Born at the end of the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) or the
beginning of the Yuan
Dynasty (1271-1368) in Dadu (called Beijing
Hanqing has been and still is regarded as one of the greatest playwrights in
the history of Chinese literature and theater development.
Smart and humorous, handsome and erudite, Guan Hanqing was good in many areas
including poems, music, dancing, chess, and hunting. He lived in Dadu -- the
capital of the Yuan Dynasty -- and for a time worked in the Loyal Hospital.
However, he had little interest in medical research, but instead was very
enthusiastic about writing plays.
Mixed Opera with rich content was popular with both the noble class and the
ordinary people in the Yuan Dynasty. However, Guan's major purpose was to
encourage the latter rather than entertain the former.
In the Yuan period, the common people lived a miserable life due to the
authoritarian rule of corrupt officials as well as disruption from frequent
social riots. A lot of people were wrongly put into prison. Sympathetic with
them, Guan Hanqing resigned from his court position to spend more time on
familiarizing himself with the people at the grassroots level and produce more
plays to disclose the dark side of the society.
Understanding the gloomy life the people were living as well as various
dialects they were speaking, Guan Hanqing succeeded in producing lively plays.
In addition to mirroring the depressing reality, his works were full of
combative spirit, crying for rights for the oppressed.
He produced a lot of successful female characters with different
personalities, including Dou'e, Du Ruiniang, a prostitute named Wang Ruilan, a
widow named Tan Ji'er, and a servant girl named Yanyan. The majority of these
characters had humble origins and were constantly insulted and prosecuted by the
In his plays, Guan Hanqing depicted a vivid picture of
their tragic life from which their integrity, goodness, brightness, and
tactfulness were clearly revealed. Meanwhile, he thought highly of their
persistence and heroic actions in fighting for themselves against their enemies.