An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Qupin 曲品

Sep 7, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Qupin 曲品 is a rating of arias and aria-style poetry (qu 曲) written during the late Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by Lü Chengtian 呂天成 (1580-1618), courtesy name Tiancheng 天成 or Qinzhi 勤之, style Jijin 棘津 or Yulan Sheng 郁藍生, from Yuyao 餘姚, Zhejiang. He was the author of several theatre plays that are assembled in the collection Yanhuange chuanqi shi zhong 煙鬟閣傳奇十種.

The title is perhaps inspired by Zhong Rong’s 鍾嶸 (c. 468-518) Shipin 詩品, a ranking of regular poetry (shi 詩). The book is divided into two parts, each constituting a fascicle (juan), the first of which is a critique of 95 writers of theatre pieces and solitary arias (sanqu 散曲). In his ranking, Lü regarded the whole oeuvre of writers, and not just single plays. The second part is dedicated sets of plays (jumu 劇目) and critically ranks 211 of them.

Lü discerns between "old stories" (jiu chuanqipin 舊傳奇品) and "modern stories" (xin chuanqipin 新傳奇品), the border between the two types being the end of the Jiajing reign-period 嘉靖 (1522-1566). Old stories are ranked according to four categories, namely divine (shen 神), wonderful (miao 妙), skilled (neng 能), and good (ju 具), while a nine-rank system (jiupin 九品) is used for the "modern stories", from shangshang 上上 for excellent to xiaxia 下下 for bad pieces. In his discussion of the theatre pieces, Lü tries to align the two contemporary opponents Tang Xianzu 湯顯祖 (1550-1616) and Shen Jing 沈璟 (1553-1610) as "double beauty in unison" (he zhi shuang mei 合之雙美).

The draft of the book was finished in 1610 (included in the series Zhongguo gudian xiqu lunzhu jicheng 中國古典戲曲論著集成), and published in an enlarged version in 1613. In 1990, the Zhonghua Shuju 中華書局 published an edition commented by Wu Shuyin 吳書蔭.

Yu Weimin 俞為民 (2002). "Qupin 曲品", in Wu Xinlei 吳新雷, ed. Zhongguo kunju da cidianq 中國昆劇大辭典 (Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe), 914.