A discovery at the Forbidden City in Beijing suggests that Lunar New Year was just as big an entertainment event on the calendar for one Qing dynasty emperor as it is for hundreds of millions of television viewers across China today.
On Wednesday, staff renovating the Palace Museum’s Hall of Mental Cultivation, or Yang Xin Dian, found two copies of opera programmes from the reign of Qianlong (1735-95), the museum said in a statement.
The hall has been under renovation since September. The staff were cleaning an air vent when they found rolls of paper between the vent and a pillar. Handwriting on the paper read: “November 19, 24th year of Qianlong’s reign”. It also included 19 opera song titles and the names of cast members.
The copies involved the same opera programme, but slightly different casts.
Researchers confirmed that the documents concerned a Lunar New Year’s Eve gala show 24 years into Qianlong’s reign.
They said there were no similar programmes among the exhibits in the Palace Museum. The discovery may help further the study of festive culture at the Qing dynasty imperial court, as well as the opera scene.
The programmes were given to the Department of Palace Life and Imperial Ritual for safekeeping and will go on public display after preservation and restoration.
The emperor would surely not have been able to imagine that nearly 300 years later, as many as 800 million viewers would watch the state broadcaster’s New Year’s Gala – also known as the Spring Festival Gala – an annual variety show at the Lunar New Year Eve and China’s biggest mass media spectacle.
The Palace Museum launched its first special Lunar New Year exhibition on Sunday, with 1,900 exhibits including decorative lamps, door posters and plants made from coral and jade on display.
Using historical records, exhibition organisers aim to recreate festive scenes at the Qing imperial court.