Autumn in Han Palace 汉宫秋

A tragic masterpiece of realism that subverts history


Chinese Name: 汉宫秋

English Name: Autumn in Han Palace

Other Name: A Lone Goose in Autumn over the Palaces of Han 破幽梦孤雁汉宫秋

Author: Ma Zhiyuan 马致远

Originally Published: AD 1271-1368 (Yuan Dynasty 元朝)

Genre: Historical play, Zaju 杂剧

Autumn in Han Palace 汉宫秋
Autumn in Han Palace 汉宫秋

Brief Introduction of Autumn in Han Palace

“Autumn in Han Palace” 汉宫秋 is a tragic masterpiece of realism that subverts history. It is created by Ma Zhiyuan 马致远, a writer of the Yuan Dynasty. Its full name is A Lone Goose in Autumn over the Palaces of Han 破幽梦孤雁汉宫秋. It is one of the four tragedies of the Yuan Dynasty.

The play was created by the author based on folk legends and the notes of scholars of the past dynasties rather than on the basis of official history. The whole play consists of 4 acts and 1 wedge. It is a story about emperor Yuan of the Western Han Dynasty 西汉元帝 who was threatened by the Xiongnu 匈奴 and was forced to send his favorite concubine Wang Zhaojun 王昭君 on a pilgrimage.

Emperor Yuan of Han Dynasty because of lonely harem, listened to Mao Yanshou 毛延寿 advice, let him to the folk beauty pageant. Wang Zhaojun was very beautiful. She refused to bribe Mao Yanshou, so she was in the beauty of the map on the spot. Wang Zhaojun was left out in the cold after entering the palace.

Emperor Yuan of the Han Dynasty accidentally heard Zhaojun playing pipa late at night. He loved her beauty and conferred her the title of Imperial Concubine 明妃. Emperor Yuan of the Han Dynasty wanted Mao Yanshou put to death.

Autumn in Han Palace 汉宫秋
Mao Yanshou ordered to draw a picture of beauty 毛延寿奉旨画美人图

Mao Yanshou fled to the Xiongnu and presented the portrait of Wang Zhaojun to Huhanxie Shanyu 呼韩邪单于, asking him to ask the King of Han for Zhaojun’s wife. The Yuan Emperor was reluctant to Zhaojun, but they were unable to resist the invasion of the Huns 匈奴. In order to avoid war, Wang Zhaojun volunteered to go to peace. The Yuan Emperor saw her off with great pain.

Autumn in Han Palace 汉宫秋
Zhaojun played the Pipa in the garden to express her inner sorrow. 昭君在花园中弹琵琶来抒发内心的愁苦

When Huhanxie Shanyu got Wang Zhaojun, he was very happy and withdrew his troops. Wang Zhaojun, reluctant to give up her hometown, drowned in Heilongjiang 黑龙江 and died. In order to avoid trouble, Shanyu sent Mao back to the Han Dynasty for treatment. Emperor Yuan of the Han Dynasty woke up from a dream of Wang Zhaojun at night, and heard the plaintive cry of a lonely goose. He was very sad, and later put to death Mao Yanshou as a memorial to Wang Zhaojun.

Autumn in Han Palace 汉宫秋
Zhaojun was on her way to the Great Wall. 昭君在前往塞外的路上

Author of Autumn in Han Palace

Ma Zhiyuan (c. 1251 ——1321 to1324), a native of Beijing 北京, was a dramatist, Sanqu writer 散曲家 and essayist of the Yuan Dynasty. He was known as the “Ma Shenxian” 马神仙 and the “Qu Zhuangyuan” 曲状元 by later generations. He along with Guan Hanqing 关汉卿, Zheng Guangzu 郑光祖 and Bai Pu 白朴, was called the “Four Great Yuan Dramatists”元曲四大家.

Autumn in Han Palace 汉宫秋
Ma Zhiyuan 马致远

Ma Zhiyuan was born in a rich and literate family. He was studious and aspirant since childhood. He was keen on achieving fame when he was young, and may have offered poems to the then crown prince and thus became an official. He later withdrew from official life and lived in Hangzhou 杭州 in his later years, where he eventually died of illness between 1321 and 1324.

There are 15 kinds of Zaju written by Ma Zhiyuan. Autumn in Han Palace is his representative work, and there are more than 120 Sanqu. Ma Zhiyuan’s works integrate the thoughts of Confucianism 儒家 and Taoism 道家. The connotation of his works is profound and his writing skills are superb, which has a great impact on future generations.

Excerpts From Autumn in Han Palace


Long term training of the army to meet the urgent need of the moment. The author believes that soldiers are usually supported and trained by the state in order to serve the country regardless of their own needs.


Thousands of troops are easier to organize, but it is difficult to find an excellent general.


The two sides looked at each other and looked forward to each other’s news.

Evaluation of Autumn in Han Palace

Since the Yuan and Ming Dynasties 元朝和明朝, there were a lot of Zaju dramas about Zhaojun. “Autumn in Han Palace” is the best one.

Jiao Xun 焦循

“Autumn in Han Palace” scenery and romance are experts. They are very excellent and can be called the first in Yuan Qu.

Liang Tingnan 梁廷楠

Three masterpieces I saw in the drama of the Yuan Dynasty: Ma Zhiyuan’s Autumn in Han Palace. The Rain on the Paulownia Tree 梧桐雨 of Bai Pu, Zheng Guangzu’s Soul Leaves Her Body 倩女离魂. Ma Zhiyuan’s writing is vigorous, Bai Pu’s plays are full of solemn and stirring sounds, and Zheng Guangzu’s style is quiet and beautiful. They are all unique products through the ages world.

Wang Guowei 王国维

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