China Beijing Opera

Beijing Opera performance
 Beijing Opera Pictures
Beijing Opera is the quintessence of China. The largest Chinese opera form, it is extolled as 'Oriental Opera'. Having a history of 160 years, it has created many 'firsts' in Chinese dramas: the abundance of repertoires, the number of artists, opera troupes and spectators.

Beijing Opera is developed from absorbing many other dramatic forms, mostly from the local drama 'Huiban' which was popular in South China during the 18th century. It is a scenic art integrating music, performance, literature, aria, and face-painting. Certain rules are set up and regulations are standardized during many artists' long practice on stage. Different from regional plays, it is stricter on the variety of the workmanship. The combination of virtual and reality - a special technique of expression, keeps it largely free from the restriction of time and space on stage performance. Beijing Opera has had many interesting names since it came into being, such as Jinghuang, Daxi, Pingju, Jingxi.
 

Four Means of Artistic Presentation

The opera of Monkey KingBeijing Opera presents dramatic plays and figures mainly by infusing four artistic methods: singing, dialogue, dancing and martial art. Singing is utilized to intensify the appeal of the art by all kinds of tones. Dialogue is the complement of singing which is full of musical and rhythm sensation. Dancing refers to the body movements requiring high performing skills. Martial art is the combination and transformation of traditional Chinese combat exercises with dances.
 

Main Roles in Beijing Opera Performance

 

Sheng:

It's a common name of male characters and composed of Lao Sheng and Xiao Sheng. Lao Sheng refers to the middle-aged man with a beard who acts as the decency figure; for example, Zhugeliang in 'Empty City Scheme'. Xiao Sheng means young man without a beard. Zhangsheng in 'The Story of the West Room' is a representative of Xiao Sheng.

Face Painting

Dan:

The general name for female characters can be divided into Zhengdan, Huadan, Laodan, Wudan. Zhengdan is also called 'Qingyi', who mainly plays the part of the strong-minded middle-aged woman who behaves elegantly. Huadan refers to little girls who often live in the bottom of society. Laodan refers to the senior woman and Wudan indicates the female who is good at fighting.
 

Jing:

Painted face often refers to male characters with unique appearance or personality, such as Baozheng and Caocao. Besides, Chou is a comic role or villainous character or righteous person. The actor's nose is painted by a piece of white powder, making him or her easily recognizable.
 

Facial Painting (Lianpu)

Facial painting in Beijing Opera
Facial painting in Beijing Opera
Lianpu is formed through dramatic artists' long-term practice and their understanding and judgment of the roles in plays. It is the colorful dressing on actors' faces. By using transformative and exaggerated figures, professional spectators would easily tell the characteristic of a role. In this way, it is called 'the picture of hearts'. There are certain formats of the facial painting in the aspect of color, type and shape. Usually, eyes, foreheads and cheeks are painted like wings of butterflies, swallows and bats.

Colors of Lianpu are varied with each representing a characteristic. For example, red symbolizes loyalty, such as Guanyu, a great general during Three Kingdoms Period (220-280). Black signifies honesty and frankness, such as Lord Bao, a righteous official during Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), or abruptness and impertinence, such as Likui, an important figure in the famous Chinese ancient novel 'All Men Are Brothers'. White stands for cattiness and cunning, with Caocao as its representative, a famous politician in the late Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220).
 

Stage Properties (Qimo)

Qimo is a general designation for all kinds of stage properties and simple settings used in Beijing Opera performances. It comes from the real life experience. For example, an actor can practice the scene of galloping the horse simply by using a horsewhip without riding a real horse on stage. A bridge is made up of two chairs standing on each side of a table. Storms are realized by performers dancing with umbrellas. The imaginary performance skills largely bring to performers the freedom to express more life scenes.
 

Four Famous Artists

Liyuan Theatre, Qianmen Hotel, BeijingThere are many famous masters who are good at performing Beijing Opera. Among them, the Four Famous Dans - Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu, Shang Xiaoyun and Xun Huisheng - are most well-known at home and abroad. They are experts in performing the role of Dan and each has his own artistic feature. Their wonderful performances are still appreciated by many audiences. For example, 'Farewell My Concubine' by Mei Lanfang, 'Injustice to Dou'e' by Cheng Yanqiu, 'Lady Zhaojun Going beyond the Great Wall' by Shang Xiaoyun and 'Matchmaker' by Xun Huisheng.

