Chinese Beijing Opera
The Roles in Beijing Opera

In Beijing opera, there are four roles: the male and female roles, the painted-face role, and the comedic role. Every role has its own specific brands.

Sheng (male role) is divided into: "Lao Sheng" which means mature, middle-aged man. It always represents an emperor or decent man ("Xiao Sheng" stands for young man).

"Dan", the female role is divided into: "Qing Yi" which refers to a middle-aged woman always acts as Mrs or Miss from noble family. "Wu Dan" means the woman who can fight, while "Hua Dan" always symbolizes a young girl that acts as maid.

"Jing" (painted-face role) means all kinds of painted-faces and acts as the male role that has particular personalities or appearances.

"Mo" also belongs to "Lao Sheng", but he is much older scatterbrain with a low social status. This is because he puts a small dot of whitening on the nose when putting on make-up. He is commonly named as "clown" due to the besmirched, multicolored, clown face that is generally known as "three painted-faces".

"Chou" (comic face which means clown) always acts as the wise and funny folk chivalrous man, or the man who has low social status.

The History of Beijing Opera  

Chinese Beijing opera is called "Eastern opera", which is a principle tradition in Chinese culture. It is so-called Beijing opera because it is formed in Beijing.

Beijing opera has a history 200 years in which its fountainhead can be dated back to old local operas. Especially, in 18th century, Anhui opera was very popular in northern China. In 1790, the first Anhui opera came to Beijing to celebrate Emperor's birthday. Later, some of Anhui operas went on to perform in Beijing. Anhui opera was easy to move and good at absorbing the acting styles of other types of operas. Beijing accumulated many local operas, which made the Anhui opera improve quickly. At the end of 19th century, the beginning of 20th century, after merging for 10 years, Beijing opera finally formed, and became the biggest types of opera in China.

Beijing opera has a rich list of plays, artists, troupes, audiences and wide influences, which stands first place in China.
Beijing opera is a comprehensive acting art. It blends singing, reading, acting, fighting, and dancing together by using acting methods to narrate stories and depict characters. The roles in Beijing opera include the male, female, painted-face, and comedic role. Besides, there are other supportive roles as well.

Types of facial make-up are the most particular art in Beijing opera, because they can symbolize the personalities, characteristics, and the fates of the roles. For instance: red depicts faithful and gallant; purple symbolizes wise and brave; black shows honest and upright; white implies ferocious and crafty; blue hints strong and intrepid; yellow expresses treacherous; gold and silver are usually used in monsters or gods to symbolize mystery.

Widely acknowledged, the end of 18th century was the most flourishing period in the development of Beijing opera. During this time, there were lots of performances not only in folk places, but also in the palace. The noblemen loved Beijing opera; the superior objects in the palace played a positive role in the performances, make-up, and stage setting. The mutual influence between palace and non-government places promoted Beijing opera's development.

From the 20's to 40's of last century was the second flourishing period of Beijing opera. The symbol of this period was the emergence of lots of sects of Beijing opera. The most famous four were "Mei" (Mei Lanfang 1894-1961), "Shang" (Shang Xiaoyun 1900-1976), "Cheng" (Cheng Yanqiu 1904-1958), and "Xun" (Xun Huisheng 1900-1968). Every sect had its groups of actors and actresses. Furthermore, they were extremely active on the stage in Beijing, Shanghai etc. The art of Beijing opera was very popular at that time.

(The Four Beijing Opera Masters: Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu, Xun Huisheng, Shang Xiaoyun)

Mei Lanfang was one of the most prominent Beijing opera artists in the international world. He studies opera when he was 8, and he began to perform on the stage when he was 11. In his 50 years' performing, Mei Lanfang created and developed many acting phases, such as dancing, singing, make-up and costumes etc, which formed his own style. In 1919, Mei Lanfang led the opera troupe to Japan, which was the first time that China began to spread the art of Beijing opera overseas. In 1930, Mei Lanfang led the troupe to United States and gained great success. He received significant recognition and in 1934, he was invited to visit Europe and was paid much attention in the European opera world. Later, other places in the world considered Beijing opera as the performing sect of China.After the reform and open policy, Beijing opera had new development. Especially, as the traditional quintessence of China, Beijing opera got great support from government. Today, the Beijing Chang'an Opera House holds international competitions every year that attract many people from various countries. Beijing opera is also the reserved program for the communication between Chinese and many other foreign cultures.

Types of Facial Make-up in Beijing Opera  

Specific types of facial make-up in Beijing opera are to put pigment on the actors' faces in order to symbolize the personalities, characteristics, and the fates of the roles. Usually, red faces have positive meanings, which symbolize brave and wise men; black faces have neutral meanings, which symbolize just brave men; blue and green faces also have neutral meanings which symbolize the hero of the bush, while yellow and white faces have negative meanings that symbolize ferocious and treacherous men; gold and silver faces symbolize mystery, and stand for monsters.