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Tang Xianzu
Traditional Chinese 湯顯祖
Simplified Chinese 汤显祖

Tang Xianzu (traditional Chinese: 湯顯祖; simplified Chinese: 汤显祖; September 24, 1550 – July 29, 1616), courtesy name Yireng (義仍), was a Chinese playwright of the Ming Dynasty.


Tang was a native of Linchuan, Jiangxi and his career as an official consisted principally of low-level positions. He successfully participated in the provincial examinations (juren) at the age of 21 and at the imperial examinations (jinshi) at the age of 34. He held official positions in Nanjing, Zhejiang province, Guangdong province etc. He retired in 1598 and returned to his hometown where he focused on writing. Tang died in 1616, the same year as famed English playwright William Shakespeare.

His major plays are collectively called the Four Dreams, because of the decisive role dreams play in the plot of each one. All of them are still performed (in scenes, or in adapted full versions) on the Chinese Kun opera (kunqu) stage. Generally considered his masterpiece, the Mudan Ting (The Peony Pavilion) has been translated into English several times.

A translation of his complete dramatic works in English was published in China in 2014 and in London in 2018.


A few Ming and Qing playwrights followed Tang's writing style and called themselves the Yumintang or Linchuan school.


A page from a printed copy of Record of Southern Bough (also known as A Dream Under the Southern Bough)
See The Purple Hairpin (1957) 紫釵記 (粵劇) by Tang Ti-sheng

Works available in English

  • The Peony Pavilion (trans. Cyril Birch). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.
  • The Peony Pavilion (trans. Wang Rongpei). Changsha: Hunan People's Press, 2000.
  • A Dream Under the Southern Bough (trans. Zhang Guangqian). Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2003. ISBN: 7-119-03270-4.
  • The Handan Dream (trans. Wang Rongpei). Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2003
  • The Complete Dramatic Works of Tang Xianzu (trans. Wang Rongpei & Zhang Ling) Bloomsbury: London, 2018. ISBN: 9781912392025

Studies available in English

  • Peony Pavilion Onstage : Four Centuries in the Career of a Chinese Drama (Catherine Swatek). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Center for Chinese, 2003.
  • Tan, Tian Yuan and Paolo Santangelo. Passion, Romance, and Qing: The World of Emotions and States of Mind in Peony Pavilion. 3 Volumes. Leiden: Brill, 2014.
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