Home> Visit>Fine Views
Blossoms of Wisdom Blossoms of Wisdom
Echoes of Classics Echoes of Classics
Fabrics of Glory Fabrics of Glory

Grand Theatre

Updated: Aug 23, 2022


An interior view of the Grand Theatre in Prince Kung's Palace.

The Grand Theatre in Prince Kung's Palace was built during the Tongzhi reign (1862-1874) in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) as the main venue where Prince Kung and his family and their friends enjoyed traditional Chinese opera.

It is the only surviving enclosed ancient theatre in China and has a floor space of 685 square meters. A brick-wood structure, it was built without any iron nails. The earth under its stage was dug deep enough to accommodate several giant water containers, with a view to creating exceptional acoustics, with appropriate resonance and reverberation in a large space, and to helping audiences enjoy performances everywhere in the theatre tower without the assistance of any amplification tools.

A well-known singer, who performed in the Grand Theatre several years ago, spoke highly of its special design and its outstanding sound effects, which were even better than those of a musical hall.

The interior of the Grand Theatre is very splendid, though the exterior, regarded from the Peony Garden, seems rather ordinary. Its two pillars, four walls, and ceilings are all painted with wisterias, creating a lush and blossoming scene and helping audiences forget that they are actually watching opera in the middle of a concrete building.

It was said that Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) often visited the mansion and joined others to enjoy shows in the Grand Theatre. Prince Kung found a group of artisans to paint the ceiling of the theatre in hopes that Empress Dowager Cixi would be pleased by the decoration of his mansion.

There are 20 palace lanterns hung on the ceilings of the Grand Theatre and the surface of its ground are covered with blue bricks. Twenty sets of old-fashioned square tables and armchairs are placed in an orderly way in the tower, the back wall of which is decorated with light brown wood latticework with a backdrop of dark blue silk fabric.

A one-meter-high stage is located to the south of the Grand Theatre. On the top of the stage hangs a golden and black plaque inscribed with four golden Chinese characters reading "Shangxin Leshi", which refers to maintaining a good mood and mental happiness. There is a make-up room for performers at the back of the stage as well as a place for special guests and female audience members from which they can enjoy the show and take a rest.

Servants in the mansion used to make a fire to warm the Grand Theatre when Prince Kung held a birthday party there in the second half month of the tenth month in the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. Therefore, the building was also known as a "warm tower."

On top of drama performances, the Grand Theatre was also a major venue for funerals and weddings. For instance, it would be decorated with elegiac couplets and white fabric and filled with incense smoke when prominent people in the mansion passed away. Respectable monks and nuns were also invited to perform religious rituals for the deceased.

The last time an old-fashion theatrical play was held in the Grand Theatre was in 1936 when Puru (1896-1963), a grandson of Prince Kung and a well-known painter, organized a birthday party for his mother. The show brought together lots of principal performers of Peking Opera.

Today, visitors can enjoy Peking Opera, Kunqu Opera, and the palace music at the Grand Theatre. The palace music, which is dominated by the sanxian (a three-stringed plucked instrument) with the support of six other musical instruments, is noted for its gorgeousness and solemnity.

During his official visit to China in 1988, Lee Kuan Yew, then Singaporean prime minister, asked the Chinese government to do him a favor by arranging a special drama show in the Grand Theatre in Prince Kung's Palace. He was deeply impressed on that occasion by the traditional Chinese royal music and classical Chinese architecture.

Contact Us