Beijing Opera contains the soul of Chinese national culture. Its unique charm inspires ethos of Chinese people. There is no doubt that it is really the treasure of Chinese culture. If you want to taste the real Beijing Opera, Liyuan Theatre in Beijing will be a good choice for you.

 Related Reading: Beijing Opera Theaters,   Beijing Travel Guide

Questions & Answers on China Beijing Opera
Asked by Lila from USA | Nov. 06, 2018 11:04Reply
Confused
The article says the Chinese opera started about 160 years ago, but I read another article saying it began in 1790. Even if you subtract the date this article was published you get an answer no where near 1790. Which is right?
Answers (1)
Answered by Anne from NEW ZEALAND | Nov. 06, 2018 19:12
00Reply


Hi, the Hui Opera started from the 1790 and it was the predecessor of the Beijing Opera. After several decades, the formal Beijing Opera gradually formed around 1850 and that's why the article says it stared about 160 years ago.
Asked by Jeff from AMERICA | May. 17, 2017 20:39Reply
The commencement of Peking Opera:
When did it begin? I know it was 160 years ago but when exactly?

Also - what was it like when it first started? Obviously there wasn't as much technology and there are more recent innovations that they wouldn't have had so what was it like when it first started out?

1) What were the original costumes, set, dancing, make-up etc. like?
2) What year and where did it originally start?
3) Who came up with the idea of the Peking Opera? And where did they get their inspiration from?

Thanks :)
Answers (2)
Answered by Sandra M from CANADA | May. 17, 2017 20:45
71Reply


Well, if it started 160 years ago then that means it began in 1857 or sometime around then.

As for your other questions - i'm not too sure. You said it yourself - there wasn't as much technology and we have a lot more now than we did then. When it started it was a lot more basic and probably wouldn't have been as big. As the casting grew and they were able to incorporate more music and technical aspects into the show and this would have changed the way that the show run. They probably wouldn't have had as good lighting and costuming and all that type of stuff back when the Peking Opera started - after all, it was over 160 years ago!!

4 different performance troupes got together and created this. They probably wanted to make something a bit different. Something that involved many different aspects of performance/theatre and something that blended with ancient Chinese tradition.

Hope this helped!
Answered by leyla from CHINA | Sep. 26, 2018 20:58
00Reply


peking opera was first started in 1790 for the 80th bday of Qianlong emporer.
Asked by jeremy cook from AUSTRALIA | Jun. 07, 2016 04:50Reply
Does the Beijing Opera ever perform the Model Operas of the Cultural Revolution ?
Answers (2)
Answered by Noyes from SINGAPORE | Jun. 07, 2016 22:28
91Reply


As I know, there is no opera of the Cultural Revolution. The lastest subject matters were stories during the Sino-Japanese War, which is earlier than the Cultural Revolution.
Answered by Jeremy Cook from AUSTRALIA | Jun. 08, 2016 16:57
15Reply


I don't mean works about the Cultural Revolution but rather the initial 8 works that were heavily promoted from 1966.One opera I have read about is Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy. I believe there was a film made of it in 1970 but I wanted to know if any of those operas that were promoted in the era 1966-76 are performed today
Asked by Mirna M from USA | Feb. 19, 2016 11:13Reply
Use and significance of makeup in Peking Opera.
I would like to know if there are any professionals that are able to provide me with information about the use and significance of makeup in Peking Opera. I am trying to focus on the colors of makeup, what each color means and how each individual character has there own look with makeup.
Answers (1)
Answered by Tilly from SINGAPORE | Feb. 20, 2016 01:03
46Reply


Well, generally speaking, the red face usually indicates bravery, uprightness and loyalty.
The white face refers to a fraudulent and guile personality.
The green face means stubbornness, impetuosity and lack of self-restraint.
The black face signifies honesty and frankness.
Asked by John McDonald from USA | Jan. 13, 2016 18:08Reply
What are the difference between Beijing opera masks and Halloween masks?
Answers (1)
Answered by Helen from GREECE | Jan. 14, 2016 03:27
75Reply


John, Halloween masks are used to scare away ghosts. So monsters and other scary figures are used as the mask signs. However, Peking Opera masks are totally different. They are used to embody the characteristics of the role played by the actors and actresses. Today, many of the masks represent famous historical figures, such as Cao Cao, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu during the Three Kingdoms' Period (220 - 280).
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