Upon their return from the China this past November, The Renaissance International School middle school students were inspired to write a play, based on some of the stories they heard on our tour. They started by brainstorming a list of the different possibilities, and then gradually narrowed the choices to those they found particularly interesting. The scenes were then distributed amongst the students, so that each of them would focus on one or two scenes. Add in some solid research and a couple of pinches of creativity, and “Scenes from Chinese History” was born!

Last week, the students selected three of the scenes to present to the elementary students. In a whirlwind of activity, the staging was set and students learned their lines. They worked together to design simple costumes that could easily accommodate the many scene changes. They invited Upper Elementary students to take on certain roles. And they practiced! At the end of the week, the students presented their scenes to the entire elementary. It was greeted with great enthusiasm!


It was wonderful to see the unique style that students brought to their characters; it was fantastic to see them work hard to identify with their character and to understand who they were and what they were going through. For these students, in those moments, history truly came alive!


The following excerpt gives an insight into the creative writing of our student playwrights.

Cixi Script


Empress Dowager Cixi, or the Dragon Lady, was born on November 29, 1835 in Beijing, China. She was born into a poor family. Her father died when she was a young child. She was the oldest child and felt neglected. When she was fourteen, she was nominated as a candidate concubine. She became a concubine at 18. She was not only honored, but glad for the chance to escape from her old life. Although Emperor Xianfeng had many wives and concubines, Cixi was the only one to bear a son. She was moved from a third level concubine to a first level one after he was born, as only boys were supposed to inherit the throne. When the boy turned one, she became one of the emperor’s wives. Unfortunately, Emperor Xianfeng died in 1861, when he was 30 years old. Since her child was the emperor’s only son, Tongzhi, her child, became the new emperor at age 5. Cixi seized the throne in 1865 when her son was nine. Her son died at age 16, after an apparent recovery from smallpox. It is thought by some people that Cixi drove her son’s wife, Alute, to suicide. Whether this is true or not, Alute died, as did Cixi’s co-regent. In addition to this, after surrendering her power to her nephew, Guangxu, Cixi grew angry at him for trying to modernize China and imprisoned him on an island in a lake in the Forbidden City.

Cixi effectively ruled China for 50 years. She was more concerned with her own interests than the country’s, resisted modernization until after the Boxer Rebellion, spent naval funds on the Summer Palace, and, according to many sources, committed a few political murders. Despite this, many people say that she was a strong ruler, although some say that she did not use her strength to help China.

Emperor Xianfeng: I know that I am dying, and although Cixi’s son is only five years old, he is the only male heir, and must become the emperor.
Random official: Yes, your highness.
Emperor Xianfeng dies

Cixi: Tongzhi, my son, I am afraid that you are no longer emperor. I am!
Tongzhi: But--
Cixi: Yes, you may stay in the Forbidden City. Thank you for being so obedient!
Tongzhi: But-
Cixi: Good bye!

Tongzhi: Oh no! I am very sick. I might die!
(Tongzhi dies)
Alute: Oh no! My husband is dead! What is the point of life without him?
Cixi: There is none, my dear. I’m so sorry about your loss.
Alute: But there must be! Help me find it!
Cixi: There is none, I already told you. Unless you want to find a new husband...
Alute: No! I don’t want to live!
(Alute swallows opium and dies)
Cixi: I hereby declare Guangxu, my nephew, the new emperor!
Guangxu: Hewo happy! Tank ooooooo! (He is a three year old talking in baby talk)
Random official: But he’s only three years old!
Cixi: Do not defy me!
Official: Yes, your highness.
Another official: (running in) Empress! Your co-regent is dead!
Yet another official: (running in) So is your sister!
Cixi: Excellent! Um... I mean, oh dear.

Read more about our middle school students' trip to China:

Visit to Kaifeng City

Visiting Longmen Grottoes and the Shaolin Temple

Renaissance International Students' China Trip in The Montclarion

Stu­dents from Oak­land, Berke­ley, San Lean­dro, Alameda, and other San Fran­cisco East Bay cities attend The Renais­sance Inter­na­tional School, located in Oakland’s Dimond Dis­trict. The school is for Pre-​K (age 2 years old) through mid­dle school.