Term of Project
2008-2012 (5 years)
Isobe Akira (Professor, Center for Northeast Asian Studies, Tohoku University)
Otsuka Hidetaka (Professor, School of Liberal Arts, Saitama University)
(1) Qing court theatre, (2) palace theatre, (3) Forbidden Palace, (4) Old Summer Palace, Beijing, (5) Rehe (Jehol) Summer Palace, (6) Temporary Palace in Jiangnan, (7) foreign embassies to China, (8) Court Theatrical Office (nanfu, shengpingshu), (9) Kunqiang music
Summary of Research Project
Chinese theatre is an important element of Chinese culture which has taken root around the world, and it fosters a sense of community among the Chinese. The forms of Chinese theatre were developed one thousand years ago, and it played out the diverse elements and behaviour of human beings in a human society recreated in a virtual world and gave expression in visible form to the ways in which people led their lives. At the same time, even though the Chinese realized that theatre represented a fictional world, they superimposed its various elements onto actual society and also came to regard it as a model for living in society. People both high and low in China came into direct contact with theatre, and it has played an important role in the formation of the attitudes of the Chinese.
In China too theatre was highly entertaining, but during the Qing dynasty this highly entertaining theatre was substantially modified as a result of government policy and came to be promoted both inside and outside China in the form of court theatre.
As a result of the establishment of the Qing dynasty, East Eurasia was incorporated into the Great Qing empire (Daicing gurun) and came under Chinese influence in many areas, including politics, culture and trade, eventually resulting in today's world. When thinking about present-day Asian society, one must naturally take into account historical relations with the Qing dynasty. And when one considers that the Qing dynasty has moulded today's Chinese society, there is a need to gain an accurate grasp of the actual content and role of court theatre, which was viewed with importance by the government, and clarify the realities of Chinese society during the Qing.
In the past, the study of Chinese theatre has been conducted within the confines of the history of literature, cut off from trends in society. Consequently the full-scale study of court theatre during the Qing dynasty, when the character of Chinese theatre underwent enormous change, was something that had not yet been tackled.
In this research project, the culture of court theatre during the Qing, which has had an enormous influence on the culture and social structure of contemporary China, is analyzed from five main perspectives:
(1) the relationship between the content of long works called "great plays" (daxi) and novels,
(2) the character of court theatre as part of cultural policy during the Qing dynasty,
(3) the influence on regional theatre in modern and contemporary China,
(4) the aim of the Qing dynasty in staging court theatre for foreign embassies and its influence on performing arts in East Asia, and
(5) the political nature of the cataloguing and publication of materials relating to court theatre in present-day China.
Research on these points will be pursued in the form of a joint study with the collaboration of overseas researchers. It is anticipated that the findings will be wide-ranging, including the clarification of a picture of the writers of daxi, etc., the discovery of revised or alternative versions of plays, the elucidation of the assimilation of the court theatre system by operators of regional theatre, the influence of Qing court theatre on theatre in East Asia, and the involvement of the government in the compilation of collections of early plays. It is to be surmised that by combining the achievements of this research project with the findings of past research, the culture of the Qing dynasty will be by and large elucidated in a systematic manner, and in addition the functions fulfilled by theatre in the mental makeup and social order of contemporary Chinese will become clear and an essential understanding of China will be further advanced.
The traditional culture of present-day China was formed primarily during the Ming-Qing period, and it has had an enormous influence on cultural formation in East Asian society. Among the core elements of this traditional culture there was theatre culture. The styles of theatre in China were established during the Song and Yuan periods, were then further refined by literati during the Ming, and evolved into court theatre during the Qing, becoming what might be described as the crystallization of traditional culture. Today it has coalesced in China with literature, art, and performing arts, infiltrating every corner of society, and has undergone diverse developments, all the while conveying the history, social norms, human relationships, aesthetics, and so on of the old China. In this research project we take note of the fact that theatre is for the Chinese not just a form of mere cultural entertainment, but has also had close bearings on their psychological makeup, the formation of their attitudes, and the spread of Sinocentric thought and has been one of the most important areas in moulding Chinese culture and society. We take up the culture of court theatre during the Qing dynasty, which inherited forms of theatre going back to the Song and Yuan and also provided the impetus for the formation of regional theatre in modern times, and shed light on its character, distinctive features, and role in cultural history.
