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Full Access The Empress Dowager as Dramaturg: Reinventing Late-Qing Court Theatre

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The Empress Dowager as Dramaturg: Reinventing Late-Qing Court Theatre

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This study argues against the common perception that the Qing court theatre was a closed cultural institution. It suggests that this theatre developed in conjunction with popular performance traditions outside the court that were stimulated by Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908). Through close readings of a set of ceremonial dramas (yidian xi) commissioned by the Empress for the birthday celebrations of imperial family members, this essay explores the aesthetic transition from ritual to entertainment in this particular genre. It shows how as Empress Dowager Cixi indulged in her personal fantasies, the court theatre altered. These new plays initiated a paradigm shift from choreographed pageantry to an actor-centered stage, and as such indicate Cixi’s important role in the transformation of ceremonial court theatre.


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