The Smithsonian Associates (TSA) presents a production
The Rotten-Helve Mountain (Lan Ke Shan)

Saturday, September 30, 2000 at 7:30 PM
Baird Auditorium, Natural History Building, 10th & Constitution Ave., N.W. Washington, DC.

Performance Photo Gallery 

Special Thanks to Anna Wu, President of Kunqu Society and Yin Jifang, Artist Director of Kunqu Society for their invaluable assistance and cooperation in making this production possible.


Zhu Maichen:: Yao Jikun

Cui Shi:

Zhang Jiqing
Messengers/Officers Wang Taiqi
Wu Dezhang
Head Servant Shen Xioming
Female Servant: Song Yang
Wu Tu: Guo Yi
Local Officer: Cai Qinglin
Servant with umbrella: Guo Yi
Soldiers: Wang Taiqi
Wu Dezhang
Yua Yuchen
Yan Kaixuan



Winds and Strings

Kunqu Flute:

Zhou Ming
Er Hu: Zhang QiLan
Pipa: Sun Li
Sheng: Liu Qichao
San-hsian/Zither: Wang Linsong
Ruan/Souna Huang Chenlin


Drum and Clappers: Li Xiaoping
Brass Gongs: Song Bairu
Small Gongs: Huang Shirong
Cymbals: Wang Linsong

Production Staff

Producer: Tong-Ching Chang
Stage Manager: Shou Wenqiang
Production Coordinator: Shen Xiaoming
Dresser: Yan Xiaoling
Make-up: Yang Kueiying
Libretto Translation and  Surtitle Preparation: Tong-Ching Chang
Charles Wilson
Surtitle Technicians: Tong-Ching Chang
Anna Wu


 Act I. Forcing the Divorce. Zhu Maichen, a poor scholar who dreams of receiving an official appointment, earns his living by chopping and selling wood. Zhu is a gentle and caring husband, but Cui Shi, his wife of twenty years, has grown weary of their unrelenting poverty and his apparent indifference to her plight. Recently, Mrs. Wong, a matchmaker has urged her to divorce Zhu Maichen and marry the rich carpenter Wu Tu.

The act opens on a cold and overcast morning as Zhu Maichen arrives at the foot of Rotten-Helve Mountain (Lan Ke Shan) to begin his daily task of chopping wood. It appears that a snowstorm is threatening, so he decides to forgo his labor for the day and return home. Upon reaching the house, Zhu reflects on his domestic situation. Throughout their twenty years of marriage, he and Cui Shi have been destitute while he pursues his consuming interests in scholarly studies and dreams of becoming a civil officer. He laments on his failure as a husband to provide for a decent living for his family and the consequent increasing marital strife. He fears another argument when Cui Shi learns that he was unable to do his wood chopping. As he enters the house, he discovers that his wife has gone out, so he settles down to his studies.

Cui Shi arrives. Unknown to Zhu, she carries a divorce decree, which she intends to force him to sign. Upon discovering that Zhu Maichen has again failed to bring home enough to eat, she loses her temper. His attempt to pacify her by finding a spoonful of rice for her to cook only provokes her further. She picks up a pen and paper and demands a divorce. Zhu calmly puts the pen down and begins to describe the honor and wealth she will enjoy after he passes the civil officer exam, but an exasperated Cui Shi retorts that she see only a daydreamer.

Undaunted, Zhu Maichen tries to humor her by relating his encounter with a fortuneteller six months earlier.  Zhu was told that he possesses a precious object, which he should place on Cui’s head. If it stays, then he will receive a high position and she will become a ranking lady. A gullible Cui Shi anxiously asks to try on the “coronet.” When she realizes that it is just a basket, she explodes in anger. Cui demands that Zhu Maichen agree to an “arrangement” immediately.  Zhu assumes that she simply wants a promissory note to buy some rice, but Cui Shi declares that she wants a divorce decree with permission for her to remarry.  Zhu Maichen is startled, but as he recovers from his initial shock, he begins to scoff at the idea. Who will want to marry a woman over forty? He teases her with taunts of  “divorced woman”, but Cui Shi sadly responds that she is leaving him simply to escape her poverty,

