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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Li Mingrui’s private troupe and its spectators (1644-62) Dai, Lianbin


Scholars of vernacular Chinese plays such as Mudan ting (Peony Pavillion) by Tang Xianzu (1550-1616) have paid much attention to the texts of the plays, their readership, and the historical development of performances of them, but their studies to date have revealed little about the spectatorship of performances. In this thesis, I will explore the private troupe of Li Mingrui (1585-1671)—known for performing Mudan ting and Moling chun (Spring in Moling) by Wu Weiye (1609-71)—and endeavor to discover how the spectators interpreted performances by this troupe. Information about the troupe and about spectators' interpretations will be revealed by analyzing dozens of extant poems that were written especially during household performances, and due attention will also be paid to the political and cultural climate of the time when they were written. The purpose of this study is to provide a detailed picture of a typical private troupe during the Ming-Qing transition, to consider the degree of continuity of performance elements from late Ming to early Qing, and to deepen our understanding of the mentality of the literati world during this transitional period. Li Mingrui's particular fondness for Mudan ting and Moling chun stems from his close relationship with both playwrights. A protege of Tang Xianzu, the preeminent late- Ming playwright, and mentor of Wu Weiye, whose play reflects the dilemmas of political and cultural identity post-1644, Li Mingrui is ideally situated for a study of this kind. His troupe of eight actresses, which was created around 1646 and forced to disband in the spring of 1662, was able to perform Mudan ting, for which eight roles are designated, as well as Moling chun, for which twelve roles are designated, with the added participation of amateurs and other household servants who knew how to perform plays. Li Mingrui was independent from partisan strife between the Donglin and eunuch factions during the late Ming period, and was forced to serve under the Manchus for several months in 1644. Despite his service under the Manchus, he enjoyed good relations with other scholars in the early Qing, and the spectators of his troupe included both Ming loyalists and scholars who had served both the Ming and Qing. Both groups attended the same gatherings and performances and wrote poems at them. Nearly all the spectators viewed Chinese music and the Ming-style costumes onstage as nostalgic reminders of the fallen Ming. Even more important, these performance elements came to symbolize Han-Chinese Ming culture. In their poems these spectators distinguished Han-Chinese culture from Manchu culture, using references to performance elements to drive this distinction home. A politically charged term such as "Ming loyalist" does not adequately encompass the evidence of these poems, which reveal beliefs shared by men who were otherwise deeply divided politically. The aforementioned spectators can be more aptly described as "cultural loyalists" whose social activities sustained Chinese culture during the transition from the Han-Chinese Ming to the Manchu Qing Dynasty.

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