Chinese Opera

Beijing Opera
 Beijing Opera Pictures
Chinese opera together with Greece tragic-comedy and Indian Sanskrit Opera are the three oldest dramatic art forms in the world. During the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), the Emperor Taizong established an opera school with the poetic name Liyuan (Pear Garden). From that time on, performers of Chinese opera were referred to as 'disciples of the pear garden'. Since the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368) it has been encouraged by court officials and emperors and has become a traditional art form. During the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), it became fashionable among ordinary people. Performances were watched in tearooms, restaurants, and even around makeshift stages.

It evolved from folk songs, dances, talking, antimasque, and especially distinctive dialectical music. Gradually it combined music, art and literature into one performance on the stage. Accompanied by traditional musical instruments like the Erhu, the gong, and the lute, actors present unique melodies - which may sound strange to foreigners - as well as dialogues which are beautifully written and of high literary value. These dialogs also promoted the development of distinct literary styles, such as Zaju in the Yuan Dynasty. For Chinese, especially older folks, to listen to this kind of opera is a real pleasure.
Qinqiang Opera, Shaanxi
 Shaanxi Opera (Qinqiang) Pictures

What appeals to foreigners most might be the different styles of facial make-up, which is one of the highlights and requires distinctive techniques of painting. Exaggerated designs are painted on each performer's face to symbolize a character's personality, role, and fate. This technique may have originated from ancient religions and dance. Audiences who are familiar with opera can know the story by observing the facial painting as well as the costumes. Generally, a red face represents loyalty and bravery; a black face, valor; yellow and white faces, duplicity; and golden and silver faces, mystery.

Besides color, lines also function as symbols. For example, a figure can be painted either all white on his face, or just around the nose. The larger the white area painted, the more viperous the role.

Another technique that fascinates people is the marvelous acrobatics. Players can make fire spray out of their mouths when they act as spirits, or can gallop while squatting to act as a dwarf. This reflects a saying among actors: 'One minute's performance on the stage takes ten years' practice behind the scenes.'

Facial Make-up, Beijing Opera
Facial Make-up, Beijing Opera

Over the past 800 years, Chinese opera has evolved into many different regional varieties based on local traits and accents. Today, there are over 300 dazzling regional opera styles. Kun opera, which originated around Jiangsu Province, is a typical ancient opera style and features gentleness and clearness. This enabled it to be ranked among the World Oral and Intangible Heritages. Qinqiang opera from Shaanxi, known for its loudness and wildness, and Yu opera, Yue opera, and Huangmei Opera are all very enjoyable. Beijing Opera , the best-known Chinese opera style, was formed from the mingling of these regional styles.

 Other Chinese Opera:   Sichuan Opera        Nuo Drama        Kunqu Opera
 Liyuan Theater Peking Opera Booking

- Last updated on Dec. 02, 2022 -
Questions & Answers on Chinese Opera
Asked by jorge from UNITED STATES | Apr. 01, 2019 11:30Reply
how did Chinese theatre reflected the culture and served the needs of the people?
Answers (1)
Answered by Bowen from CANADA | Apr. 01, 2019 20:51

The Chinese opera mostly come from the folk legends at that time and it consists of several cultural elements including music, painting arts, dance, martial arts and acrobatics. It is also one of the most popular entertainments for ordinary people in ancient times.
Asked by Keona from USA | Mar. 12, 2019 13:11Reply
What was the name of the first opera school in China?
Answers (2)
Answered by Fred from AUSTRALIA | Mar. 12, 2019 18:45

Hi, it is not clear now. At that time, there were no formal opera schools but some opera troupes trained a lot of talented performers.
Answered by Julien Walker from FRANCE | Aug. 22, 2019 02:58

While the person who previously answered is right, we do have some records, and the first recorded one known to this day is called the "Pear Garden" and was founded by emperor Xuanzong (712-755). In fact, opera performers are to this day referred to as "disciples of the Pear Garden"
(unless you were asking about genres and I misunderstood you)
Asked by Edward Tien from MALAYSIA | Jan. 04, 2017 05:56Reply
Is there a DIFFERENCE of Characters between Peking opera from other kinds of Chinese drama?
For example there are 4 main Characters in Beijing drama:
Sheng, Dan, Jing, Chou.
How about other dramas in Teochew, Shanghai, Cantonese and more?
Answers (5)
Answered by Lily from USA | Jan. 05, 2017 21:08

Sheng, Dan, Jing, Chou are the four main characters in Chinese drama, not just Peking Opera. ;)
Answered by Julien Walker from FRANCE | Aug. 22, 2019 02:51

Actually, operas differ from region to region. There have been at least 346 different regional opera genres in China, with over 100 still performed today. While maybe those characters are common to several genres, they will inevitably be confined to the Beijing region, and there will be others used elsewhere. Note also that sometimes, for example when the opera is an adaptation of a legend, those characters will of course be absent.
Answered by Julien Walker from FRANCE | Aug. 22, 2019 02:53

(and operas are rather often based on legend)
Answered by Julien Walker from FRANCE | Aug. 22, 2019 03:05

Sorry my bad I have conflicting sources, but the most reliable one says 368 different genres currently in existence
Answered by justin | Dec. 02, 2022 18:51

Peking Opera usually comes from traditional stories and novels, while Cantonese in Shanghai also has different singing styles, and they also use their own dialect
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