Power Into Play: Theatre and Qing Court Culture

Liana Chen, Assistant Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, the George Washington University

The last imperial dynasty of China was founded by the Manchus, whose semi-nomadic ancestors lived in the northeast Asia. However, the Qing rulers were eager to adopt and appropriate Han Chinese cultural practices. They built a multiethnic and multicultural empire. The key to Qing Dynasty’s cultural achievement lay in its ability to implement an inclusive cultural policy that serves a range of imperial subjects in the vast empire.

Court theatre is one of the most interesting places where these dynamics play out. This illustrated presentation takes its cue from Qing emperors’ patronage of traditional Chinese theatre. The presentation explores the ways through which Chinese performance conventions helped to create an imperial self-image for the imperial court, and how theatre was used to fulfill Qing emperors and empresses’ desire to showcase their power and benevolence.

About the Presenter

Liana Chen is a specialist in traditional Chinese drama and theater, and has contributed to the local, national, and international communities as a consultant for the 2011-12 exhibition Power | Play: China's Empress Dowager at the Freer and Sackler Galleries, and as a liaison for the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum and Study Abroad office. She also serves as Foreign Language Advisor for Anthropological Quarterly, and board member of the Council on International Educational Exchange. Born in San Francisco, California, she has studied in Taiwan and France, and received her Ph.D. from Stanford University.

Chen is the author of Literati and Actors at Work: The Transformations of Peony Pavilion on Page and on Stage in the Ming and Qing Dynasties (National Taiwan University Press, 2013), in which she offers a critical history of the vicissitudes of Chinese cultural values through four centuries of afterlife of Tang Xianzu's Peony Pavilion on page and on stage. She is currently working on her second monograph, Staging the Empire: A History of Qing Court Theatre, 1662-1924, which examines the political and aesthetic roles of court theater in imperial China.