Chinese Opera

During the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), the Emperor Xuan zong founded the "Pear Garden" the first known opera troupe in China. The troupe mostly performed for the emperors' personal pleasure. From that time on, performers of Chinese opera were referred to as 'disciples of the pear garden'. Since the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368) Chinese opera has been encouraged by court officials and emperors and has become a traditional art form. During the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), Chinese opera became fashionable among ordinary people. Performances were watched in tearooms, restaurants, and even around temporary stages.

The Chinese opera is a traditional form of stage entertainment, weaving together elements of mime, dance, song, dialogue, swordplay, and acrobatics into one fluid continuous flow. Gestures, movements and expressions incorporated within each performer's script come together to bring forth an impressive performance. In contrast to Western stage entertainment, which is subdivided into different categories such as opera, drama and sketches, Chinese opera has remained faithful to its original format over the centuries.

The main features of Chinese Opera are a spectacle of song and dance which, together with the colorful costumes, make-up, acrobats, jesters, storytellers, acting, poetry and martial arts combine to present the Opera in a very attractive way. What appeals to foreigners most might be the different styles of facial make-up, which is one of the highlights of Chinese opera and requires distinctive techniques of painting. Exaggerated designs are painted on each performer's face to symbolize a character's personality, role, and fate. Red indicates devotion, courage bravery, uprightness and loyalty. A typical "red face" is Guan Yu, general of the period of the Three Kingdoms (220-280), famed for his faithfulness to his Emperor, Liu Bei. Black symbolizes roughness and fierceness. The black face indicates either a rough and bold character or an impartial and selfless personality. Typical of the former are General Zhang Fei (of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms) and Li Kui (of Water Margin), and of the latter is Bao Gong (alias Bao Zheng), the semi-legendary fearless and impartial judge of the Song Dynasty. Yellow signifies fierceness, ambition and cool-headedness. Blue represents staunchness, fierceness and astuteness. White suggests finiteness, treacherousness, suspiciousness and craftiness. Commonly seen on the stage is the white face for the powerful villain. It highlights all that is bad in human nature: cunning, craftiness, and treachery. Typical characters are Cao Cao, powerful and cruel prime minister in the time of the Three Kingdoms, and Qin Hui, treacherous Song Dynasty prime minister who put the national hero Yue Fei to death. A green face tells the audience that the character is impulsive and violent and depicts surly stubbornness, impetuosity and a total lack of self-restraint. For the clowns of traditional drama, there is a special makeup called xiao hua lian (the petty painted face), i.e., a small patch of chalk on and around the nose to show a mean and secretive character, such as Jiang Gan of the Three Kingdoms who fawned upon Cao Cao. It is also occasionally painted on a young page or an ordinary workingman, often to enhance his wit, humor or jesting and to enliven up the performance.

In Chinese opera, Jue Se and Jiao Se have quite different meanings. Jue Se refers to which figure in the play the actor represents. Jiao Se, or Hang dan, is basically classified as Sheng, Dan, Jing, Mo and Chou. According to the age and social status of the characters, Sheng falls into three sub-groups: Laosheng (old male charater), Xiaosheng (young male character) and Wusheng (martial art male character); the Dan (female character) roles are subdivided into Zhengdan (orQingyi), Huadan, Wudan, Laodan, Caidan, Daomadan, and Guimendan; the Jing(character type with a painted face) roles, Dahualian, Erhualian, Wuer Hualian and Youhualian; the Chou (clown)  roles, Wenchou and Wuchou.