Wu Han, who wrote the play, was a historian who focused on the Ming Dynasty. Wu Han wrote an article portraying Hai Rui, a Ming minister who was imprisoned for criticizing the emperor, as the hero. The article was later adapted into a Beijing opera play, having its first performance in 1961 and was initially praised by Mao Zedong. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, however, Yao Wenyuan criticized the play as an allegorical work attacking Mao for sacking Peng Dehuai, who criticized Mao for the Great Leap Forward. The theatre play became an instrument to attack the "rightist" pragmaticians in the politburo by the Gang of Four in 1965. Wu Han became one of the first victims of the Cultural Revolution and died in prison in 1969, only to be rehabilitated in 1979.