remonstrates with the king, who in his anger exiles the prince to remote Juzhou. Yue Yi, the famed general of the State of Yan, soon attacks Qi and occupies more than 70 cities and towns. The king of Qi is killed. Meanwhile, Wang Zhu recommends the prince to the family of Taishi Ao to work as a gardener. He and the daughter of the family fall in love. Later Qi general Tian Dan uses “the flaming oxen” strategy (attaching greased reeds to the tails of thousands of oxen and setting the reed tips aflame, so that the oxen stampede towards the enemy army, followed by 5,000 soldiers) to defeat the State of Yan. He then helps to make Tian Fazhang king. Tian Fazhang rules as Xiang Wang, 283−265 BC. He marries the daughter of the family for whom he had worked, and she becomes the queen. The plot faithfully depicts the history of Qi, from defeat to restoration, including court intrigues. It also recounts the royal love story. The scene of the adoring Wang Zhu promoted an image of the Confucian morality of the loyal subject, who sacrifices himself for country. The story also satisfied the tastes of the public. The heading of Juan 1 is an inscription that reads: “Elucidated by Sima Zichang of West Han; compiled by Zhang Boqi of Ming; printed by Fuchuntang in Jinling (present-day Nanjing).” Works that shed light on this history include Sh ji. Tian Wan shi jia (Family of Tian Wan of Qi in records of the grand historian), Yue Yi lie zhuan (Biography of Yue Yi), Tian Dan lie zhuan (Biography of Tian Dan) and Zhanguo ce. Qi ce (“Strategies of Qi” in Strategies of the Warring States). Fuchuntang, the business of Tang Fuchun, style name Duixi, published many plays during the Wanli reign (1573−1620) in Jinling. This copy has added phonetics to characters that were difficult to understand. The complete text is displayed here. The illustrations are characteristic of the Jinling painting style: bold, unrestrained, simple, and folksy. The most famous adaptation of the play, by the late-Ming writer Feng Menglong (1574–1645), entitled Xin guan yuan (The new story of Qi prince, the gardener), has more secondary characters and fills obvious gaps in the plot.

Last updated: April 14, 2016