Within the Palatial Compound: Actors’ Lives in the Qianlong Court
Court actors were among a selective group of performers hired to stage plays in the palatial compound during the Qianlong 乾隆 reign (1736–1796), the golden age of the Qing court theater. By the Qianlong emperor’s commission, these court actors brought the plays and their plots to life. The prosperity of Qianlong court theater increased enormously. As a result, the standing of court actors improved when the purpose-built theaters and music bureaus in the palaces were established. These selected actors were cast as a mainstay in the Qianlong court theater. Since they were confined in the palatial compound, their lifestyle and status differed from those who lived outside. Thus, this article focuses on actors’ lives in the Qianlong court. My goal is to use the extant court actors’ name lists and other historical documents as a way to understand how these actors were categorized, were treated and lived their lives during the Qianlong reign. By focusing on this selected stage performers, this article also aims to analyze the prosperity of the Qianlong reign that engendered power of court theater during this era.
Keywords: court actors, the Qianlong emperor, the Qing dynasty
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