Composers and their stage works 

Bai Pu

Chinese playwright and poet.


One of the great four of Yuan zaju drama, Bai Pu came from Yuzhou in present Shanxi province, the son of a high-ranking mandarin in the Jin dynasty (1115-1234). On the fall of the Jin he was looked after by a family friend, the renowned poet and literary giant Yuan Haowen (1190-1257). However, separation from his parents in the chaos of the Mongol invasions left Bai marked for life with a streak of melancholy sometimes discernible in his works.

His literary ability was greatly fostered by the kindly Yuan Haowen. Bai remained loyal to the Jin and repeatedly turned down offers from an influential minister to recommend him for government service under the new Mongol rulers. His son or sons may, however, have distinguished themselves in government, for Bai was posthumously given the title of Grand Official of Splendid Counsel and the rank of Supreme Minister in Charge of the Board of Rites. After 1280, about the time when the Mongols had completed their conquest of China, Bai may have moved south to live in present-day Nanking. When he was eighty years old he visited Yangzhou in Jiangsu province.

Fifteen or sixteen plays are attributed to Bai Pu, one very doubtfully so, and three plays have corresponding extant editions: East Wall (Dong-qiang ji), Over the Wall and on Horseback (Qiang-tou mashang), and Paulownia Rain (Wu-tong yu). The latter, concerning the famous love affair of Emperor Xuanzong and Lady Yang Gui-fei, contains some of the finest poetry in Chinese drama. It is one of the most celebrated Yuan zaju and also a rare example among traditional dramas of a predominantly tragic climax. Two more plays survive as fragments, and there are also a large number of Bai's poems, chiefly in the ci genre and also in the qu genre.

(William Dolby)