Peking Opera (2023)

Peking Opera

Peking Opera (1)With its fascinating and artistic accompanying music, singing and costumes, the Peking Opera is China's national opera. Full of Chinese cultural facts, the opera presents the audience with an encyclopedia of Chinese culture, as well as unfolding stories, beautiful paintings, exquisite costumes, graceful gestures and martial arts. Since Peking Opera enjoys a higher reputation than other local operas, almost every province in China has more than one Peking Opera troupes. Opera is so popular among Chinese people, especially seniors, that even "Peking Opera Month" has been declared.

Peking Opera has a 200-year-long history. Its main melodies originated from Xipi and Erhuang in Anhui and Hubei respectively and, over time, techniques from many other local operas were incorporated.

It is believed that Peking Opera gradually came into being after 1790 when the famous four Anhui opera troupes came to Beijing. Peking Opera underwent fast development during the reign of Emperor Qianlong and the notorious Empress Dowager Cixi under the imperial patron, eventually becoming more accessible to the common people.

In ancient times, Peking Opera was performed mostly on stage in the open air, teahouses or temple courtyards. Since the orchestra played loudly, the performers developed a piercing style of song that could be heard by everyone. The costumes were a garish collection of sharply contrasting colors to stand out on the dim stage illuminated only by oil lamps. Peking Opera is a harmonious combination of the Grand Opera, ballet and acrobatics, consisting of dance, dialogue, monologues, martial arts and mime.

The Peking Opera band mainly consists of an orchestra and percussion band. The former frequently accompanies peaceful scenes while the latter provides the right atmosphere for battle scenes. The commonly used percussion instruments include castanets, drums, bells and cymbals. One person usually plays the castanets and drum simultaneously, which conduct the entire band. The orchestral instruments include the Erhu, Huqin, Yueqin, Sheng (reed pipe), Pipa (lute) and other instruments. The band usually sits on the left side of the stage.

(Video) Enjoying the classic Peking Opera 'Drunken Concubine' at Mid Autumn Festival

Peking Opera (2)Facial Painting

It is said that this special art derived from Chinese opera has different origins. But no matter what its origin, facial painting is worth appreciating for its artistic value. The paintings are representations of the characters' roles. For example, a red face usually depicts heroic bravery, uprightness and loyalty; a white face symbolizes a sinister, treacherous and guile character and a green face connotes surly stubbornness, impetuosity and lack of self-restraint. In addition, facial painting patterns reveal information about a character, as well. Essentially, the unique makeup allows characters on stage to reveal them voicelessly.

Peking Opera (3)Changing Faces

Peking Opera performers mainly have two types of facial decorations: masks and facial painting. The frequent on-stage changing of masks or facial makeup (without the audience noticing) is a special technique known as changing faces.

Changing faces is a difficult technique in operatic performance. It is considered to be a stunt that can only be mastered after extensive training. Face changing is also a special technique used to exaggerate inner feelings of characters, portray their dispositions, set off the atmosphere and improve effects. Facial changes expressing sudden changes in a character's feelings are done in four ways:

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Blowing dust: The actor blows black dust hidden in his palm or close to his eyes, nose or beard, so that it blows back into his face.

Manipulating beard: Beard colors can be changed while the beard is being manipulated -- from black to gray and finally to white -- expressing anger or excitement.

Pulling-down masks: The actor can pull down a mask that has previously been hidden on top of his head, leaving his face red, green, blue or black to communicate happiness, hate, anger or sadness respectively.

Mop: The actor mops out the greasepaint hidden in his sideburns or eyebrows, around his eyes and nose, to change his facial appearance.

Peking Opera (4)Xingtou

(Video) Peking Opera “The Unicorn Purse” (Full Length)

Peking Opera costumes are called Xingtou or, more popularly, Xifu in Chinese. The origins of Peking Opera costumes can be traced back to the mid-14th century when operatic precursors first began to experiment with large, ornate articles of clothing.

Since each dynasty in Chinese history had its own unique operatic costume, the number of costumes was too great for performers to master. Hence, artists and costume designers worked together to create costumes that would be unwieldy on stage and acceptable no matter when or where the action was supposed to take place. The stage image of some well-known historical figures, such as Guan Yu, Zhang Fei and Zhang Liang, were already fixed in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Lavish costumes include:

1. Toukui, or opera headdress: crown, helmet, hat and scarf

2. Costume (about 20 kinds): the ceremonial robe, or Mang; the informal robe, or Pei; and the armor, or Kao, for soldiers

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3. Opera shoes and boots, or Xue in Chinese

Audiences can distinguish a character's sex and status at the first glance by the type of headdress, robes, shoes and baldrics associated with the role.

Peking Opera (5)Main Roles in Peking Opera

Roles fall into four categories: Sheng, Dan, Jing and Chou. The roles have the natural features of age and sex, as well as social status, and are artificially exaggerated by makeup, costume and gestures.

1. Male Role (Sheng): civil, military; Lao Sheng (old man with a beard: dignified, polished, official, scholar); Xiao Sheng (young man, shrill voice, young warrior, young man of society, stature, elaborate dress), Wu Sheng (acrobatic male, extremely agile and physically skilled).

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2. Female Role (Dan): Qing Yi (modest, virtuous), Hua Dan (flirtatious, playful), Gui Men Dan (young, married girl), Dao Ma Dan (strong woman, female general), Wu Dan (female acrobat), Lao Dan (old woman).

3. Painted Face Male (Jing): Spectators are usually startled by the appearance of the Jing. His facial colors symbolize the type of character: red = good, white = treacherous, etc.

