Main Roles in Beijing Opera Performance

2009-06-23 17:32 BJT

There are mainly four different kinds of roles, namely sheng, dan, jing, and chou . There used to be another role called mo, which has merged into sheng.

Sheng is the male role in Beijing Opera. Sheng, according to the age, personality and status of the characters, is subdivided into laosheng, xiaosheng, wensheng and wusheng. Laosheng, also known as xusheng, is a bearded middle-aged or old man who is in most cases a positive character. Xiaosheng is a handsome young man, who can either be a scholar or a military general. Those who specialize in singing and reciting are termed wensheng, while those who are skilled in stage-fighting, are called wusheng.

Dan is a general term in Beijing Opera for all female roles. In the feudal society of old China, as men and women were forbidden to perform on the same stage, all the female roles were played by men. Today, however, there are very few female impersonators. According to the age, status, personality of the character and the style in acting, dan is further divided into zhengdan , huadan , caidan , wudan and laodan . Zhengdan is also called qingyi because she always wears a qingyi (black costume). Zhengdan is the type representing the gentle and virtuous young and middle-aged woman. In this type of roles much stress is given in singing. Huadan is the role for a maiden or a young woman, who is either vivacious or shrewdish in character. Emphasis is placed on acting and recitation in this type. Caidan, also called choudan, is the role for a woman of comical or crafty character. A caidan uses heavy make-up of rouge with a patch of white powder covering her nose while her acting is basically the same as that of a chou (clown) . Wudan is the role for a woman of the military type who excels in riding and archery as well as in martial arts. Like wusheng, a wudan does a lot of stage-fighting. Laodan is the role for an old woman. In singing laodan uses the natural voice which is similar to laosheng. In both singing and acting the performer must try to indicate the special characteristics of an old woman.

Jing is also known as hualian, a role with a painted face, who is a man of special character, features and personality. Jing is further divided into wenjing (civilian type) and wujing (warrior type) . Wenjing must lay particular emphasis on singing and wujing on acrobatic fighting. The face of a jing role is painted with a variety of coloured patterns which are not only an artistic exaggeration but also an indication of the personality of the character.

Chou (clown) is also called xiaohualian , or sanhualian . A chou may be a kind-hearted, humorous and funny fellow. However, he may also be very wicked or treacherous . Chou is also divided into wenchou ( civilian type ) , and wuchou ( a clown with martial arts ) . A female chou is normally called caidan or choudan. A chou always paints his nose powder-white and wears an upturned moustache so as to give a comic effect.

Editor: Zhao Yanchen | Source: