The Four Cries of the Gibbon


Si sheng yuan (The four cries of the gibbon) is a collection of four dramas written by Xu Wei (1521–93) of the Ming dynasty. This edition includes the text and commentaries written by Yuan Hongdao (1568‒1610). It was printed in the 42nd year (1614) of the Wanli reign by Zhong Renjie. Xu Wei, original courtesy name Wenqing, later changed to Wenchang, style name Tianchi, also in later years assumed other pseudonyms, among them Qingteng Jushi (Resident of the Green Vine House). He was born in Shanyin, Shaoxing Prefecture (present-day Shaoxing, Zhejiang). Among his extant works are the four dramas presented here, which were written separately. They are: Kuang gu shi Yuyang san nong (The history of the mad drummer of Yuyang), Yu chan shi Cuixiang yi meng (A Zen master’s dream of the Land of Green Jade), Ci Mulan ti fu cong jun (The heroine Mulan goes to war in her father’s place), and Nü zhuang yuan ci huang de feng (The female top graduate gives up a phoenix-hen and obtains a phoenix-rooster). Here they form the collection entitled Si sheng yuan. Xu Wei was a catalyst in the restoration of Yuan drama during the Ming dynasty, when this work was already considered an outstanding representative of Yuan drama. Chen Jiru, a late-Ming writer, painter, and calligrapher, wrote in juan 3 of Taiping qing hua (Pure words from a world of peace and tranquility) that “among the recent Yuan dramas, only Xu Hui (Wei), Tianchi, and Wang Heng, Chenyu, stand out. The most excellent ones are Heroine Hua Mulan and the Mad Drummer Mi Heng Cursing Cao Cao.” Tang Xianzu praised Xu Wei as “a flying general on the stage of southern drama” and remarked “how could one be like Wenchang, one would love to extricate his tongue.” The learned publisher Zhong Renjie, courtesy name Ruixian, was born in Qiantang during the late Ming dynasty. At one time he was a student of Huang Ruheng, a late-Ming literary author, and had extensive social connections. He published Xu Wenchang wen ji (Literary works of Xu Wenchang), which played a large role in spreading Xu Wei’s works. The book is illustrated, with one illustration for each drama. Each illustration straddles a double-page spread, forming a horizontal picture.

Last updated: April 14, 2017