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Ascendant Peace in the Four Seas

Drama and the Qing Imperial Court

By Ye Xiaoqing

Publication Year: 2012

"On an autumn morning in 1793, Lord Macartney waited to be ushered into the imperial summer retreat to take part in the celebration of the Qianlong Emperor's 82nd birthday. It was a long day; the celebration drama, Ascendant Peace in the Four Seas, lasted five hours. There were many scenes of fish, turtles and other sea creatures, and Macartney guessed it must have had something to do with the marriage between the ocean and land. He could not have been more wrong…" For the Qing court, entertaining foreign visitors was only one of the numerous ritual and political purposes dramas served. Delving into a rich collection of first-hand materials, the author meticulously excavates and combs historical data including court records, eunuchs' memoirs, pictorial archives of opera costumes, and period news. She investigates the development of imperial drama and its influence on the Peking Opera, as well as the function and system of imperial organizations responsible for drama. Also discussed are the complex roles of the actors on and off stage, and the broader issues of cultural and political influence intertwined with the performances themselves. The book thus presents us not only an art history of Peking Opera, but also a vivid scroll-painting of the social-cultural life both in and beyond the Forbidden City.

Published by: Chinese University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-4

Dedication

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pp. v-vi

Figures

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pp. vii-xii

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Preface

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pp. xiii-xvi

...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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Introduction

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pp. 1-14

...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...

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1. Imperial Institutions for Ceremonial and Private Performances

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pp. 15-56

...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...

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2. Drama, Occasion, and Audience

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pp. 57-128

...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...

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3. Performers in the Palace

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pp. 129-180

...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...

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4. Cultural and Political Control

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pp. 181-218

...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...

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5. Peking Opera and the Court

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pp. 219-258

...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...

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Conclusion: Peking Opera and a New Political Focus

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pp. 259-272

...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...

Bibliography

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pp. 273-302

Index

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pp. 303-332


E-ISBN-13: 9789629969073
Print-ISBN-13: 9789629964573

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: Y
Publication Year: 2012