This Wednesday, Chinese Academy organized an interesting culture class-Beijing Opera,which is a synthesis of stylized action, singing, dialogue, mime, acrobatic fighting and dancing to represent a story or depict different characters and their feelings of gladness, anger, sorrow, happiness, surprise, fear and sadness. The characters may be loyal or treacherous, beautiful or ugly, good or bad. Their images are always vividly manifested in bright costumes that show the styles of ancient China.The birth year of Peking Opera is commonly set at 1790, the year of the eightieth birthday of the Qianlong Emperor. Up until that point in the early Qing dynasty (1644-1911), the educated nobility favored Kunqu Opera, which was known for its elegant music and fine language. On the other hand, various styles of regional popular theater enjoyed by commoners were dismissed by the Chinese elite.
That changed in 1790, when four seasoned drama troupes from Anhui province entered the capital to perform for the imperial court in celebration of Qianlong’s birthday. The occasion marked the first time regional popular theater was performed in Beijing. The four troupes later came to be known as the ‘four great Anhui companies,’ and together dominated Peking Opera for the next century.There are currently four main role categories in Beijing Opera. They are Sheng (生) – Male Role, Dan (旦) – Female Role, Jing (净) – Painted Face Male and Chou (丑) – The Comedy Role.
Any role in these categories or sub-categories can be the leading role in a play. Except the second category – Dan (旦), the other three categories are for male characters. Lianpu is formed through dramatic artists’ long-term practice and their understanding and judgment of the roles in plays. It is the colorful dressing on actors’ faces. By using transformative and exaggerated figures, professional spectators would easily tell the characteristic of a role. In this way, it is called ‘the picture of hearts’. There are certain formats of the facial painting in the aspect of color, type and shape. Usually, eyes, foreheads and cheeks are painted like wings of butterflies, swallows and bats.Since Mei Lanfang, the grand master of Beijing Opera, visited Japan in 1919, Beijing Opera has become more and more popular with people all over the world. It has made an excellent contribution to cultural exchange between China and the West. Nowadays, you can catch traveling troupes of Beijing Opera performers in many international cities and local “Chinatowns.”