The Facts of Beijing Opera

It is indispensable to watch Beijing opera. But many Chinese don't know what the performers are singing, let alone foreign tourists. If you really wanna watch Beijing opera during your Beijing tour, the following elements will be very helpful.

*Facial Painting

This special art derived from Chinese opera with 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.

*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:

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 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

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.

*Main Roles in Peking Opera

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).

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.

There are many local operas in China. If you have Tibet tours, you can hear Tibetan Opera. If you are in Xian, it is Qingqiang Opera. Huangmeixi, Kun Opera, Anhui Opera and other local operas make China culture very colorful.

  1. 2012/11/22(木) 17:28:13|
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