Ts’ai Jung, a young scholar and native of Ch’en-liu. Recently married to a local girl, he is summoned to appear in Lo-yang to take the imperial examinations for the doctorate, or chin-shih degree. He goes, leaving his wife and elderly parents under the watchful eye of a neighbor, Grandfather Chang. In acquiring the degree, he ranks first, a superb feat. As a result, the emperor orders him to marry the prime minister’s daughter and to take residence at the official’s house. Unable to return to his first wife and to his parents, he remains ignorant that their area has fallen victim to famine. His first wife makes heroic efforts to care for her husband’s parents until they eventually die of age and their sufferings. She then finds her husband and his second wife in Lo-yang, and she joins them in a happy trio. The fictional character of Ts’ai Jung was modeled on the historical scholar-official Ts’ai Yung, who as a youth was distinguished for his devotion to his parents and his love of study.
Chao Wu-niang, Ts’ai Jung’s first wife. A native of Ch’en-liu, she is a beauty as well as a woman of the highest character. She is also the most important character in the drama and its real protagonist. Strong-minded and relatively independent, she is perfectly obedient to the Confucian rules for her behavior and has a filial heart. When her husband is far away from home for a number of years and famine strikes her area, she overcomes severe adversity to feed and minister to her aged in-laws. Before her husband left for the capital, she did not hesitate to remonstrate respectfully when she thought him wrong. She is not afraid to break the Confucian rules under certain circumstances to keep her in-laws alive. When they die, she buries them, although she requires financial help. Afterward, she journeys unchaperoned the many miles to the capital to find her husband. When she learns that he has taken a second wife, that does not faze her; she happily joins them to form a trio. The emperor commends them for their filial conduct.
Chang Ta-kung, a neighbor of the Ts’ai family in Ch’en-liu. After Father Ts’ai urges his son to seek a government career through the imperial examinations at Lo-yang, Chang agrees with the old man that the best form of filial piety is to bring fame and fortune to one’s parents through success in the examinations and an official career. He tries to persuade young Ts’ai to do as his father wishes and promises to take care of the family while Ts’ai is absent. During the famine, Wu-niang does everything...
(The entire section is 1088 words.)