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7 Facts About Beijing Opera

Written by Candice SongUpdated Nov. 21, 2023

Beijing opera (also known as Peking opera) is one of the most prominent arts that's representative of China.

It originated in the late 18th century, reached its peak in the mid-19th century, and now it represents the traditional Chinese culture.

Here are seven facts to help you learn about Beijing opera quickly.

Beijing Opera Actors

1. Beijing Opera —Just One Kind of Chinese Opera

There are hundreds of types of opera in China. Beijing opera is just one of them, and it's the most famous one.

Beijing opera is a blend of several types of operas. It grew out of Anhui operaand then infused with Kunqu opera from Suzhou as well as Shaanxi opera.

2. Makeup Is How the Roles Are Judged

Chinese people usually get to know the identity of the characters according to the makeup color, type, and shape.

For example, red is positive and it usually represents loyalty and bravery. White and yellow are pejorative, and they usually represent a character who is dangerous and cunning.

3. It Takes Hours to Finish an Actor's Makeup

Beijing Opera Face

A Beijing opera actor's makeup is so complicated that it takes hours to finish.

First, they need to usea snood and headband to hide their hair. Then, they are painted with the color makeup that represents their character.

Finally, the heavy hair ornaments and clothes are put on. Each Beijing opera actor must master the facial painting skills before they can set foot on stage.

4. Beijing Opera Is Not Just Singing

Beijing Opera Face

There's not just singing in Beijing opera—each performance also includes martial arts.

The four fundamental skills are singing, dialogue, acting, and acrobatic fighting. For the acrobatic fighting, kung fu elements are combined in the actions.

5. Male Actors Often Play Female Roles in Beijing Opera

In Beijing opera, there's a traditional rule that male actors play female roles.

They not only have to dothe correct facial painting and wear female clothing but, more importantly, their singing must sound like females. Hence, they need to train their voices every day.

One of the most famous Beijing opera masters, Mei Lanfang, created the famous traditional female role of Lady Yang.

6. There Are Five Types of Roles in Beijing Opera

In Beijing opera, there are five types of roles: Sheng (生), Dan (旦), Jing (净), Mo (末), and Chou (丑).

Among these, Dan roles are the special ones. Many female Dan roles are played by male actors.

7. Each Beijing Opera Story Has Its Allusion

All Beijing opera scripts are adapted from Chinese history or traditional stories. The roles and dialogues are virtually fixed.

There are several famous stories enacted in Beijing opera: The Zhao Orphan, White Snake Legend, and Drunken Concubine.

Grab a Ticket to the Beijing Opera DuringYour Trip to China

China Highlights offers travelers the perfect option for adding a Beijing opera performance to their itinerary.

With any of our classic or custom Beijing tours, you can land a front row seat to one of China's most dramatic traditions.

Hear the stories of China's past from the historical operas on your next trip to Beijing.

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