Crj 2002spring The Costume Research Journal: A Quarterly Devoted to Costume and Dress
The Costume Research Journal is a publication of the Costume Design & Technology Commission of the Editor: Susan Brown-StraussArticles by TopicPast Issues by DateContributorCRJ print Subscription PageJoin our free Costumer's Info ListUSITT Costume Locator Service | width="441" align="center" valign="top" | Beijing for Costume Designers
Clothing and textiles have been an integral aspect of Chinese culture for thousands of years. The inhabitants of the Chinese courts relished fine fabrics, which were embellished with embroidered, painted or woven patterns. Social position was broadcast by dress in the ornamentation and the color, both of which were carefully regulated by sumptuary laws. With the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911 and the Communist Revolution of 1949, two major blows were struck to the creation and wearing of traditional textiles. With the first, the downfall of the imperial court halted the production of established dress and lead to the modernization of traditional styles. After the second revolution, much of the population was clothed in Mao suits, and little else was available. However, in the last decade of the
Descriptions of Figures:
(Image not in format I can open) Figure 1. A detail of the screen in the Forbidden City Jewelry Exhibit, with waves of kingfisher feathers in the upper half of the picture.
(Image not in format I can open) Figure 2. A Qing dynasty emperor�s robe, or ch�ao-fu made of yellow silk with embroidered images of dragons, clouds and waves.
Figure 3. An empress�s headdress with five phoenixes made of gold and pearls, mounted on a filigreed crown embellished with kingfisher feathers.
(Image not in format I can open) Figure 4. The Hall of Nourishing Pleasure theatre building in the Summer Palace.
(Image not in format I can open) Figure 5. An elaborately embroidered Qing dynasty opera costume for a princess or concubine.
(Image not in format I can open) Figure 6. A Qing period headdress for an opera performer.
(Image not in format I can open) Figure 7. An off guard guard at the Summer Palace.
(Image not in format I can open) Figure 9. A Beijing opera woman warrior in armor and headdress. | width="440" align="left" valign="top" | twentieth century, economic and social reforms have lead to an increased variety and manufacture of contemporary dress. During this same period of time, renewed interest in the significance of historical monuments has lead to the display of imperial clothing, jewelry and textiles in destinations of historical import. In North America, the awareness of Chinese traditional textiles and aesthetics has heightened recently by touring exhibitions from the Forbidden City, imperial tombs, and other Chinese national sites. Collections of Chinese imperial dress can also be found in the permanent holdings of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of the Arts and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, among others. In traveling to Beijing, you can view examples of these textile treasures in their original contexts, along with their contemporary descendents in the markets.
The capital of China for 600 years, Beijing has a feast of historical locations. As the focus of this article is clothing and textiles, the destinations mentioned are limited to those with relevant material, and the descriptions of those sites feature the costume related interests. Display and lighting techniques are still evolving in China, and some items may be difficult to view as a result.
Construction was started on the Forbidden City or Zijen Chung in the 1400s in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), though most of what remains today is from the eighteenth century. One of the most famous and frequently visited sites in Beijing, the Forbidden City is a major destination point, being the largest and most impressive ancient building monument in China. Plan to spend a day here if your schedule will allow it. The Forbidden City, also called the Palace Museum or Gugong, is located in the center of the city, north of Tiananmen Square. Walk under the portrait of Mao and continue through another large gate until you reach the entrance to the complex, where the ticket sellers are flanking it on the left and right. After you have passed through and enjoyed the main courtyards and halls, the last being the Hall of Preserving Harmony, you will see a sign indicating the entrance to the jewelry display to your right. This section contains the theatre building as well. You will need to buy an additional ticket and protective shoes to enter this part of the complex, an investment of about $1.50.
The first building past the ticket taker has a display of imperial artifacts. In the room to the right, there are two magnificent screens, with ivory and gold figurines, and iridescent turquoise kingfisher feathers covering the large area of clouds and water in the background. The kingfisher bird was hunted almost to extinction because of the Chinese love of their beautiful, brilliant feathers. Small pieces of the feathers are incorporated into many of the ladies� filigree hairpins in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), but it is astonishing to see the scale of the ornamentation in this pair of screens. (Figure 1) In the center room of this building, a formal court ceremonial robe for the emperor, or ch�ao-fu, is on display. It is yellow silk with multicolored embroidery of dragons and imperials symbols. Note the cut, with the waist seam and pleated skirt, as well as the size and placement of the ornamentation on this garment as it will contrast greatly from the theatrical costumes later on. (Figure 2) The second building in this section houses the jewelry display, with jade hairpins and kingfisher feather headdresses. The crown on display this fall had a bejeweled diadem of five golden phoenixes with pearled tailfeathers. Behind the phoenixes, the symbol for the empress, is an elaborate filigree headdress covered in the feathers of the kingfisher. (Figure 3)
Towards the end of the building complex that contains the jewelry treasures, there is a small courtyard with a sign indicating the theatre building to the right. The emperors of the Qing dynasty were particular fans of the Beijing opera, to the extent that they had their own theatre built inside the palace in 1776, calling it Chang Yin Ge or the Belvedere of Flowing Music. Upon entering the courtyard, you can�t help but notice the similarity of the layout to that of an Elizabethan theatre, with the carved and painted three-story thrust stage surrounded by a courtyard and a viewing building. Hsu Tao-Ching, in his book, The Chinese Conception of Theatre, explains that the reasons for the parallel structures come not from any cross-pollination between the two countries but rather from the similar models from which the theatres evolved. Where the Elizabethan theatre developed from innyard spaces, the Chinese theatre evolved from the teahouse theatre and these two antecedents share structural similarities. (Figure 4) According to the sign in the courtyard, the three story stage was used for extravagant performances which �called for Buddhist worthies and Taoist immortals swarming over the three stages, moving in and out of the normal entrances and exits as well as ceiling openings and floor wells.� The emperor and empress watched the performance from the two-story building opposite the stage and the ministers were seated on the sides.