4. Comedy Actor or Clown (Chou): dim-witted, amusing, rascal, occasionally slightly wicked.


What's the main story about Peking opera? ›

Peking opera was born when the 'Four Great Anhui Troupes' brought Hui opera, or what is now called Huiju, in 1790 to Beijing, for the eightieth birthday of the Qianlong Emperor on 25 September. It was originally staged for the court and only made available to the public later.

What is the Chinese Peking opera? ›

Peking opera is a performance art incorporating singing, reciting, acting, martial arts. Although widely practised throughout China, its performance centres on Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai.

What is Peking opera known for? ›

Beijing opera is a colorful, spectacular performance art that dazzles, fascinates, and often puzzles foreigners. A quintessentially Chinese art form, its elaborate costumes and makeup, gestural and acrobatic stage movements, highly symbolic and stylized content, and unique musical style amaze and intrigue audiences.

What is Peking opera called today? ›

Since the 18th century jingxi (or jingju), popularly known as Peking opera, has arisen as the principal form of Chinese music-drama. Credit for the beginning of jingxi is given to actors from Anhui (now a province in eastern China) appearing in Beijing (then called Peking) in the 1790s.

What are the 4 major roles in Peking opera? ›

Hangdang is the general term for role types in Peking opera. As we all know, there are four types of role in Peking opera today – namely, the sheng (male role), dan (female role), jing (painted face) and chou (clown).

What is the main female role in Peking opera? ›


Qingyi is the main woman roles in traditional Chinese drama. Qingyi is the most important role in Peking Opera and plays dignified, serious, and decent characters, which are mostly wives or mothers.

What are the two main style of music of Peking opera? ›

The main musical styles of Peking opera are xipi and erhuang. Xipi features high-pitched, lively tunes, while erhuang features steady, deep tunes. Each style has various kinds of meter, which are called banshi.

What does blue mean in Peking opera? ›

Later, other colors were gradually incorporated, such as purple -- the symbol of solemnity, serenity and a sense of justice; yellow, representing intelligence and calculation or bravery when used in warrior roles; blue shows uprightness and stubbornness; green indicates bravery and irascibility; and gold and silver are ...

What music is used in Peking opera? ›

Peking opera is one of the five major traditional operas in China. Its vocal tones are mainly composed of Xipi and Erhuang, to the music played by such instruments as huqin, gong, and drum. Peking opera is the dominant form of Chinese opera, combining music, vocal performance, mime, dance, and acrobatics.

What is the meaning of Peking? ›

Meaning of Peking in English

Peking. /ˌpiːˈkɪŋ/ us. /ˌpiːˈkɪŋ/ the former name for Beijing, the capital city of China.

Why does Chinese opera sound like that? ›

Nine hundred years ago, the Chinese opera was performed outside, so the actors had to sing loudly. Their voices weren't supposed to sound pretty, just loud. It takes a lifetime of studying to be an actor in the Chinese opera. Historically, children were sold to the opera to begin training when they were young.

Who invented Peking opera? ›

Chinese opera became more formalized during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618–907), under Emperor Li Longji (reigned A.D. 712–756). Emperor Li Longji founded the first known opera troupe in China — the "Pear Garden" — and today's opera professionals are still referred to as "Disciples of the Pear Garden".

What are the three types of Peking opera? ›

The main role categories in Peking Opera are sheng or the male roles, dan or the female roles, jing or the painted-face characters, and chou or the comic characters.

What does the red color on makeup in Peking opera mean? ›

In the Peking Opera Lianpu, the red face symbolizes the loyalty and bravery of Guan Yu; the black face symbolizes the serious Bao Zheng and the obtrusive Zhang Fei; the white face symbolizes the ferocious and tyrannical Gao Qiu, and suspicious Cao Cao. Peking opera is a kind of stage art.

Is the Chinese operas clown or two? ›

The Chou is the clown role in Chinese opera. The Chou usually plays secondary roles in a troupe.

Where did Peking opera originate? ›

Peking Opera is a form of traditional Chinese theater that originated in Beijing in the late 18th century. Compared to other types of Chinese theater, it is a relatively new style of drama, combining music, song, dance and acrobatics in a lively and colorful display.

What are the 3 types of characters in Chinese opera? ›

The actors themselves are mainly trained for three main parts: Senior Male Role or Lao Sheng, a middle-aged or old man who wears a beard, Junior Male Role or Xiao Sheng (Hsiao sheng), a young man; and Acrobatic Male Role or Wu Sheng, a man of military tenor, especially skilled in acrobatics.

What are the five 5 types of dan? ›

There are a few different kinds of dan in Chinese opera. The commonly seen ones are 'Guimen Dan', 'Zheng Dan', 'Hua Dan', 'Daoma Dan', 'Wu Dan', 'Lao Dan' and 'Cai Dan'. Each different kind of dan has its own unique characteristics.

How many rolls are there in Peking Opera? ›

In Peking Opera, there are four roles: the male and female roles, the painted-face role, and the comedic role. These roles have the natural features of age and sex, as well as social status, and are artificially exaggerated by makeup, costume and gestures.

What is the story all about in Peking Opera Drunken Concubine? ›

Story behind the "Drunken Concubine"

The main character of this opera is Yang. One night she arranges a banquet in an imperial garden and waits for the emperor to come, but the emperor never turns up. Yang realizes he chose another concubine over her and feels humiliated, furious and depressed.

What is the most famous Chinese opera story? ›

Peony Pavilion. Kunqu opera's most famous work and one of China's most famous stories is “ The Peony Pavilion “.


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