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Imperial Dining

Ancient Chinese TeapotIn the Ming courts the feast of the Great banquet (the first of four levels of imperial banquets) was given at the New Year festival when foreign envoys were at the palace and able to attend. The rites for ceremonial visits and festive occasions were intricately complex, as one might imagine. Ranking court officials and military officers assembled outside the palace gate. Officials of the fourth rank or above were accommodated within the imperial hall. Palace guards stood on duty at the gates. Pennants were hung, the imperial dais was set in place, and service stations were arranged around the imperial dining area. As the emperor entered, wearing the royal robes and the royal crown, he received greetings from his officers and generals. The propitious phrase "may you live one thousand years" (wansui) was chorused by all attending officials. Dining commenced around midday and continued through the afternoon.

As for the imperial New Year's Eve banquet in Qing times, the ceremony was as elaborate as it was in preceding dynasties. Participants took their seats inside the Forbidden Palace at the Hall of Preserving Harmony. Ninety tables, seating two each, were set with wine and dishes of food. After the emperor entered, all present took their seats. During the banquet, music plays - there were Tibetan songs, Mongolian instrumentals, and Manchurian melodies, reflecting foreign origins of the Qing dynasty emperors and many of the high officials.

Clown performances, acrobatics, and lion dances were all part of the entertainment. Finally, after the food was served, the music performed and the quests had prostrated themselves for the last time in front of the emperor, the feasting ended. Officials formed ranks and filed out and the attendants were then allowed to take away the remaining sweets and fruits, known as "snatching the banquet delicacies" ("qianyen").

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Last Modified: 11/28/11.