The Story of the Purple Hairpin by Master Tang Yireng


Tang Yireng xian sheng Zi cha ji (The story of the purple hairpin by Master Tang Yireng) was written by Tang Xianzu (1550‒1616), courtesy name Yireng, style names Ruoshi, Hairuo, Qingyuan Daoren, and Yumingtang Zhuren. He was a native of Linchuan, Jiangxi. An upright and outspoken man who did not seek riches and power, he refused in his youth to cozy up to Zhang Juzheng, the grand-secretary; thus, twice he failed in the civil service examinations before finally achieving the jin shi degree. His memorial on government corruption angered Emperor Shenzong (temple name Wanli, reigned 1573‒1620). Finally Tang resigned and returned home to Linchuan, where he built his home named Yumingtang (Hall of the Jade Camelia) and devoted himself entirely to drama and literary writing. He left behind five song dramas: Zi cha ji (The story of the purple hairpin), Mu dan ting (The peony pavilion), Handan meng (Record of Handan), Nan ke ji (Record of Southern Bough, also called “The Four Dreams of Linchuan,” or the “Four Dreams of Yumingtang”), and lastly Zi xiao ji (Record of the purple flute). The Story of the Purple Hairpin is the first dream, adapted from the Tang dynasty romance Huo Xiaoyu zhuan (The tale of Huo Xiaoyu) in 53 scenes. It tells the story of the poet Li Yi, who, during the Lantern Festival on the first full-moon night of the lunar New Year, met the talented and beautiful Huo Xiaoyu. The two fell in love at first sight. Xiaoyu inadvertently hung her purple hairpin on a plum tree branch as a keepsake, which led to their union. Not long afterwards, Li Yi became the top-ranking candidate in the imperial examination. However, because he displeased Grand Guardian Lu, who wanted him to be his son-in-law, he was dispatched as an adjutant to the army stationed outside the Jade Gate Pass on the northwestern frontier. Li and Xiaoyu thus bid a sorrowful farewell at the Yuba Bridge. Later Lu relocated to Mengmen, Shanxi. After Li returned to the court, he was put under house arrest at Lu’s mansion. Not knowing the situation, Xiaoyu bitterly hated Li for his unfaithfulness. However, thanks to the generous aid of a knight-errant in a yellow robe, the two lovers met again, the truth came out, and they reunited in harmony. The two scenes concluding the drama changed a tragic to a happy ending. The copy bears cutout marks, which may indicate that this was a separate copy of the set of Yumingtang si zhong (Four dreams of Yumingtang). The table of contents and scenes 1‒16 of the drama are presented here.

Last updated: November 9, 2017