“On an autumn morning in 1793, Lord Macartney waited to be ushered into the imperial summer retreat to take part in the celebration of the Qianlong Emperor's 82nd birthday. It was a long day; the celebration drama, Ascendant Peace in the Four Seas, lasted five hours. There were many scenes of fish, turtles and other sea creatures, and Macartney guessed it must have had something to do with the marriage between the ocean and land. He could not have been more wrong…".
For the Qing court, entertaining foreign visitors was only one of the numerous ritual and political purposes dramas served. Delving into a rich collection of first-hand materials, the author meticulously excavates and combs historical data including court records, eunuchs’ memoirs, pictorial archives of opera costumes, and period news. She investigates the development of imperial drama and its influence on the Peking Opera, as well as the function and system of imperial organizations responsible for drama. Also discussed are the complex roles of the actors on and off stage, and the broader issues of cultural and political control intertwined with the performances themselves. The book thus presents us not only an art history of Peking Opera, but also a vivid scroll-painting of the social-cultural life both in and beyond the Forbidden City.