Beginning to comprehend the seriousness of her demand, Zhu pleas with her to reconsider, but Cui Shi remains adamant. How he could possibly become a civil officer if he does not even know how to write a divorce decree?  She then presents him with the divorce decree that she had prepared earlier. The stunned Zhu Maichen is almost speechless. Cui Shi reads him the terms of the divorce and proclaims that henceforth they are separated. As she drags him to the table to obtain his finger fingerprint, Zhu Maichen continues to plead and remonstrate, to no avail. When he finally capitulates and slams his thumb onto the decree to provide the needed fingerprint, Cui Shi quickly retrieves the paper. “Honorable Zhu Maichen,” she sneers, “farewell.” With one last plea, Zhu struggles to retrieve the decree, but Cui Shi refuses to yield.

Zhu Maichen slumps to the floor in numbed dejection. She does not want to be cold hearted, Cui explains softly, but if he cannot support her, he should not have married her.  She puts a tael of silver on the table and tells him that from now on he must leave her alone. Zhu shows no response, and with nothing more to be said or done, Cui Shi leaves.  When he becomes aware that she has gone, Zhu frantically stumbles around the room, gradually regaining his composure. He spots the tael of silver and throws it to the ground. He stands, picks up a book and with painful resolve, stiffens his back and exits the room with determined dignity.

Act II. A Maddening Dream.  Following her divorce from Zhu Maichen, Cui Shi married the rich carpenter Wu Tu, a decision she soon came to regret. Her new husband proved to be overbearing and brutish, and she was eventually forced to leave him and move into the run down quarters of Mrs. Wong.

It is now several months since Cui Shi left Zhu Maichen. Two official messengers appear and announce that they are on their way to inform Zhu Maichen that he has just been appointed County Magistrate. Meanwhile, at Mrs. Wong’s hut, Cui contemplates the consequences of her past conduct. When she steps outside to look for Mrs. Wong, she meets the two messengers who explain their mission. As Cui ponders the news, she imagines how excited and happy she would have been in anticipation of becoming a lady of rank. She hopes for a moment that Zhu might still retain his affection for her, but her thoughts quickly return to the reality of her present circumstances.

Back inside, Cui Shi dozes off into a dream. A train of servants approaches the door and the leader announces that they are under orders from their new master to fetch the lady of the house. They knock of the door, but Cui Shi, uncertain of who they are, refuses to answer. Through the closed door they explain that she will be well rewarded if she will only open the door. Her curiosity sufficiently piqued, Cui Shi opens the door and they introduce themselves. They kneel before her, but Cui Shi becomes flustered and insists that they rise. When they present her with a coronet and silk robe, Cui Shi becomes delirious with joy. She is about to leave for the sedan waiting for her outside, when her ex husband Wu Tu bursts in wielding an ax to threaten the train of servants. She removes her robe, but warns him that he will be arrested if he harms these people. Wu Tu issues a final threat and then wanders off. Cui Shi urges the servants to return with the robe and crown, but they have vanished. Cui awakens in a cold sweat. Looking around, she laments, “I see only rough wall, old lantern, dim moon.” 

Act III. Water Splashed. It is a few days later. A local officer appears on a main street near Cui Shi’s quarters to announce that Zhu Maichen, the newly appointed county magistrate, will be arriving shortly on his way to his new post. Zhu Maichen enters with a train of attendants. He stops to reflect on the cold-heartedness of Cui Shi and remarks on the surprise his return will be to his old friends. As Zhu Maichen and his entourage move on, Cui Shi enters “dressed up” in an outlandish headpiece and robe. She has been crying all night. Although she regrets her past actions, she insists that she is still his wife from the old times, and therefore  should have the first claim to a title.

When Cui sees the procession, she becomes giddy watching Zhu swagger in his new trappings of authority and power. After a little hesitation, she decides to call out to him, but her disturbance attracts the local officer who shoos her away. Zhu Maichen enters to inquire about the cause of the uproar and punishes the poor, protesting officer for permitting the disturbance. Zhu then orders the officer to call the woman over. Cui Shi awkwardly addresses him as “my husband, your honor” and begins to bemoan her hardships. Zhu is startled by her appearance and orders his attendants to leave. When she explains that she has no one to support her, Zhu reminds her of how she treated him. She pleads that a powerful official like him should not pay attention to the words of a poor ignorant woman like her. She has come to kneel down and welcome him.

