Composers and their stage works 

Autumn in the Han Palace

(Han-gong qiu)

Ma Zhiyuan

Written probably between 1260 and 1294)

Emperor Yuandi of the Han dynasty sends his scheming minister Mao Yanshou on a tour to select beautiful girls for the imperial harem. When the father of the exquisitely charming Wang Zhaojun refuses to pay Mao the required bribe, Mao takes revenge. The Emperor chooses whom to love by looking at portraits of the members of the harem, and since Mao has altered Zhaojun's portrait to make her appear to be ugly, she is neglected. One day, however, the Emperor overhears her playing the dulcimer and meets her. Discovering Mao's duplicity the Emperor orders that Mao be executed.

Mao escapes in the nick of time to the Hunnish Khan with the true portrait of Zhaojun. As Mao has foreseen, the Khan is so taken with her beauty that he sends an ultimatum to the Chinese Emperor: either give him Zhaojun in marriage or he will invade. The distraught Emperor pleads with his ministers but it is Zhaojun herself who finally persuades him to give her up for the sake of peace. The lovers say a sorrowful farewell and she is led away.

Zhaojun commits suicide by throwing herself in the River Amur. Unaware of this, the Emperor yearns for her and in a dream he sees her torn from him by soldiers of the Khan. He awakes to the mournful cry of migrating geese that recalls her separation from him.

News of her death is eventually brought by the Khan's envoy, who also brings Mao Yanshou, whom the penitent and now inclined to peace Khan has sent in chains to be executed.