29 September 2010. Beijing.
According to my limited readings, Chinese Opera together with Greece tragic-comedy and Indian Sanskrit Opera are the three oldest dramatic art forms in the world. During the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Taizong established an opera school with the poetic name Liyuan, which means pear garden. The performers of Chinese Opera were since called ‘disciples of the pear garden’. Chinese opera was encouraged by court officials and emperors since the Yuan Dynasty, and has become a traditional art form. Chinese opera became fashionable among ordinary people during the Qing Dynasty.
What appealed most to me are the different styles of facial make-up, said to be one of the highlights of Chinese opera. According to my readings, exaggerated designs are painted on each performer’s face to symbolize a character’s personality, role, and fate. Generally, a red face represents loyalty and bravery; a black face, valor; yellow and white faces, duplicity; and golden and silver faces, mystery.
Another feature of the opera that fascinated me is the acrobatics. My readings mention of players spraying fire out of their mouths when they act as spirits, or galloping while squatting to act as a dwarf. This, it is said, reflects a saying among actors: One minute’s performance on the stage takes ten years’ practice behind the scenes.
I convinced my cousin to accompany me watch a Chinese opera, although she wanted to check out the Kung Fu show. I told her watching the opera was the more cultural thing to do. She didn’t look convinced but she accompanied me all the same.