Indigenous Chinese theater (xiqu 戲曲) was the mass media of the Qing dynasty (1368-1911). Western visitors were struck by how deeply theater permeated Chinese society, and the imperial court, far from an exception, was able to mobilize resources for its theatrical productions that were far beyond the capacity of private or commercial theatrical productions. In this talk we will take a look at the ends to which those resources were mobilized, whether the goal was to impress foreigners, get on the right side of deities, or make life more entertaining for the imperial family. These extra resources made imperial theatrical performances (and the whole production process) significantly different from other forms of theatrical production in China at the time. We can also see the producers of imperial theater exerting control both over how plays were performed and what was performed to an extent that they only dreamed of being able to do nationally.
David Rolston is Associate Professor of Chinese Language and Literature in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. He has published on traditional Chinese fiction commentary (pingdian) but in recent years has concentrated more on traditional Chinese theater, and in particular Peking opera (Jingju). In the 1980s he worked at the only national Peking opera school in Taiwan, and more recently has taught at the only national-level college of traditional Chinese theater in China. His current project is on the imaginary world conjured up on stage in Peking opera of the early Republican period.