Mr. Lu Meng Zheng is Compelled to Sell His Wife

(Meng Zheng mai qi)

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This play is adapted from a popular folktale. Liu Cuilian, daughter of a prime minister during the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279), decides to choose a husband by throwing a silk ball from a tower, which will hit the man she is destined to marry. This is a game of chance which is highly popular at the time, particularly for ladies in feudal Confucian society, who have few chances to meet men from the outside world. A young scholar named Lu Meng Zheng is hit by the ball, and Liu Cuilian claims him as her future husband. Her father, the Prime Minister, objects to the marriage because the scholar is poor and has no established social status. Liu Cuilian, however, ignores her father and insists upon the choice she has made. She secretly marries the scholar, and they are later expelled from the Prime Minister's mansion.

The couple leads a poor life, living in a shabby cave dwelling. To feed them, Lu Meng Zheng rushes to a Buddhist temple every morning for breakfast, bringing food back to his wife. He fails the civil service exam, and even lacks the money to bury his mother, who has died of starvation during a famine. At one point, the combined attacks of both life and society cause Lu Meng Zheng to lose his sense of direction. With his wife's encouragement, Lu Meng Zheng persists in his studies, however, and passes the imperial examination. He becomes a high-ranking official, and the Prime Minister eventually apologizes to the couple.

The story is found in various forms of art in China, but it is only in Cantonese opera that the plot involves Liu Cuilian selling herself on the street. The Cantonese playwright boldly adds a storm in Lu Meng Zheng's already miserable love life, further exposing society's darkness, as well as the depth of Liu Cuilian's love. When her mother-in-law starves to death and, realizing that Lu Meng Zheng has no money to bury his mother, Liu Cuilian voluntarily sells her body in order to get the money to bury her mother-in-law. Lu Meng Zheng has no alternative but to allow his wife to walk the streets.