Tang was a native of Linchuan, Jiangxi and his career as an official consisted principally of low-level positions. He successfully participated in the Provincial examinations at the age of 21 and at the imperial examinations at the age of 34. He held official positions in Nanjing, Zhejiang province, Guangdong province etc.. He retired in 1598 and returned to his hometown where he focused on writing.
His major plays are collectively called the Four Dreams, because of the decisive role dreams play in the plot of each one. All of them are still performed (in scenes, or in adapted full versions) on the Chinese Kun opera (kunqu) stage. Generally considered his masterpiece, the Mudan Ting (The Peony Pavilion) has been translated into English several times; each of the other plays has been translated once.