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Biggest opera theater of Qing imperial family restored to former glory

By  Zhang Zixuan  (China Daily)

08:26, May 22, 2013

The three-story theater takes on a new look after renovation in the Garden of Virtuous Harmony in Beijing's Summer Palace. Provided by the Summer Palace to China Daily

The Empress Dowager Cixi watched some 260 operas at the grand theater in the Summer Palace. It is now restored to its former glory and opened to the public.

For the first time in more than a century, the sound of Peking Opera fills the grand theater in the Garden of Virtuous Harmony (De He Yuan) in the Summer Palace. The biggest opera theater of the Qing (1644-1911) imperial family underwent 18 months of renovation work and is now restored to its former glory during Emperor Guangxu's reign, and opened to the public.

This is the third and largest repair project in terms of scale in the Garden of Virtuous Harmony after the birth of New China in 1949.

"The grand theater stage is one of the four major constructions during Emperor Guangxu's reign (1874-1908), and it is the only original architecture left among the four. The other three are reconstructions after the structures were ruined by fire," says Geng Liutong, ancient architecture expert and chief engineer of the Summer Palace restoration project.

"More importantly, it is a building that did not receive any influence from the West," the 74-year-old stresses.

Constructed from 1891 to 1895, the grand theater in the Garden of Virtuous Harmony was specially built for the 60th birthday of Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), who was passionate about Chinese operas, especially Peking Opera.

According to records, there were five draft plans for the construction of the theater, and Cixi examined them all and provided revisions.

With a height of 22.73 meters, the theater stage is the second highest building after the Tower of Buddhist Incense (Fo Xiang Ge) in the Summer Palace.

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