Zhu is unmoved. Today she pretends to be crazy, but yesterday she forced the divorce with a cold heart.  Cui insists that she has suffered a hard life. How could he forget his former wife now that he has reached a prominent position?  She begs him to take her home with him. Zhu is torn between sympathy at her current plight and bitterness at her previous treatment of him, but the burden of the past proves too great. “Cracked bamboo cannot be closed again”. He orders his guards to give her fifty tael of silver to provide for her immediate needs.

Falling to her knees, Cui Shi begs him reconsider, but Zhu cuts her off. He orders his servants to pour a pail of water in front of his horse. If she can put the water back into the pail, Zhu explains, then he will take her back. Cui Shi excitedly urges the servant to bring the water and pour it on the ground, but despite her frantic effort, quickly realizes that it cannot be retrieved. When she forced the divorce, Zhu tells her, she cut the string of a zither, just like today, when she cannot retrieve the splashed water. He leads his entourage away.

Left alone kneeling on the street, Cui Shi laments that she has always taken water for granted, but today even one drop is worth thousands in gold. Wherever it is splashed, it is quickly soaked into the ground. In a dreamlike state, she walks over to a pool of water. Here, she decides, looks like the place for her to rest. If she ever has another life, she will always respect the poor scholar. Bidding farewell to her husband Zhu Maichen, she jumps into the water and drowns.

When Zhu Maichen realizes that Cui has committed suicide, he mourns on the sequence of events that have led this tragic conclusion. He had not intended that it end like this. He instructs that Cui Shi be buried at the foot of Lan Ke Shan with the memorial on her tombstone,  “The Grave of Zhu Maichen’s Deceased Cui Shi”.  Zhu orders his entourage to go ahead while he remains to reflect for a few moments, and then proceeds on to his new post.

Program Notes  

The Rotten-Helve Mountain is based on the folk story "Zhu Maichen Divorces his Wife," which takes place during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 221 AD). The author of the Kunqu libretto is unknown, but the play was probably written during the first half of the seventeenth century toward the end of the Ming dynasty or beginning of the Qing dynasty. The literary value of the libretto is not as highly regarded as those of many other Kunqu plays. However, the author appears to have possessed a thorough knowledge of the rules of Chinese Xiqu. The vivid depiction of the interaction of its central characters, Cui Shi and Zhu Maichen, has won the hearts of its audiences everywhere.

Fours acts of the play "Forcing the Divorce," "Regret the Marriage," "The Maddening Dream," and "Water Splashed" have been passed down and are consistently performed today. Tonight’s performance will present the first, third and fourth of these acts.

Meet the Artists

Zhang Jiqing  is one of the premiere performers in Chinese classical theater. A winner of the prestigious Plum Blossom Award, she is generally recognized as the "Peony" of Kunqu theatre for her powerful performances of the heroine Du Liniang in The Peony Pavilion. Her portrayal of  Cui Shi, her most famous role, in tonight’s performance of The Rotten-Helve Mountain marks her first appearance in the United States. Ms. Zhang is a member of Kunqu Troupe of Jiangsu.

Yao Jikun is best known for his performances of the old man role, Lao Sheng. Among others, he has received wide acclaim for his performances in The Rotten Helve Mountain and Fifteen Strings of Copper. This performance of Lan Ke Shan will be his first appearance in the United States. Mr. Yao is a member of the Kunqu Troupe of Jiangsu.

Li Xiaoping is the conductor and lead drummer of the orchestra in the Shanghai Kunqu Troupe. He graduated from the Shanghai Chinese Opera Academy majoring the kunqu music. He has received numerous awards for his mastery of Kunqu music, including the official title First-rate Musician from the Chinese government.  In recent years, he has performed in the U.S., U.K., Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.


Zhou Ming is a master of the dizi, the Chinese bamboo flute. A graduate of the Shanghai Chinese Opera Academy, he received a BA degree in Dizi from Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1989 and is currently completing his MA degree in Career Management in Art and Culture in the Shanghai Jiaotong University.  Mr. Zhou has performed as the lead musician for over twenty-five major Kunqu plays, including the Lincoln Center production of The Peony Pavilion in July, 1999. He holds the title First-rate Musician from the official ranking system in China. 