More specifically, in the court or palace theatre of the Qing dynasty we focus on dramatic works belonging to the categories of daxi and jiexi, which were viewed with importance by the imperial court, and as well as clarifying their contents and character, textual problems, and their literary nature, thought, and connections with later works of regional theatre, we shed light on what the Qing court sought in theatre by analyzing aspects of its social reception in East Asia. At the same time, in view of its connections with the literature of past dynasties, such as the fiction and plays of the Song, Yuan, and Ming on which daxi were based, we also analyze questions that have been overlooked in the past, such as the nature, publication, and revision of novels in the Qing dynasty, which were closely related to court theatre, and the dynastic authorities' perceptions of vernacular literature, as well as publishing policies and culture during the Qing dynasty and the study of dramatic source materials. In this fashion, we will provide fresh insights in areas such as the history of literature, culture, and publishing during the Qing and build the foundations for the study of early modern Chinese culture.
This research project deals with the culture of drama and theatre in the field of Sinology, a discipline in Japanese research in the humanities that enjoys an especially high international reputation, and research on this subject has a history going back one hundred years.
A distinctive feature of Chinese theatre is that it is an important element of Chinese culture which has taken root around the world, and it fosters a sense of community among the Chinese.
The forms of Chinese theatre were developed one thousand years ago, and it played out the diverse elements and behaviour of human beings in a human society recreated in a virtual world and gave expression in visible form to the ways in which people led their lives. At the same time, even though the Chinese realized that theatre represented a fictional world, they superimposed its various elements onto actual society and also came to regard it as a model for living in society. People both high and low in China came into direct contact with theatre, and it has played an important role in the formation of the attitudes of the Chinese.
In China too theatre was highly entertaining, but during the Manchu Qing dynasty traditional culture was reprocessed and turned into an instrument of state rule, and in the course of this process theatre, which had been highly entertaining, was substantially modified and reorganized as a result of government policy and came to be promoted both inside and outside China. This research project focuses on the fact that the Qing court took up theatre as part of government policy.
The study of Chinese theatre has, however, been conducted chiefly within the confines of the history of literature, cut off from trends in society. Consequently there has been little full-scale research on court theatre during the Qing dynasty, when the character of Chinese theatre underwent enormous change, and it has remained a blank even in the history of literature.
Japan has been a world leader in Asian studies. The study of the Mongol empire and the Great Qing empire, which straddled the Eurasian continent, deals with state systems and periods that were significant in world history, and the Qing dynasty in particular represents an important period that has moulded contemporary China, but research has until now been inadequate.
In recent years, because of an upsurge of interest in Northeast Asia, Central Asia, and the Islamic world, there have been remarkable developments in the study of the time of the Qing empire and its Manchu dynasty.
The Qing dynasty, known as Daicing gurun, has come to be understood from the perspective of a Eurasian empire as a gurun, or a state taking the form of an empire, that ruled over the Chinese empire and Tibet, Mongolia, etc., on its periphery.
During the time of the Daicing gurun, or Great Qing empire, Chinese theatre developed the court theatre system as a result of government policy, becoming an instrument of rule, and this has continued down to the present day.
Since the early modern period both East Asia and also East Eurasia were incorporated into the Daicing gurun system and came under its influence in many areas, including politics, culture and trade, eventually creating today's world. It is obvious that, when considering present-day Asian society, the study of China's Qing period, which was its direct source, is of great importance, and it may be supposed that thinking about the role of court theatre, which was deliberately fostered by the Qing dynasty, is an important task.
We have discovered a historical source that hints at the need for the study of court theatre when considering the Great Qing empire as a whole. This is a map of the summer palace at Rehe, one of the imperial retreats during the Qing.
