A Descriptive Catalogue of the Chinese Collection in London

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A Descriptive Catalogue of the Chinese Collection in London
A descriptive catalogue of the Chinese Collection, now exhibiting at St. Georges Place, Hyde Park Corner, London
William B. Langdon
London: Printed for the proprietor
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IN the fifth case we have a specimen of Chinese theatricals. There are
three figures of actors, — an adult and two children, — a gorgeous state
parasol, a number of theatrical caps, and a sample of embroidered
tapestry. The costume of the Chinese stage is sufficiently appropriate
to the characters represented, and on most occasions extremely splendid.
Gay silks and embroidery are lavished on the dresses of the actors, and
as most of the serious plays are historical, and for obvious reasons do
not touch on events that have occurred since the Tartar conquest, the
costume, as in the case of the tragedian here represented, shows the
ancient dress of China, which in females, is nearly the same now as
ever; but, as regards men, very different. The splendour of Chinese
theatrical wardrobes was remarked by Ysbrandt Ides, the Russian
ambassador, as long ago as 1692. The dresses and adornments of the
actors here represented, are of rich materials and elegantly wrought
with gold thread.

Theatrical exhibitions are favourite amusements of the Chinese, and as
among the ancient Greeks and Romans, they are sometimes connected with
religion. The estimation in which they are held may be inferred from a
single fact. The money expended upon them in one year at Macao, a place
where there are but few wealthy Chinese, amounted to nearly seven
thousand dollars.

It is remarkable that there are no regular theatres. The actors are
literally vagabonds, strolling about from city to city, and from
province to province. In Canton, for example, the inhabitants of a
certain quarter club together and make up a purse, with which a company
is engaged. A temporary theatre is erected, and the whole neighbourhood
at liberty to attend. When the quid pro quo has been rendered by the
actors, they move off to another quarter, and the same thing is
repeated. It is customary to employ actors at private entertainments,
which are never considered complete without a theatrical exhibition.
Upon such occasions a list of plays is handed to the most distinguished
guest, who selects whichever most accords with his fancy. The principal
inns and all large private establishments have a room expressly for this
purpose. Females are not allowed to appear upon the stage.