General Knowledge of Peking Opera

Watching Peking Opera become a indispensible part of China tours in Beijing. Learn something about Peking Opera.


Chinese traditional opera is considered one of the world's three ancient operas, together with Greek tragedy and comedy, and Indian Sanskrit opera. Among the more than 360 ancient local operas in China, Peking Opera is known as China’s national opera, despite its comparatively young 200-year history.

Although it is called Peking Opera, the origins of Peking Opera are not in Beijing but in the provinces of Anhui (East China) and Hubei (South-central China). Its rise is due in great part to the favorable eyes and patronage of the imperial royalties.

Peking Opera is a purely Chinese opera form dating back to the year 1790, when the famous Four Anhui Opera Troupes first came to Beijing in celebration of the 80th birthday of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The tour was a hit and the troupes stayed. In 1828, some famous Hubei Opera Troupe players came to Beijing.

The artists of Hubei and Anhui troupes often jointly performed on the stage and absorbed repertoires, music, arias and performing techniques of each other and from other operas like Kun Qu, Qin Qiang and Bang Zi, as well as the local dialect and customs of Beijing. Its repertoires mainly depict fairy tales of preceding dynasties and important historical events.

It was after 1840 that Peking Opera formally took shape, growing even faster during the reign of the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), who was an opera aficionado. Classic Peking Opera repertoires and the names of the first-generation masters were on the lips of the people in Beijing (always contained in last minute China travel deals), and eventually prevalent around the country.

Peking Opera Roles include sheng (male role), dan (female role), jing (painted-face male role), and chou (comedic male role), distinguished on the basis of sex, age, and personality.


Unlike European operas, which concentrate on usually one kind of performance in one stage representation, Peking Opera integrates music, singing, dance, costume art, makeup, acting and acrobatics into a unique whole.

Facial Make-up (Lianpu) in Peking Opera is mostly applied to the male roles of jing and chou, with particular styles to symbolize the different personalities, characteristics, and fates of the roles. Some people argue that the facial make-up is similar to the mask. Nevertheless, there are great differences between the two in that masks are separate from the face. Different make-up colors symbolize different personalities:

Red -- brave, faithful and wise men, with utter devotion

Purple -- wise, brave and steadfast men

Black – upright, outspoken, and never stooping to flattery

Blue -- brave, upright and outspoken men, but obstinate and unruly

Green -- hero of the bush, chivalrous but with a testy temper

Yellow -- valiant but ferocious military men or crafty civil officers

White – insidious and treacherous

Gold & silver -- mysterious monsters or gods

Peking Opera Costumes, mainly made of satin, crepe and silk and decorated with various meticulously embroidered patterns, tell a character’s sex and status at first glance, marking off people from all walks of life, noble or humble, civil or military. Accessories, including helmets and hats, constitute an integral part to bring about dramatic stage effects.

Peking Opera Basic Skills include dance movements and special acrobatic movements while singing or reciting, a necessary requirements mastered by all actors and actresses.

Ater reading this article, you may have a general idea about Peking Opera. If you are from English-speaking countries and don't know Chinese, it is also very interesting to watch the posture and costume which add colors for your private tour of China.

  1. 2013/02/19(火) 18:44:46|
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