When one compares several materials relating to the summer palace, some interesting aspects of the Qing dynasty come to light. For instance,
|(1)||a rather colourless imperial palace was erected not in Beijing, but in the mountains to the northeast;|
|(2)||monasteries affiliated to the Tibetan Buddhism of Tibet and Mongolia were arrayed around the palace;|
|(3)||Mongolian ger and buildings and scenes from Jiangnan were recreated inside the imperial palace;|
|(4)||embassies from Mongolia, Vietnam, Korea, and so on, as well as Great Britain, were summoned to Rehe for audiences with the emperor; and|
Qing emperors were also depicted in Buddhist paintings.
Some of the largest events held here were performances of court theatre, and when one considers that
|(6)||court theatre was staged at the Rehe summer palace for foreign embassies, and|
|(7)||Buddhist tales such as the Xiyou ji stand out among the plays taken up in court theatre,|
it is possible to come up with a new interpretation.
That is to say, according to our new interpretation of this map, Rehe was a Manchu city of the Daicing gurun, or Great Qing empire, which included China proper, and the map can be understood as giving expression to the idea that the Manchu emperor, a devotee of Mañjuśrī, was promoting the world of Buddhism and spreading Buddhism throughout the world through the medium of theatre. One arrives at hitherto unheard-of ideas regarding the Qing dynasty as a Eurasian empire, that is, the Daicing gurun. Court theatre played an important role in the rule of this empire, and because court theatre was part of government policy, there is a need to analyze its actual content and clarify its role and so on in order to fill a vacuum in research.
This research project takes into account the findings of an earlier specially promoted research project, "A Study of Publishing Culture in East Asia," with respect to the political and social history of East Asia and the history of cultural exchange, and the culture of court theatre during the Qing, which has had an enormous influence on the culture and social structure of contemporary China, is analyzed from five main perspectives:
|(1)||full particulars of dramatic works,|
|(2)||the character of court theatre as part of cultural policy during the Qing dynasty,|
|(3)||the influence of court theatre on regional theatre,|
|(4)||the aim of the Qing dynasty in staging court theatre for foreign embassies, and|
|(5)||political questions lying behind the cataloguing and publication of materials relating to court theatre and theatre culture.|
It is to be surmised that theatre culture during the Qing dynasty will be by and large elucidated in a systematic manner as a result of the findings of this research project.
Concrete results that may be anticipated from this research project include the following:
|(1)||Light will be shed for the first time on the full scope of the content of works of Qing court theatre originating in the previous period and on a blank in the history of literature and the performing arts regarding how Ming-period novels were turned into dramatic texts.|
|(2)||Light will be shed on the political nature of court theatre as a state undertaking and on the process whereby court theatre became coloured by politics.|
|(3)||The influence that court theatre of the Qing dynasty had on the formation of regional theatre, which underpins local culture in present-day China, will become clear, and it may turn out that the regional theatre found scattered throughout China was in fact part of court theatre.|
Light will probably be shed on the aim of the Qing dynasty in having foreign embassies watch court theatre and on how the foreign embassies understood court theatre and combined it with the theatre culture of their own countries.
This is one of the original perspectives of this project, and it should act as an important trigger for advancing research on Vietnamese theatre, court song and dance theatre of the Korean Chosŏn dynasty, Ryukyuan dance and theatre, the so-called Chinese plays of Nagasaki, Mongolian theatre culture, and Tibetan masked dance ('chams), all of which have been largely neglected in past research.
On the basis of the above direct findings,
|(5)||the functions fulfilled by theatre in the mental makeup and social order of contemporary Chinese will become clear and an essential understanding of China will be further advanced.|
It is envisaged that three groups will pursue the research for this project.
|(1)||A research team to study the main issues, such as the plays staged by court theatre during the Qing, the role of court theatre as part of government policy, textual criticism of research materials, and policies regarding publishing culture in modern and contemporary China.|
|(2)||A group of overseas researchers to assist in the study of the main issues and cooperate in the collection of source materials.|
|(3)||A group of collaborating researchers within Japan to pursue research on Qing history and contemporary Chinese theatre.|
It is expected that this new field of research will not only continue to raise the level of Chinese studies in Japan and overseas, but will also provide a fresh point of entry to the study of Eurasian culture for young researchers and students.