Gao Ming Biography


Gao Ming (gow mihng), or Kao Ming, is generally accepted as the author of The Lute, one of the first plays written in a genre in southern drama called chuangqi. Zecheng (Tse-ch’eng) is his zi, or derived name. Gao was a native of Wenzhou in Zhejiang. He passed his jinshi examinations in 1345 and held minor government posts, first in his native province and later in Fujian.{$S[A]Zecheng;Gao Ming}{$S[A]Tse-ch’eng[Tse cheng];Gao Ming}{$S[A]Kao Tse-ch’eng[Kao Tse cheng];Gao Ming}{$S[A]Kao Ming;Gao Ming}

With the start of the uprisings that were to overthrow the Yuan dynasty, he became slightly involved in political maneuvers. In 1355 he retired to the greater security of private life and took up residence in what is modern Ningbo.

It is said of Gao, as it is of many other writers who lived into the Ming dynasty, that he received an invitation to serve in the new government but declined the honor. In his retirement in Ningbo, Gao spent three years writing his version of The Lute. In earlier versions of the play by others the protagonist, Cai Baoxie, is usually condemned for his lack of loyalty and filial piety. Gao’s version, however, depicts Cai as a man who is caught in a moral dilemma while trying to obey the dictates both of his father and of the emperor.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Gao Ming (whose zi, or “courtesy name,” was Zecheng) was born around 1303 into a highly literate family living in Rui-an, Wenzhou Prefecture, Zhejiang Province. His paternal grandfather, his uncle on his father’s side, and three of his grandmother’s brothers were all writers in verse and prose.

Little is known of Gao’s early years. He seems to have followed the usual course of study that would lead to an official career, poring over the Four Books and the Five Classics and learning to compose the wenzhang, the type of essay required in the civil service examinations. Under Mongol rule, the Chinese civil service examinations had been abolished, and this system was not reintroduced until 1313, when Gao was about ten years of age. Success in the examinations now did not guarantee an official career, however, as those under the Song had done. The Mongols required the Chinese to show their complete mastery of the curriculum, whereas Mongols and other foreigners could get away with mediocre performances. At any rate, Gao did not achieve his juren, or master’s degree, until 1344, when he was in his early forties. The following year, he took his doctor’s degree, or jinshi, the prerequisite for an official appointment in the government.

Gao soon received an appointment as district judicial officer in Quzhou, Zhejiang. In 1348, he was assigned adviser to the government naval forces in the effort to subdue the recalcitrant freebooter and pirate Fang Guozhen. Fang was a masterful man who maintained practically an independent regime in the east-coast Jiangzhe from 1348 to 1367. At the same time, he was, at least nominally, an official either under the Yuan Dynasty or under the rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang when he did not serve under both at the same time. Fang supported himself partly from revenue from the cities under his control and partly by raids directed against coastal towns and piracy launched against public or private shipping. Gao’s assignment did not fare well. He and the naval officers clashed; he and they did not see eye-to-eye. In disgust, Gao soon resigned his post. Because of Fang’s rebellion in eastern Zhejiang, other officials had fled to...

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