Facts About Chinese Opera


Chinese Opera performer

1. There are over 360 different types of Chinese Opera. The most famous are Peking, Cantonese, Kungu, Xiqu, and Beijing Opera.

2. The color of a characer’s mask represents feelings and the dominant color gives clues about the identity of the character. Here are the meanings of some:

         WHITE: Sinister, evil, crafty, treacherous, suspicious, hypocritical.

          GREEN: Violent, impulsive, lacks restraint or self control.

          RED: Prosperous, loyal, brave, heroic, intelligence.

          BLACK: Neutral. Also indicates integrity and can mean fierceness.

          YELLOW: Ambitious, fierce, intelligence. Can also be cruel, evil, or sly.

          PURPLE: Represents justice and sophistication.

          BLUE: Neutrality. Can also mean stubborn, astute, and fierce.

          SLIVER: For a god or demon. May also be a ghost or spirit.

3. Makeup for Chinese Opera can take hours to apply. The process is very intricate, requires special techniques, is done in layers, and can take hours to apply.

4. Characters are architypal or stock characters, similar to what you would see in a commedia dell’arte. Because of this, audiences often know what their reactions to certain situations will be.

For example, in the Peking Opera tradition you will find the Ch’ou character. Ch’ou is a clown who is usually low status. They are the only ones who use slang and improvise speeches.  

There are 3 tupes of ch’ou: 

    Wuch’ou – military 

    Wench’ou – civil

    Ch’outan – female

5. Chinese Opera is one of the few jobs in China where women consistently make more money than men.

6. While women are paid more, men will still often play female roles in comedic operas.

Chinese Opera performer applying makeup

Chinese Opera Performer in mask

7. Cantonese Opera performers will spend their whole career studying one character.

8. Special effects and tricks such as juggling, acrobatics, and fire breathing are common in Shanxi Opera.

9. Chinese Opera costumes are very ornate and can be extremely costly. This is one reason that they are often passed from teacher to student. There are performers today who use costumes from the 1940s.  

10. Much of the acting is based on allusion: gestures, footwork, and other body movements express actions such as riding a horse, rowing a boat, or opening a door.