The Pipa Player's Gnawing Regret

(Pi Pa bao hen)

Volumes 3 and 4 of 4

Volumes 1 and 2 are not in the collection

The plot of this play comes from the Gao Zecheng play, The Story of Pipa, which is a representative work of drama from the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644).

Cai Popu must leave his new bride, Zhao Wuniang, behind when he goes to the capital for the imperial civil service examinations. He does so well that he is named top scholar, and Prime Minister Niu decides he wants him as a son-in-law. While Cai Popu is away, his hometown is affected by a great drought, and both his parents die in the ensuing famine. His wife Zhao Wuniang must beg for food as she makes her way to the capital to look for her husband.

After arriving in Beijing, she collects alms at a Buddhist temple, where she leaves behind a portrait of her deceased inlaws. The portrait is coincidentally picked up by Cai Popu, who has been forced to become a Buddhist monk for his resistance to an arranged marriage with Prime Minister Niu's daughter. Zhao Wuniang meets Miss Niu at a food bank event at the Prime Minister's official residence. During this event, the pipa carried by Zhao Wuniang draws Miss Niu's attention, and the two virtuous young women meet. Cai Popu also attends the event as a monk, and mistakes his wife Zhao Wuniang for Miss Niu's cousin. Zhao Wuniang writes a poem on the portrait of her deceased inlaws, and when Cai Popu sees the poem, he realizes that his wife is in town and starts searching for her as well. They finally find each other in the temple and take their story to the imperial court, where Cai Popu receives an imperial order allowing him to return to a secular life. The reunited couple lives, of course, happily ever after.

(For another version of this story, please see the entry for The Grumbles from a Pipa Player in this collection.)