Cai Qinglin is a leading performer of the "clown" role. He is a graduate of the Shanghai Academy of Performing Arts and a former member of the Shanghai Kunqu Troupe. From the moment he takes the stage, Mr. Cai mesmerizes his audience with his deft wit and rhythmic movement.  He has been invited to appear in many performing art festivals in Spain and the United States. Mr. Cai is a Resident Artist of The Kunqu Society in New York.   

Guo Yi is one of the most talented, young performers of the “clown” role type. A graduate of the Shanghai Academy of Performing Arts, Mr. Guo appeared in the Kunqu Society's production of "Pan Chienlien" at the Taipei Theater, New York, in October 1999.

Shen Xiaoming is a seasoned Kunqu performing artist of both the young and old male role types.  A former member of Shanghai Kunqu Troupe, Mr. Shen is also an accomplished student of the Kunqu flute and frequently plays the flute for Kunqu performances.   

Song Yang is a principal performer with the Beijing Chinese Opera Company and has performed in several countries throughout the world. Ms. Song frequently appears with other companies, including the 1999 Lincoln Center Festival production of The Peony Pavilion. She  has won numerous awards as both a performer and a teacher.

Wang Taiqi is one of the leading performers of the young male role type in Kunqu Theater. A former member of Shanghai Kunqu Troupe, he is also renown for his ability to perform various role types, such as the old male, clown, and old female roles. Mr. Wang is also a popular Beijing Opera performer.  Mr. Wang is a Resident Artist of The Kunqu Society in New York. 

Wu Dezhang is a leading performer of the "young male” role. A graduate of the Shanghai Academy of Performing Arts and a former member of the Shanghai Kunqu Troupe, he has toured extensively with troupe to many countries. He appeared in a principal role in the Wintergreen Kunqu Society production of The Peony Pavilion, presented by The Smithsonian Associates in May, 1999.  Mr. Wu is a Resident Artist of the Kunqu Society and the Director of Kunqu Workshops. 

Huang Chenlin is proficient not only in all major wen-chen (wind and string) instruments but also several wu-chen (percussion) instruments. Mr. Huang is a popular musician in both Kunqu Theater and Beijing Opera. As a member of  Chinese traditional music orchestra of The Peony Pavilion at the Lincoln Center's 1999 Festival in New York, he has toured  to Australia, France, and Italy. 

Huang Shirong is a graduate of the Shanghai Chinese Drama School. Mr. Huang served as the conductor of the Shanghai Beijing Opera Troupe for over 30 years. Several of the productions he conducted as lead drummer won national awards in China. 

Sun Li began studying the Pipa at the age of nine from a folk muscian in Lianoning Province, China. She entered Shenyang Music School at the age of thirteen, majoring in the performance of Pipa and Ruan. In 1995, she joined the China National Song and Dance Ensemble, and in that same year won the Freedom Cup International Competition for Traditional Chinese Instrument Solos. In June 1998, she performed for President Clinton when he visited China at the People's Great Hall in Beijing.


Wang Linsong is a master of several popular string instruments. He was a resident musician and taught San-hsian in Shanghai Yueju Company.  Mr. Wang  is a member of Ensemble of the Peony Pavilion, which performed at the 1999 Lincoln Center Festival and later in Australia, France, and Italy.


Zhang Qi-Lan began to play the erhu at the age of eight and the next year was joined the Shanghai Young People's Orchestra. In 1979, at the age of 13, she was accepted by the Shanghai Opera School to continue her studies of erhu, flute, and percussion. Following her graduation in 1985, she was admitted into the Shanghai Yueju Company and has accompanied many of the leading actresses in that theater. She is currently a member of the Ensemble of the Peony Pavilion, which performed The Peony Pavilion at the 1999 Lincoln Center Festival.

  Pre-performance Lecture Demonstration

Introduction to Chinese Kunqu Theater by Tong-Ching Chang
From 6:00-7:00, Tong-Ching Chang, President of
provided some background for the 7:30 performance with special emphasis on the specialized role types of the performers in Kunqu theater. In addition to illustrations from some video excerpts of famous Kunqu plays, Mr. Wang Tai Chi of the New York Kunqu Troupe demonstrated some of the vocal requirements and movements used by performers who play the young scholar role (jin sheng).