Sheng - the Male Role in Beijing Opera
Sheng has some sub-categories, including Senior, Junior, Acrobatic, Junior Acrobatic, Child, Red-face, Poor, Official, etc. These are classified according to the role's characteristics. Male roles are either civil or military. 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.
Lao Sheng actors are required to attain the dignity of bearing and gentle, polished manners of the middle-aged mandarin official or scholar; in military plays they may be a general or high-ranking officer of a gentler and more cultivated disposition than of the painted faces. Their apparel accordingly is of good quality but not too garish in its design or color. A Lao Sheng has a black or white beard, depending on his age, and wears a black hat with two fins on either side which vary in shape according to his rank in a civil role. When a military role is played, the costume is quieter and of a more uniform color than those of the warriors in the painted-face roles, but the Kao or amour is also worn. A Lao Sheng's voice is soft and pleasant to listen to, neither too harsh nor too high pitched, but gentle and firm. Minor officials or land owners who have attained a small degree of responsibility are also included in this role.
The red face Lao Sheng or Hong Sheng has only two roles. One of such a role is Guan Gong (Kuan Kung) who is regarded as the God of War. He is greatly revered and respected. Guan Gong is one of the heroes of the Chinese classical novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The other Hong Sheng role is Zhao Kuang-Yin, the first Song Dynasty Emperor.
The junior male or Xiao Sheng (Hsiao Sheng) requires of its actor the distinguishing feature of a shrill and high-pitched voice to indicate his youth. The part is extremely difficult to sing, and when the actor is speaking his voice must suddenly drop from its high-pitched quality to indicate the voice-breaking period of adolescence. The Xiao Sheng is usually small and slight of stature, and his clothes are often quite elaborate if a young man of society or a young warrior is being represented, but can be subdued if they are those of an impoverished scholar. The young warrior can often be distinguished by his long pheasant feathers which rise in sweeping curves from his hat. No beard is worn for this part.
Wu Sheng actors are mainly acrobats, although they sometimes have a part which requires much acting. They play any part in military or civil plays which requires a high standard of acrobats. The skill of these actors is demonstrated in the fighting scenes, which take on a stylized form in Beijing opera, and also in scenes from legendary stories when immortals and devils tumble and twist about the stage showing off feats of skill. In military plays swords and spears are wielded deftly and quickly without the attacker actually touching his opponent. These movements require great precision in timing, and the actor ducks and twists his body, often turning somersaults at same time. If he is a young military officer, the Wu Sheng will also have pheasant feathers in his hat, and four small flags or pennants strapped to his back and high-soled boots, all of which make his acrobatic feats even more spectacular. His costume is often bright in color, especially in the legendary plays. A Wu Sheng actor is not trained as highly in singing, for acting and acrobatics are his outstanding feature, but he has a pleasant voice, slightly stronger than Lao Sheng but rather quiet in pitch, and he sings with a natural voice.