The daughter of a merchant, she was born in the town of Renhe (now Hangzhou) in Zhejiang province. She married a merchant named Huang. Her contemporaries were wont to point out that her husband and father had "never even glanced at a book." She was famous as a lyrics (ci) writer and was considered to be one of the best ci poets of the Qing dynasty. She also wrote poetry in the sanqu form. She was said to be a good player of the qin, a stringed instrument. Wu wrote an opera (zaju) Yinjiu du Sao (Reading the "Li Sao" While Drinking)., also known as Qiaoying (The Fake Image.)  Two collections of her works were published: Hualian ci (Flower curtain lyrics) and Xiangnan xuebei ci (Lyrics from South of the Fragrance and North of the Snows). She became a student of the poet Chen Wenshu. She was one of a number of early nineteenth-century women poets who wrote on the novel Dream of the Red Chamber. Wu converted to Buddhism later in life.
Several of her works have been translated into English. See, for example the translations of poetry by Anthony Yu.
- Barnstone, Tony; Chou, Ping (2010). The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry: From Ancient to Contemporary. pp. 341–42. ISBN 0307481476.
- Marina H. Sung, "Wu Zao" in Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: The Qing Period, 1644-1911, edited by Clara Ho. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1998, p.234.
- Ho, Clara Wing-chung (1998). Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women. pp. 234–36. ISBN 0765618273.
- The Red Brush: Writing Women of Imperial China. Edited by Wilt Idema and Beata Grant. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University East Asia Center, 2004, pp.685-94 discusses and translates the play.
- Ellen Widmer, The Beauty and the Book: Women and Fiction in Nineteenth-Century China. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University East Asia Center, 2006.
- Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism, edited by Kang-i Sun Chang and Haun Saussy. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999, pp.602-616.
Some of her poems are located at the Ming Qing Women Writers database.
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