The Peach-Blossom Fan (Chinese: 桃花扇; pinyin: Táohuā shàn) is a musical play and historical drama in 44 scenes that was completed in 1699 by the early Qing dynasty playwright Kong Shangren (孔尚任) after more than 10 years of effort. The play recounts the dying of the Ming dynastythrough the love story of its two main characters, young scholar Hou Fangyu (侯方域) and courtesan Li Xiangjun (李香君). The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature has called it "China's greatest historical drama."
Wuding Bridge is located in the heart of the Confucius Temple district, and the house owned and administered by the woman on whom her character was based has been nicely restored in recent years. It is a prominent two-story building with a fine balcony overlooking the Qinhuai; in its time it was known as Meixianglou, the House of Enchanting Fragrance, but it is now referred to as the Li Xiangjun Residence, named for Li Zhenli's most famous protege.
Kong Shangren was a 64th-generation descendent of Confucius, but had gained little renown as a writer or scholar until The Peach Blossom Fan was published in 1699. The opera tells the story of Li Xiangjun's love for a handsome and brilliant young scholar named Hou Fangyu; it is set in Nanjing during the final stage of the collapse of the Ming empire, and the coterminous rise of the
Qing. The Peach Blossom Fan brought lasting fame both to Kong and to Li Xiangjun, though by then she was dead and he would never again produce anything to match it.
The house's points of interest are as much architectural as they are historical. In the main upstairs hall, the roof beams are beautifully carved, offering several illustrations of the elaborate word play involved at the intersection of Chinese architecture, social status, ritual, iconography and superstition. There are also carvings of vases signifying long life, squirrels signifying abundant offspring, and fish for good luck.
Li only lived here for twenty years or so, and there is some dispute as to how her life ended. Some
say that she lived out her years as a Taoist nun in Qixia Temple, but according to Fu Banghua, the
Nanjing scholar currently working as curator of the residence, Hou in fact carried Li away from the temple to his homeland fn Henan. This has all the hallmarks of a happy ending, but Fu's research indicates that Li was rejected by Hou's illustrious family, and died of consumption or a broken heart-accounts vary-in an old and empty house.