Description of a View of Canton

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Description of a View of Canton
Description of a view of Canton, the River Tigress, and the surrounding country
Robert Burford (1791-1861.0)
London: T. Brettell
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50.—A Play.

The drama is a popular source of amusement to the Chinese, and the
government, although it does not provide the spectacles, gives them
countenance and encouragement, by permitting the erection of stages in
the public streets, and at some festivals even in the portals of the
temples; but the profession of a player is considered infamous, both by
the laws and customs of the empire. The performers are usually itinerant
bands of ten or twelve persons, whose merit, rank, and pay, differ
according to circumstances, those coming from Peking are the most
esteemed; there are never any females in the company, boys always acting
their parts. The stages are of bamboo and matting, decorated with gaudy
drapery and flags, but they have no scenery to assist the deception; the
dresses are gorgeous in the extreme, and much embroidered with gold and
silver, they are said to be fac-similes of the dress of the ancient
Chinese, before the Tartar conquest. The sing-song, or play, is
historical, or mythological, a mixture of serious and comic,
interspersed with singing in the most impassioned parts, when a terrible
din is kept up by the band; the pieces are seldom made the medium of
enlightening the minds, or improving the morals of the people, but are
more generally a mirror in which their vices are reflected, with an
accuracy truly degrading. A long list of plays is always ready for
inspection, any of which can be performed at a moment’s notice. The law
forbids the representation of emperors, sages, or gods, but the highest
authorities witness them with delight; indeed the list contains plays
suited to every occasion, and every class of society. The Chinese are
very expert tumblers, and excel in feats of agility, activity, and
sleight of hand.