Fifteen Strings of Cash

Written by Sucheng Zhu in the seventeenth century, the original script was adapted in the 1950s and performed with the lead roles played by kunqu masters Chuanying Zhou and Chuansong Wang who brought life and depth to the characters. This adaptation and production triggered much interest in the kunqu art and became famed as “the play that revived the whole theatre genre of kunqu.”

You Hulu, a bibulous butcher, returns home one night very drunk and carries fifteen strings of cash loaned to him by a women relative to help re-build his bankrupt butcher shop. Before stumbling into bed, he jokingly tells his pretty stepdaughter Su Xujuan that the money was from selling her as a slave girl. Believing in his words, the terrified Su flees promptly to seek safety with an aunt in a distant town. After Su’s flight, Lou the Rat—rogue, gambler, and petty thief—sees lights in the butcher shop and the door ajar. Lou enters to find the butcher snoring on his bed and his half-concealed money visible beneath the pillow. In trying to make off with it, Lou awakens You, a struggle ensues, and You is killed by Lou using You’s meat cleaver.

The next morning the neighbors discover You’s dead body, and Lou, who is among the crowd, directs suspicion toward You’s runaway stepdaughter Su. The watches are called out, and the neighbors join in the search. Su is discovered, in the company of Xiong Youlan, a merchant’s apprentice Su chance encountered on her flight who is sent to purchase goods for his master. Unfortunate for Xiong, the purchase money he carries totals exactly fifteen strings of cash. Su and Xiong are thrown into jail and condemned to death by Guo Youzhi, a self-righteous judge who requires no other proof than the circumstantial evidence available. In despair, Su and Xiong appeal to Kuang Zhong, a local prefect who is to supervise the execution and known for his fair-mindedness. After listening to their accounts, Kuang obtains permission to conduct further investigation on the case. Disguised as a fortune-teller, he tracks down Lou at the City Temple and obtain crucial clues to solve the case. Lou is eventually arrested, and Su and Xiong are set free.

An Investigation in Disguise

An Investigation in Disguise depicts Kuang Zhong who disguises himself as a fortune teller to visit Suzhou and seek the murderer. By chance, he encounters Lou at the City Temple. Through the process of telling Lou’s fortune, Kuang Zhong earns Lou’s trust and obtains critical clues about the murder. In the end he convinces Lou that he has a boat that will take Lou out of danger and they depart together, with Kuang secretly planning to bring him to justice.

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