Staging for the Emperors: A History of Qing Court Theatre, 1683–1923

by Liana Chen

Reviews

"I have read this book with great pleasure and learned a lot from it. This study is evidently based on extensive and careful research of primary sources, and it presents a clear outline of the development of court drama during the Qing dynasty. Doing so, Liana Chen focuses on the reigns of Kangxi, Qianlong, and Jiaqing, and the years Cixi was in power. For each of these periods the personal interventions of the ruling emperors are stressed, and the resulting changes in court theater are discussed by focusing on one play in particular. Such a study is very welcome." —Wilt Idema, Harvard University

“This is a pioneering and substantive work. Written in clear prose, the book reports a wealth of data culled from archived Qing court theatre documents that have gradually become available for scholarly examinations since the 1970s. Diverse and voluminous, many of these archived documents have yet to be systematically studied. A substantive number of the documents are performance scripts, with and without stage instructions and/or music notation. To effectively decipher them, readers need to have extensive experience performing or witnessing the dramas being staged. And only readers with detailed knowledge about Qing court institutions and cultural life would be able to distill from the documents a meaningful trajectory of Qing court theatre developments. Liana Chen has done a herculean job, constructing a meaningful and informative narrative. However one reads it, this book is a major contribution to scholarship on Qing history and Chinese opera. Based on analytical reading of the archived documents and judicious use of current and international theories on theatre and Qing history, this study provides a brocade of creative interpretations that illuminate as well as challenge conventional and Chinese studies, many of which are merely bibliographic and/or descriptive. Chen convincingly argues that within a ritual and court context of receiving and bestowing gifts, Qing emperors and empresses used theatre to project their imperial glories and benevolence. Chen’s argument dovetails with traditional and current understandings of Chinese ritual and music (liyue), and it aligns with interpretations about royal rituals and performing arts all over the world.” —Joseph Lam, University of Michigan


 

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