This is one of a number of images that we have of theatrical performances in China. It was probably taken by R.M.C. Ruxton, who was variously in the British ‘Weihaiwei’ or First Chinese Regiment, the Salt Gabelle (the Chinese state salt monopoly), and the Chinese Ministry of Finance, where he served as a Financial Advisor. Ruxton was in China for most of the years from from 1900 to the late 1930s. Some of the audience (those wearing the hats) may be men of the Weihaiwei Regiment, although Chinese recruited for mine labour in South Africa after the Boer War were also issued such head wear. Weihai was a British leased territory, grabbed in a panic about Russian ambitions in north China in 1898. Where-are-we? Why-oh-why? asked British wags. It was returned to Chinese control in 1930, although the Royal Navy’s China station retained it as a naval summer base thereafter.
The stage here probably faced a local temple, and the performers were there to entertain the gods. Food vendors and others came to take advantage in various ways of the crowds which gathered to watch the spectacle.