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Beijing Opera


Beijing OperaTo see a Jing actor for the first time is a startling experience for the spectator. This part is more noted for courage and resourcefulness than for scholarly intelligence. Often playing the part of a high-ranking army general, the Jing actor with his painted face can also be seen as a warrior or official. His robust, gruff, bass voice and grotesquely painted face together with his swaggering self-assertive manner all combine to make him the most forceful personality in most scenes in which he appears.

Jing actors are usually, in fact, extroverts. The general rule for the basic color is: red for good, white for treacherous, black for brusque and blue for wild, i.e. a bandit would have a blue face. All Jing actors wear a heavy, ornate costume and a head dress with a padded jacket underneath to enhance the effect, They can be divided into three main types: Dong-Chui, better known as Hei Tou (black face), who is good at singing and usually a loyal general; Jia Zi, who is good at acting, and generally a more complicated character; and Wu Jing, who is mainly proficient in fighting and acrobatics and seldom plays a very prominent role.


Lastly there is the Chou or comedy actor who generally plays the role of a dim but likeable and amusing character with blinking eyes and all the appropriate gestures. Sometimes the Chou can be a rascal, with a slightly wicked nature. Chou parts can be divided into two types: Wen Chou, who is usually a civilian, such as a jailer, servant, merchant or scholar; and Wu Chou, who performs minor military roles as a soldier and must be skilled in acrobatics. His costume is either elaborate or fussy if of high social standing, but simple if of a low standing.

Beijing Opera CostumesBeijing Opera Costumes

The costumes in Beijing Opera impress the audience with their bright colors and magnificent embroidery. Some of the costumes used in modern performances have a resemblance to the fashion of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The use of colors indicates social status, in which the yellow for the imperial, red for high nobility, red or blue for upright men, white for old officials and black for each role. A student usually wears a blue gown general wears padded armor; an emperor wears a dragon robe. Besides gorgeous clothes and headdresses, jeweled girdles for men and hair ornaments for women are also used in Beijing Opera.

Beijing Opera Facial Make-up

The origin of facial make-up used in Peking Opera can be traced back to the Southern and Northern Dynasties Period, more than 1,400 years ago, when leading actors used to wear masks. As the operatic arts developed, performers gradually took off their masks and painted colorful patterns on their faces instead so people could better see their facial expressions. Facial make-up enables audiences to grasp the personality of a character portrayed and the character's social status at a glance. Many societies in the world adopt colors associated with symbolic meanings. The same is true in China and in Beijing Opera.

Peking Opera uses different colors in facial make-up to exaggerate or distort a performers' features, but originally, only three colors were used -- red, white and black - each with its own symbolic meaning. Red is the color of loyalty, integrity and courage; black suggests a serious and taciturn disposition, including strength and roughness; white reveals a crafty and suspicious character. Later, other colors were gradually incorporated, such as purple -- a symbol of solemnity, serenity and a sense of justice; yellow, representing intelligence and calculation or bravery when used in warrior roles; blue shows uprightness and stubbornness; green indicates bravery and irascibility; and gold and silver are sometimes used on the faces of immortals, demons and monsters. Different colors can also distinguish nobility from the common folk, goodness from evil or loyalty from treachery.

Of the four roles of Peking Opera -- Sheng, Dan, Jing and Chou, only the Jing and Chou roles have elaborate facial make-up. There are relatively few make-up patterns for a Chou role -- the most common being a white nose for comic relief. The make-up pattern of Jing-role patterns are much more complicated and varied, such as the "whole-face," "three-tile face," "quartered face," "six-division face," "tiny-flowered face" and "lopsided face."

In Beijing Opera, over one thousand painted facial patterns are used. Each pattern's uniqueness lies in its ability to make subtle and interesting changes within the fixed facial pattern.

Famous Beijing Opera Character-Monkey King

Mention must be made of the Monkey King who has a special place in the hearts of all who are interested in Chinese opera. Played by an exceptionally talented Wu Sheng actor, the Monkey King holds every minute of the audience's attention with the quick, agile movements of his lithe body, and his blinking eyes. He is traditionally supposed to have accompanied a Buddhist monk who went on a long journey across the mountains from China to India in search of the Buddhist scriptures and bring them back to China. The Monk's legendary companions on this journey are a pig (to provide the humor), a not so learned monk, supposed to represent a shark spirit, to mediate in quarrels, and the Monkey King, who possesses special supernatural powers to combat evil spirits encountered on the way. The Monkey King's costume is bright yellow in color and consists of a voluminous jacket and baggy trousers to enable him to perform his movements with ease and grace. He mimics a monkey the whole time, with his knees always bent and his hands held dangling in front of him, occasionally even scratching himself. His eyes have a mischievous twinkle in them as they blink at the audience.

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