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Chinese Opera – Top Five of Its Colorful Faces

Jul 23, 2009


by shengjingyoujian@flickr

Chinese opera is known as one of three ancient theatres in the world. The other two are ancient Greek tragicomedy, and Indian Sanskrit play. Chinese opera has a long history that dates back to as early as the third century. During thousands of years of development, it has now become a rich system of drama and musical theatre with more than 360 regional branches.

Today, I will introduce you the top 5 most popular regional branches of Chinese opera. They are:


A Beijing opera facial makeup by {link:http://www.flickr.com/photos/23926974@N03/2762145797/}ztdlili520{/link}@flcikr

1. Beijing (Peking) Opera 京剧(Jing Ju) sample video on youtube
Definitely the most famous Chinese opera. Beijing opera was originated in mid 19th century in Beijing by combining Anhui opera and Wuhan opera, as well as some aspects of Qinqiang, Kunqu, Bangzi, etc. Beijing opera is a very important part for the entertainment of the royal family, whose investment also help the development of Beijing opera.

Facial makeup is a unique symbol of Beijing opera. These hugely artful and diversified facial makeups can be used for four purposes:
1. indicate personalities.
2. introduce characteristics.
3. tell good and evil.
4. distinguish beauty and ugliness.

2. Shaoxing Opera 越剧(Yue Ju) sample video on youtube


by {link:http://www.flickr.com/photos/xiao33/3575294813/}I am 33{/link}@flcikr

Shaoxing opera is a very young opera (since 1906). It’s famous for its beautiful melodies, delicate performance and costumes. The infamous violin concerto <The Butterfly Lovers> was composed based on Shaoxing opera melodies.

Shaoxing opera is also known as Shaoxing Women Gentle Opera (Wen Xi). That’s because its actors are mostly actresses, men are very few. And its theatre show is mostly singing and acting but no acrobatics or actions.

3. Huangmei Opera 黄梅戏(Huang Mei Xi) sample video on youtube


A local troupe performing in a village | by {link:http://www.flickr.com/photos/fisheyeimages/3385408372/}fisheyeimages{/link}@flickr

Huangmei opera was originated in Huangmei (Hubei Prov.), then thrived into a major regional opera in Anqing region (Anhui Prov.). After World War II, it soon gained country wide popularity with its smooth music and vivid performance.

Huangmei opera is mostly prevalent in southern China, such as Anhui, Hubei, Jiangxi, Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangsu. Now it has gained some momentum to spread into northern China.

4. Ping Opera 评剧(Ping Ju) sample video on youtube


by {link:http://www.flickr.com/photos/xiao33/3575294813/}I am 33{/link}@flickr

Ping opera is originated in Tangshan region, east to Beijing. It’s known for its plain scripts, which is very easy for audience to understand, especially for the people are not well educated. Since the beginning of last century, unlike the other operas that are focused on historical theme topics, Ping opera focuses mostly on modern topics, which is very unique in contemporary Chinese opera.

5. Henan Opera 豫剧(Yu Ju) sample video on youtube

Originated from Henan province, Henan opera is popular not only in Henan, Hebei, Shandong, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Gansu, but also in Northeastern China, Xinjiang and Tibet. In 1970s, the total numbers of Henan opera troupes exceeded Beijing opera and became the largest type of Chinese opera, with a total audience of 370 million.


Fans enjoying themselves in a city park | by {link:http://www.flickr.com/photos/quanmengli/2429557657/}quanmengli{/link}@flickr

It is the ONLY type of Chinese opera that can survive in the market without any government support. Every, Henan opera tops the ranking of box office among all regional Chinese operas.

In 2007, Henan Opera successfully went outside China and had a tour performance to Australia and Europe, which is the second Chinese opera that performed outside China after Beijing opera.

Two more things…

Besides the top 5 mentioned above, there are two other types of Chinese opera that are also very important:Qinqiang (Shaanxi) Opera and Kunqu Opera.


Kunqu | {link:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunqu}wikipedia{/link}

Qinqiang is from Shaanxi province. It’s often added to the top five as 6th most popular Chinese opera. It also has the oldest and richest characteristic melody system in Chinese opera. Some people even credit as the “Oldest Chinese opera”.

Kunqu boasts a 600-year history and is known as the “teacher” or “mother” of a hundred operas, because of its influence on other Chinese theatre forms, including Peking Opera. I will write a special post to talk about Kunqu in future.

[Chinese Keywords]
民间艺术 戏曲

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  1. July 25th, 2011 at 00:14 | #1

    I love watching the Chinese opera even though I could not figure out what they were saying most of the time but they have vibrant costumes and are really good with their choreography.

  2. Cynthia
    September 20th, 2012 at 11:28 | #2

    Hello I was wondering if you could tell me a bit of info on the chinese headdress’ they wear? I’m doing a project on chinese theatre and want to recreate a headdress. Let me know thanks. Also one key thing would be what do the colors in the headdress represent so that i know hwich to choose when making it. Thanks again

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