Beijing Opera Peking Opera, Chinese

Peking opera is a Chinese national treasure with a history of 200 years. It  has “singing” (chang, 唱), “dialogue”
(nian,念),”acting (zuo, 做) and “acrobatics” {da, 打) as its basic performing forms. Nowhere else in the world can
you see a performer in heavy, opulent costume, so artfully singing, miming, turning flips,and brandishing swords.
Neophytes may find two hours of the staccato clanging and nasal singing of Beijing opera hard to take (and most
young Chinese fed on a diet of western-style pop agree). But this dramatic, colorful experience might be one of
the most memorable of your trip.

The colors of the performers’ painted faces symbolize the individual characters’ qualities. Red indicates devotion,
courage bravery, uprightness and loyalty. A typical “red face” is Guan Yu, general of the period of the Three
Kingdoms (220-280), famed for his faithfulness to his Emperor, Liu Bei. Black symbolizes roughness and
fierceness. The black face indicates either a rough and bold character or an impartial and selfless personality.
Typical of the former are General Zhang Fei (of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms) and Li Kui (of Water
Margin), and of the latter is Bao Gong (alias Bao Zheng), the semi-legendary fearless and impartial judge of the
Song Dynasty.White suggests sinisterness, treacherousness, suspiciousness and craftiness. Commonly seen on
the stage is the white face for the powerful villain. It highlights all that is bad in human nature: cunning, craftiness,
and treachery. Typical characters are Cao Cao, powerful and cruel prime minister in the time of the Three
Kingdoms, and Qin Hui, treacherous Song Dynasty prime minister who put the national hero Yue Fei to death.

Guan YuZhang FeiCao Cao
Beijing Opera is a form of “total theater” with singing, speech, mime, and acrobatics that combine graceful
gymnastics and movements from the martial arts. Training is notoriously hard. Costumes are designed to make
the jumps seen more spectacular by billowing out as they spin. (See a Video clip of acrobatics)


3)Musical instruments
Despite the dramatic visual elements of Beijing Opera, the Chinese say that they go to “listen” to opera, not to
see it. The importance of the musical elements should not therefore be underestimated. Typically six or seven
musicians accompany the dramatics. The stringed instruments usually include the erhu, or Chinese two-stringed
violin, sanxian or three-stringed lute, and moon guitar, or possibley pipa(traditional lute). while percussion
includes instruments such as clappers, gong, and drums.
There are four main role types in Beijing Opera:Sheng (male), dan(female), jing(painted face), and chou(clown).
The Sheng (生) is the main male role in Beijing opera. This role has numerous subtypes. The laosheng is a
dignified older role. These characters have a gentle and cultivated disposition and wear sensible costumes. One
type of laosheng role is the hongsheng, a red-faced older male. The only two hongsheng roles are Guan Gong,
the Chinese God of War, and Zhao Kuang-yin, the first Song Dynasty emperor. Young male characters are
known as xiaosheng. These characters sing in a high, shrill voice with occasional breaks to represent the voice
changing period of adolescence. The wusheng is a martial character for roles involving combat. They are highly
trained in acrobatics, and have a natural voice when singing.

Erhu - Chinese two-stringed violinSanxian- Chinese three-stringed lutePipa - chinese traditional luteGong-Percussion instrument

The Dan (旦) refers to any female role in Beijing opera. Dan roles were originally divided into five subtypes. Old
women were played by laodan, martial women were wudan, young female warriors were daomadan, virtuous and
elite women were qingyi, and vivacious and unmarried women were huadan. One of Mei Lanfang’s most
important contributions to Beijing opera was in pioneering a sixth type of role, the huashan. This role type
combines the status of the qingyi with the sensuality of the huadan.

Xiaosheng-Peking Opera young male roleLaosheng _Peking Opera older maleWusheng _ Peking Opera Male role
6)Jing (hualian)
The Jing (净) is a painted face male role. Jing represent warriors, heroes, statesmen, adventurers, and demons.
Not only are these characters the most striking looking but they also usually have the most forceful personalities.
Beijing opera boasts 15 basic facial patterns, but there are over 1000 specific variations. Each design is unique
to a specific character. The patterns and coloring are thought to be derived from traditional Chinese color
symbolism and divination on the lines of a person’s face, which is said to reveal personality. Three main types of
Jing roles are often seen. These include tongchui, roles that heavily involve singing, jiazi, roles with less
emphasis on singing and more on physical performance, and wujing, martial and acrobatic roles

The chou are the comic characters and they are denoted by white patches on their noses. Patches of different
shape and size mean roles of different character. It is the chou who keep the audience laughing.
8)Mei Lanfang (1894-1961)  梅兰芳
Mei Lanfang was the foremost male interpreter of the female role(dan) during Beijing Opera’s  heyday in the
1920s and 1930s. Traditionaly all female roles were played by male actors, although no longer. Visitors who are
keen to learn more about Meilangfang while in Beijing can visit the former residence of Mei Lanfang at Huguosi.
On exhibition are Mei lanfang’s personal collections of books, manuscripts, calligraphy, paintings, costumes and
photographs that document his illustrious life. Mei Lanfang, the movie starring Leon Lai and Zhang Ziyi (章子怡)
will be released in December 2008.

The traditional repertoire includes more than 1,000 works, mostly based on popular tales. Modern productions
aimed at tourists often include English-language displays of the text.