Chou: The Comedy Role in Beijing Opera
Lastly there is the Chou or comedy actor who generally plays the role of a dim but likeable and amusing character with blinking eyes and all the appropriate gestures. Sometimes the Chou can be a rascal, with a slightly wicked nature. Alternatively a scholar or prince--an eccentric or representing the sort of scholar or prince who would not command much respect. Chou parts can be divided into two types: Wen Chou, who is usually a civilian, such as a jailer, servant, merchant or scholar; and Wu Chou, who performs minor military roles as a soldier and must be skilled in acrobatics. His costume is either elaborate or fussy if of high social standing, but simple if of a low standing.
Mention must be made of the Monkey King who has a special place in the hearts of all who are interested in Chinese opera. Played by an exceptionally talented Wu Sheng actor, the Monkey King holds every minute of the audience's attention with the quick, agile movements of his lithe body, and his blinking eyes. He is traditionally supposed have accompanied a Buddhist monk who went on a long journey across the mountains from China to India to collect the Buddhist scriptures and bring them back to China. The Monk's legendary companions on this journey are a pig (to provide the humor), a not so learned monk, supposed to represent a shark spirit, to mediate in quarrels, and the Monkey King, who possesses special supernatural powers to combat evil spirits encountered on the way. The Monkey King's costume is bright yellow in color and consists of a voluminous jacket and baggy trousers to enable him to perform his movements with ease and grace. He mimics a monkey the whole time, with his knees always bent and his hands held dangling in front of him, occasionally even scratching himself. His eyes have a mischievous twinkle in them as they blink at the audience.
The Monkey King also has a trouble of monkeys who behave in the same manner, but all have their own characteristics--one is greedy, one naughty, one sleepy, etc.--and their skilful acrobatics and movements are a continual source of delight and object of affection for the audience.
I updated this article on January 22, 2013
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