Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Ritual into play: The aesthetic transformations of Qing court theatre
by Chen, Liana, Ph.D., Stanford University, 2009, 238; 3364496
Abstract (Summary)

Theatre played an important role in the formation of Qing court culture during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Performances associated with court activities took many forms, ranging from spectacular pageantries during ceremonies to small-scale performances in private residences in the Forbidden City. Using archival materials of the Qing court, diaries and random jottings by officials and foreign visitors who participated in such theatrical activities, and newly excavated dramatic texts, this dissertation charts the aesthetic trajectory of the Qing court theatre from the Qianlong to Daoguang reigns. It examines the social and political systems that shaped and supported Qing court theatre and the dialectic relationships between drama and ritual.

Chapter one surveys the social and aesthetic foundations of Qing court theatre, grounding the cultural significances of court theatre in the interactions among the ideological principles of the imperial court, its administrative responsibilities, and the artists and staff in charge of the performances. Chapter two examines the pedagogical role of theatrical performances in state-sponsored ceremonial events during the Qianlong reign. Theatrical performances during the guest ritual process served not only as intangible rewards for the foreign emissaries, but also as a venue for the Qing court to project the idealized relationship between the ruler and its subject. Chapter three addresses itself broadly to the question of monumentality and imperial rule and specifically to the ways in which reinventions of ceremonial drama participated in the Jiaqing emperor's endeavor to create a new imperial self-image. Chapter four turns to the reconfiguration of the court theatre during the Daoguang reign and its impact on the development of ceremonial dramas. The shift from showcasing the collective to individual artistic achievements and the strengthening of entertainment value of the ceremonial dramas were most likely a result of the increasingly frequent and productive exchanges between court and popular theatres.

Qing court theatre was mobilized to accommodate the ideological requirements of empire-building and the emperors' perceived needs for various displays of their power and benevolence. Further, the dramatic texts for theatrical performances on ceremonial occasions are far from monotonous or predetermined. The exchanges between court and professional theatre troupes in the late-nineteenth century shaped the aesthetic development of the ceremonial programs of the court theatre. The process of retooling court theatre transformed it from a vehicle for imperial ideology to a venue of artistic innovation that featured individual actor's talents. This study demonstrates the central place of theatre in Qing court life and the theatricality of imperial power bookended by ritual and entertainment.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wang, John C. Y.
School: Stanford University
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 70/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian literature, History, Theater
Keywords: China, Chinese theatre, Court culture, Entertainment, Entertainment culture, Late Imperial China, Qing, Qing history, Ritual
Publication Number: 3364496
ISBN: 978-1-109-24284-3
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