Ascendant Peace in the Four Seas
Drama and the Qing Imperial Court
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Chinese University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
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...Yang was found guilty of kidnapping, and was sentenced to exile to Heilongjiang. Soon afterwards, the Qing government declared a general amnesty in honour of the Empress Dowager’s fortieth birthday, and Yang was granted a reprieve. I also discovered that some years later he was performing in the imperial palace in Beijing. I became quite curious about Yang. In 1996, when I had chance to live in Beijing for over a year...
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...It was a long day; the drama performance itself lasted five hours. The stage was gigantic, with three levels; the number of actors was enormous; the props were magnificent and the special effects were spectacular. However, Macartney (1737–1806) and the others had no idea what it was all about. There were many scenes of fish, turtles and other sea creatures, and they guessed it must have had something to do with the marriage between the ocean and land. They could not have been more wrong...
1. Imperial Institutions for Ceremonial and Private Performances
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...to improve ceremonial music performances — formerly the responsibility of the Board of Rites. However, at least half of the nominal responsibilities of the Yuebu, especially those concerned with state ceremonies in the palace and imperial retreats, were soon transferred to the Nanfu, which was under the Neiwufu. The Yuebu was left without appropriate financial support, while generous resources were allocated to the Nanfu...
2. Drama, Occasion, and Audience
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...Drama was not only the main form of entertainment for emperors and the imperial families. From Qianlong onwards, it also became an indispensable part of palace ritual. There were no definite boundaries between different ritual dramas, as far as the imperial rites were concerned. They can be divided into three types...
3. Performers in the Palace
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...There were different palace performers at different times. Under the Nanfu, there were three groups: eunuchs, Chinese recruited from Jiangnan, and bannermen from the three banners of the Neiwufu. During the Daoguang period there were no civilian recruits from outside, only palace eunuchs...
4. Cultural and Political Control
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...If not the most enthusiastic opera fan among the Qing emperors, Qianlong certainly was the one who spent the most human and financial resources on it. His visits to the south promoted a broad fascination with drama and left many romantic stories, particularly in Jiangnan. In these stories, Qianlong was a gallant and talented martial emperor who loved Jiangnan culture...
5. Peking Opera and the Court
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...It is well known that in the nineteenth century, the imperial court would summon opera troupes into the palace for special performances, and that the court exercised a form of censorship in the form of injunctions prohibiting women and officials from attending the theatre. From the material in the Neiwufu records, however, it is clear that the court was also very active in the creation of a “cultural product” in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries...
Conclusion: Peking Opera and a New Political Focus
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...During the 19th and 20th centuries, Chinese drama underwent fundamental changes. Kunqu, which had occupied the mainstream of elite taste for several centuries, gradually declined and was replaced by the newly emerging Peking Opera. The imperial court played a vital role in the formation of the Peking Opera, accidentally and institutionally. The downgrading of the Nanfu to the Shengpingshu in 1827...
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Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2012