Archaeologists Discover Tomb of 'Chinese Shakespeare' Tang Xianzu
As William Shakespeare gained fame in 16th century England, playwright Tang Xianzu was making his own mark in China. Billed by some as the “Shakespeare of the East,” Tang—who, just like the Bard, died in 1616—penned operas like The Peony Pavilion, The Legend of the Purple Hairpin, The Story of Handan, and The Dream of Nanke, collectively called The Four Dreams of Yuming Tangi. To this day, Tang's works—particularly The Peony Pavilion, a dramatic romance—are still performed around the world. Now, according to Archaeology, researchers have located Tang's tomb in east China’s Jiangxi Province.
In late 2016, workers in the city of Fuzhou discovered a group of 42 tombs underneath a leveled building. The majority of the graves dated back to the Ming Dynasty, a period that spanned 1368 CE to 1644 CE. According to the Xinhua News Agency, experts think that one of the tombs is the final resting place of both Tang and his third wife, Fu.
Archaeologists also discovered epitaphs that may have been written by the playwright. They included personal details about Tang's life and family, which helped researchers locate the playwright’s individual tomb, according to the Global Times.
China's official news agency, Xinhua, tweeted images of the tomb.
"The epitaphs can help us learn more about the calligraphy, art, and literature in Tang's time," said Xu Changqing, head of the Jiangxi Provincial Cultural Relics and Archeology Research Institute, according to Xinhua. As for the tombs themselves, experts say they could teach them more about Tang’s life, his family, and various cultural aspects of the Ming Dynasty.
Thanks to their respective geographies, Tang and Shakespeare never met in person—or for that matter, even knew of the other’s existence. Still, that hasn’t stopped China from drawing parallels between Tang and Shakespeare, using the Bard to promote their own master playwright. Exhibitions examine similarities between the two men, Chinese opera companies create mash-ups of Tang's and Shakespeare’s works, and Fuzhou’s government even donated statues of Tang and Shakespeare to Shakespeare's hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon, depicting the two standing shoulder-to-shoulder.
But despite Tang's fame, his gravesite's location remained a mystery for years. Nineteenth-century writings confirmed that the playwright was buried in Fuzhou, and an empty tomb constructed in the city’s People’s Park in the 1980s commemorated this legacy. Now that the real thing has been found, Fuzhou’s city government plans to turn the site into a tourist attraction for fans and academics.