Beijing Opera Roles

The ten Chinese characters shown on left are from a song sung in a Chinese New Year Eve television program. It probably says everything about the roles in Beijing Opera. The first five characters list the five role categories. The rest tells what roles appear in the plays, from the powerful supernatural beings to animals like tigers and dogs. There are currently four main role categories in Beijing Opera. They are Sheng - Male Role, Dan - Female Role, Jing - Painted Face Male and Chou - The Comedy Role.

Any role in these categories or sub-categories can be the leading role in a play. Except the second category, the other three categories are for male characters.

The reason the role categories take the names of Sheng, Dan, Jing and Chou is that it is said that they were chosen to mean the opposite. Sheng in Chinese may mean "strange" or "rare", but the chief male is a character of most seen. Dan, which means "morning", "masculine", is in contrary with the feminine nature of the characters. Jing means "clean". In fact, the paintings on face make the characters look like unclean but colorful. And Chou in Chinese sometime represents the animal "Cow", which, in some aspects, is slow and tardy. In contrast, Chou characters are usually active and quick.

Hi, I'm Ruru Zhou
I updated this article on January 22, 2013
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