As both the Elizabethan and Chinese stages were three quarters in the round, both forms of theatre utilized little scenery and relied more on costumes to communicate the story to the audience. Around the theatre courtyard is a glassed in corridor where some costumes created specifically for opera in the Qing dynasty are on display. As it was illegal for actors to wear any garments resembling official imperial dress, the differences in the costumes needed to be quite clear. The bold theatricality of the costumes is evident in the increased scale of the embroidery and the addition of dimensional ornaments, in contrast to the decorum of the imperial clothing in the previous building. (Figure 5) The headdresses, with their huge pearls and fuzzy balls, also project a much bolder image than the objects in the hairpin displays. (Figure 6) When you reach the end of this section, and you surrender your slippers, turn to the left and walk to the center of the complex so that you can re-enter and view the rest of the buildings and gardens. Beyond the grand courtyards and official rooms, in this back area there is a myriad of smaller, private spaces, some with furnishings and textiles that show more of the intimate life in the palace. While the dragon, the symbol of the emperor, dominates the imagery in the front of the palace, the phoenix, representing the empress, becomes more evident in this area. Look for both of them on hinges and around the window frames. There may also be special exhibits of artifacts from the collections from this national museum.
Long a site for an imperial retreat, the Summer Palace, or Yiheyuan, was rebuilt in 1888 by the Dowager Empress Ci Xi, and restored to its current state after the 1949 revolution. It is located on the far northwestern edge of the city as it was intended to be a haven from the life at court and the heat of the city. Counting travel time, a trip here is a full day excursion. Ci Xi also was a fan of Beijing opera and there is a large theatre complex located near the East entrance. Facing the hall of Benevolence and Longevity, walk to the right and forward a short distance to find the entrance to the theatre. You will need to buy an additional ticket for about .60 to view this area. Called the Garden of Virtue and Harmony, or Deheyuan, there are several buildings in this area. The first one, the make up building, has a display of contemporary Beijing opera costumes and attendants in Qing dynasty reproduction clothing. The theatre is the second building and is named The Hall of Nourishing Pleasure. The structure of the building is similar to and a bit larger than the one in the Forbidden City, with three tiers surrounded on three sides by a courtyard, and enclosed viewing spaces. Opposite the front of the stage is a special viewing room where the dowager Ci Xi would sit while watching performances. This fall, they were filming a television series about period opera performers and the courtyard was filled with extras in both Qing dynasty and Beijing opera costumes. It was a costume designer�s dream and as close to time travel as you can get. (Figure 7) In the third building, you can have your photo made in Qing dynasty dress, a distant second.
There is a saying that you haven�t been to Beijing until you have seen Beijing opera, and fortunately, there are many opportunities to fulfill that adage. The Li Yuan Theatre in the Qianmen Hotel on Yongan Lu (street) has a proscenium stage with tea tables in the front and auditorium seating in the back. A selection of �greatest hits� is offered nightly here, with segments chosen to present a good mixture of scenes for tourists, providing you with an introduction to the range of music, singing, movement, and acrobatics. Opera is often presented in favorite segments, a bit like our ballet tradition, and in one evening you might meet many of the famous characters from Chinese history and literature, such as the Monkey King, the White Snake and the warriors and strategists from the Three Kingdoms. (Figure 8) Regardless of the period of the story, the same style of costumes is used in every opera. The clothing, headdresses and makeup designs are an intricate pastiche of historical dress and theatrical invention, as mentioned earlier. The overriding principle is that everything onstage must be beautiful, so the majority of the costumes are made of vivid silk fabrics and hand embroidered with gold, silver and multicolored threads. The headdresses are based on the imperial model with gold or silver filigree with kingfisher blue inlay, but now the filigree is buckram and paste, and the blue �feathers� are small bits of fabric, all masterfully crafted to create a stunning effect on stage. (Figure 9) (For more information on Beijing opera costumes, see �Beijing Opera Costumes, discovering the meaning of the costumes in traditional jingju,� TD&T, Fall, 1997, and �Surface Design in Jingju Costumes,� TD&T, Spring, 2001.) Prior to performances, the actors are on display as they put on their makeup in a room to the right of the lobby and through a small souvenir shop. You enter the theatre to the left of the lobby through the larger souvenir shop. This store has hand embroidered traditional style garments and many gift items related to opera, postcards, painted face figurines, scroll paintings, etc. The top price for a ticket is about $15.00 in the tea table section. This location is recommended if you want to take photos, which is not considered bad manners in opera performances. You might even see Chinese fans walking up to the stage to capture their favorite performers with a flash shot. The scenes are performed by the top troupes in Beijing, so the quality is usually of a high standard. For true opera fans, there are also Sunday matinees at this theatre when they perform full length plays, with a top price ticket at about $6.00. The audiences for these matinees are primarily the local Chinese.
The Hu Guang Hui Guang Theatre, is across Nanxinhua Jie (street) from the Qianmen Hotel. The outside of the building is easily recognized as it is the traditional style, with a curved tile roof and carved wooden fa�ade. The interior of the structure is a lovely traditional style theatre with a single story thrust stage, an embroidered backdrop and elaborately ornamented house. The stage here is smaller and the atmosphere is more intimate with tea tables for all of the audience. The same range of scenes is performed here nightly for tourists and they are also generally high quality. The tickets for this theatre are also about $15.00.
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