Five Facts about Peking Opera

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Every year, Primary students at Yew Chung International School of Beijing are visited by a specialist from the Peking Opera to learn more about this quintessential aspect of Chinese culture. Last week, experienced Peking Opera actor Miss Chen Xiaoyan led a brilliant workshop with Year 5 students where she told them all kinds of exciting facts, taught them how to move and dance like an opera character, and allowed them to try the costumes and face paint of well-known characters. We ask Primary Chinese teacher Ms Lunar Hu to share five facts about the opera. 


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The Peking Opera is a charming and unique part of Chinese culture, and it is important that our students understand and engage with it as part of the Chinese curriculum. Through an immersive, colourful workshop our students were able to connect with this special art, ask questions and – most importantly – learn to love the opera. Here are five facts about the Peking Opera.


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1. Peking Opera has a 200 year history. It is believed to have originated in 1790, when four opera troupes from Anhui province came to Beijing to perform at the 80th birthday of the Emperor.


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2. In the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), the Emperor Ming of Tang founded the “Pear Garden”, the first academy of music to train musicians, dancers and actors in China. To this day, actors of the Peking Opera are referred to as líyuán zǐdì - “Children of the Pear Garden”.


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3. There are four major roles in the Peking Opera – shēng (male role), dàn (female role), jìng (painted faces), and chǒu (male clowns). It is traditional that the female Dan roles are played by men. Actors use makeup, costumes and high-pitched voices to disguise themselves as females.

4. In Peking Opera, the audience claps and calls out their approval to the performers. This is known as jiàohǎo – a bit like shouting “bravo!”

5. It takes many hours to complete the makeup of an opera character and, except for famous and respected performers who have a makeup assistant, actors usually paint their face by themselves.

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