Guan Hanqing - one of China's greatest dramatists
Guan Hanqing (关汉卿) (c. 1225-1302), sobriquet "the Oldman of the Studio" (斋叟), was a notable Chinese playwright and poet in the Yuan Dynasty.
Guan was born in the capital city of the Yuan Dynasty, Dadu and produced about 65 plays, mostly in Vernacular Chinese of the time. He has been considered as one of the Four Great Yuan Playwrights. Fourteen of his plays are extant, including:
The Injustice to Dou E a.k.a. Snow in Midsummer (感天动地窦娥冤)
Guan Hanqing was talented and versatile. He was good at writing poems, playing chess, and was a musical expert. He could play Xiao and Quin well and was a very experienced dancer. He used to work in the medical department for the royal family, but become disillusioned with medicine. He then turned his attention to writing plays, and displayed a great enthusiasm for it. There was a drama form, called Zaju, that was popular at the time. It reflected the reality of the society and received warm welcome by the people. Guan's plays did not aspire to entertain nobles but articulate the bitterness of the common people.
This was a tragic point in history as courts were busy dealing with endless fights and riots. Guan Hanqing quit his job and wrote about the common life in his plays.
His accomplishment in folk language brought his work close to people's daily lives. Despite the low status of the actors, Guan Hanqing got along well with folk artists and acted on stage himself. He described his character in a play as "…a sound copper bean which can't be steamed or scrabbled."
In other words, his works were reflected the spirit of a fighter. The characters in the plays were upright, courageous and rebellious. The Injustice to Dou E was his masterpiece.
The Injustice to Dou E tells a tragic story of young woman named Dou E and has been listed as one of the ten great classical tragedies in China.
Guan Hanqing's works encouraged common people to fight against oppression and greatly influenced the development of Chinese drama. Guan wrote 67 Zaju plays but only 18 remain. His writing, involving complicated characters, is unparalleled by other classic playwrights.
Because of his achievement, Guan Hanqing is named "Ancestor of Zaju."