The Story of the Bright Pearl


The playwright of Ming zhu ji (The story of the bright pearl) was Lu Cai (1497‒1537). His original name was Lu Zhuo, courtesy name Ziyuan, or Zixuan, also called Lu Cai, Tianchi and Qingchisou, a native of Wuxian, Jiangsu. At the age of 19, he completed this drama. It was said that the draft was started by his older brother Lu Can and was finished by Lu Cai. He also put the drama on stage, selected performers, directed them, and became famous. Unruly and unrestrained, Lu Cai loved drama, song, poetry, and wine, and traveled a great deal. He wrote five plays, Ming zhu ji, Huai xiang ji (Romance of homesickness), Nan xi xiang (Romance of the southwest chamber), Fen xie ji (Story of the separated shoes), and Jiao shang ji (The story of the wine cup), of which only the first three survived. This story originated from the fictional work Liu Wushuang zhuan (The life of Liu Wushuang) by Tang dynasty writer Xue Tiao. The play has 43 scenes. It tells the story of Wang Xianke, who lost his father early and lived with his mother, away from their home, with his uncle Liu Zhen and his family. He and his cousin Wushuang loved each other from their childhood on. Then his mother died and he returned to his native town for the burial. Afterwards he went to the capital for the civil examinations. He sent someone to ask his uncle’s permission to marry Wushuang. His uncle refused. At that time, a former military commissioner named Yao Lingyan raised a mutiny. Liu Zhen decided to let the two marry. Wushuang gave Xianke a bright pearl as a keepsake. Liu Zhen’s family was blockaded in the city. Xianke was able to flee to his native town. After the turmoil ended, Xianke found out that Liu Zhen had been wrongly framed and put in prison and his wife and daughter taken to the imperial court as slaves. Wushuang’s maid Caiping was brought to the home of General Wang Suizhong, who adopted her and gave her to Xianke as his concubine. He also recommended Xianke as the magistrate of Gaoping. One day, the emperor ordered the palace maids, among them Wushuang, to clean up the tombs. On their way they stopped at Chang’an to spend the night at a hostel, where Xianke was on official duty. With the help of his serving boy and a knight-errant, Xianke and Wushuang met. They then fled the town and met and reunited with Liu Zhen and his wife, who had been pardoned. The plot of the drama is similar to the original romance, except for a few additional scenes. In one, Wushuang’s father was pardoned and did not die, so father and daughter were reunited; in the other, Wushuang gives Xianke the bright pearl as a keepsake. That was why the drama was given the title The Story of the Bright Pearl. This copy is a late Ming edition, in two juan in four volumes. The title at the beginning of juan 1 is in large characters in double columns. The National Central Library has another copy of this work, of a revised Qing edition, included in the series entitled Liu shi zhong qu (Collection of 60 dramas). The table of contents and the first 11 scenes of the drama are presented here.

Last updated: November 9, 2017