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At 1:30 in the afternoon of January 9, 2019, workers discovered two opera folios between sculpted bricks and the interior column (jinzhu) supporting the eaves of the south gable of the western side-hall in the courtyard of the Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxin dian). The workers belong to a team of craftsmen and other conservation specialists from the Palace Museum’s project management office and the Beijing Guowenyan Corporation. Dating to the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), the folios contain information about traditional operatic arrangements for the occasion of the Spring Festival.
In September of 2018, conservation work commenced for “The Hall of Mental Cultivation Research and Conservation Initiatives”; scaffolding was installed around the courtyard for the initial investigatory stage of preparations. As the conservationists and craftsmen cleaned the sculpted bricks and probed the deterioration of the column-base on January 9, they discovered a scroll of papers stuffed between the brick and the base of the column. Although fragile and yellowed, the folios are largely readable as most of the characters remain clear. The title reads, “By the workshop on the nineteenth day of the eleventh month of the twenty-fourth year (1759) of the Qianlong reign (1736–1795)” and “Presented at the Palace of Many Splendors (Chonghua gong)”. The date on the inside of the folio is the thirtieth of the twelfth lunar month and lists nineteen operatic titles, including “Peaceful New Year’s Eve” (Shengping chusui) and “Ushering in the New Year with Blessing and Longevity” (Fushou yingnian), and the names of performers. Although showing the same song titles, the folios differ in the list of performers. The Museum’s researchers believe the performance was in fact intended for the date shown in the inscription.
As soon as the folios were discovered, the project management office notified the Museum’s administration and relevant departments for documentation and identification. Researchers in the Department of Palace Life and Imperial Ritual (Gongting bu) stated that the Palace Museum did not yet have such an operatic bill in the collection. The discovery will be an important source for the research of Qing palace opera and festival celebrations. The folios have already been transferred to the Department of Palace Life and Imperial Ritual for safekeeping. After undergoing proper conservation and research, the folios will be put on display once a suitable opportunity arises.
Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying