Sunday, June 22, 2008

China: Court theatres in the Qing Dynasty (Part 2). Chengde, A theatre inside a Tibetan temple.

A theatre building in the middle of an enormous museum...

Chengde city is an extraordinary museum of diplomacy, it shows the waste of money and creative effort Chinese emperors had calling for the union of their empire: an enormous Summer imperial villa with its palace and imperial gardens (with lakes, rivers, pavilions, bridges, pagodas, etc.), surrounded by several replicas of the biggest and most important temples in China. This kind of diplomacy was an expensive but good way to please governors and principals from every important province in that imperial China.

During the Qing dynasty, between 18th and 19th Centuries, and thought for the visit of the Dalai Lama, it was built a replica of the Potala Palace of Lhasa; its interiors were adapted as reception halls as well as imperial rooms for those special guests. Some years after the visit of the Dalai Lama, inside of one of the main courtyards, it was built a real size-Peking Opera theatre (Beijing Opera theatre), similar to those built inside the Forbidden City and inside the Summer Palace in Beijing.

The palace received only once to any important figure (the Dalai Lama), and its theatre worked just a few times thanks to the Queen mother, Cixi, who loved Peking Opera. After the end of the imperial age all those monuments where abandoned and later converted in part of this huge museum of diplomacy and emptiness. Our Peking Opera theatre is currently used only in special official occasions.

In any case its importance lays in its architectonic work, in the beauty of its lines and specially in that perfection achieved at the end of the Qing Dynasty with these style of buildings. The end of the Qing dynasty was the beginning of the highest moment in Beijing Opera, the most beautiful theatres of Beijing Opera where constructed during the last years of the 19th Century.

So, my experience were contradictory: I loved the building because it was amazing, but I felt sad and disappointed because it was a wasted beauty. This case, not the only one in China, talked also to me about how "Han majority" conceived and currently conceive the cultural relation with Tibet and Tibetans: a Peking Opera theatre building inside a replica of the Potala Palace of Lhasa, house of the supreme leader of that country, yes, but also the supreme religious place in Tibet.

Peking Opera theatre in Chengde

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