Monday, September 17, 2012


Recently, I have become fascinated with Chinese opera, the popular form of musical theater and drama here in China. I have yet to see a professional one performed on stage, hopefully one day when I get to visit Beijing (the home of the famous Peking Opera). Despite not having seen one except on the streets or on TV, Chinese opera is amazing to me on so many levels. It is an ancient art form, going back as far as the third century and yet is still immensely popular among Chinese people today. There are 368 different forms of Chinese opera but the best known is Peking opera or Beijing opera as it is known today. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), this was the main entertainment of the time.
Chinese opera being performed in public
1912 Bar Street, Hefei

Chinese opera focuses intently on acting with body movements, gestures and footwork to express certain actions. The characters are well-defined and the elaborate make-up designs and masks are some of the highlights of Chinese opera. Face paint and mask colors have different meanings. They express the general character/ personality of the role and their emotional state.

An elaborately painted face in Beijing Opera
Photo: xenin, SXC
White is evil and treacherous and usually the villain (contrary to being viewed as a pure and good color in the West). Red is brave and loyal and usually the protagonist character. Other popular colors used are green (impulsive and violent), black (rough and fierce), blue (steadfast and loyal) and yellow (ambitious and cool-headed).

Beijing opera performer
Photo: xenin, SXC