Peking Opera


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After almost 1.5 years in Beijing, I had the opportunity to visit a performance of Beijing opera for the first time. It was the latest in a series of activities entitled "Beijing Salon – Experiencing Beijing" organized by the Beijing Foreign Cultural Exchange Center to give foreigners living in the capital hands-on experiences of the city's charming and unique culture.

We watched three operas. There were translated into English with “Borrowing a Fan”, “The Drunken Concubine” und “Stealing an Imperial Horse”. I believe it is difficult to translate from traditional Chinese to English.

The Peking Opera has a very long history with its fascinating and artistic accompanying music, singing and costumes. Of course, not to mention the special face painting or facial make up which had been the focus of this event. Let me share my Peking Opera knowledge after attending the great event.

Roles in a Peking Opera:
In a traditional Peking Opera, there are 4 main roles which are characterised as male role (Sheng) in different forms (like old and young, civil and military, dignified and agile), female role (Dan) also in different forms (like modest and playful, old and young, married and single), the facial painted male, whereas the colour reflects different attitudes. Come back to this later. And at last the clown or comedian who has a similar role as in Western countries. From funny to sad.

Colours in a Peking Opera:
Back to the meaning of the facial colours. After the operas, we got an explanation of the different characters and the meaning of the facial colours. As far as I understood the meaning of the colours.

Red: utter devotion, loyalty, righteousness, and bravery but also intelligence
Purple: wisdom, resourcefulness, and justice. Sometimes used as substitute for red.
Black: loyalty and uprightness, impartiality and integrity.
Green: violent, impulsive and lacks restraint.
White: loyalty and uprightness; self-conceited and domineering character.
Gold: applied to gods, Buddha, ghosts and monsters, to elicit a sense of fantasy from gold faces and bodies.
Finally, it takes a very long time to become a performer in the Peking Opera. Some train more than 10 years to perform dancing and singing.

After all the explanations, the best part to be started. We could try all the costumes and could even paint our faces. It has been an interesting and fun event. Another puzzle for my understanding Chinese Art and people.