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



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


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.


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

- Last updated on Nov. 15, 2023 by Brenda Lian -
Questions & Answers on China Beijing Opera
Asked by Muhammad from PAKISTAN | Jan. 04, 2023 10:13Reply
do chinese use martial arts in their dancing performance
Answers (1)
Answered by Rubin | Jan. 09, 2023 22:15

Yes. In Beijing, you can go to Red Theater to see the show involving martial arts movements.
Asked by Katie from UNITED STATES | Mar. 12, 2019 08:19Reply
What are the characters in simplified Chinese for huiban?
Answers (1)
Answered by Daisy from NEW ZEALAND | Mar. 12, 2019 19:48

The Chinese should be 徽班.
Asked by Brayver from PHILIPPINES | Jan. 10, 2019 00:35Reply
Similarity about peking opera and kabuki
What was the similarities of peking opera and kabuki? I've got curious from it
Hope someones aswer my question.
I need it tomorrow or later for our project
Thank you :")
Answers (3)
Answered by Diana from MALAYSIA | Jan. 10, 2019 21:40

The similarities are as follow:
1.The structure and the expressions, they all combine the traditional elements like poems and folk legends.
2. They are all very popular in common people and it is rooted in popular culture.
3. The music elements play a very important role in both.
Answered by Brayver from PHILIPPINES | Jan. 11, 2019 00:59

Thank you!! This helps me a lot!!❤
Answered by Flora Wang | Apr. 15, 2021 15:49

Besides, each place in China has its own folk opera, with similar stories while the dialects and the tunes
are different. It started in ancient time as community play, farmers entertain themselves by inviting the folk opera band to play in celebration of the harvest season.
Asked by Lila from USA | Nov. 06, 2018 11:04Reply
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

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

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

peking opera was first started in 1790 for the 80th bday of Qianlong emporer.
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