Characters and Role Categories in Beijing Opera



beijing liyuan theatre opera


The Beijing Opera repertoire runs to more than 1,000 items, all of which tell and retell touching stories of sorrow, happiness, separation, and reunion. Their rich and varied characters leave indelible impressions in the minds of opera audiences, and very distinct role characterizations have emerged over the years in Beijing Opera, which are referred to as ” role categories” (行当).


The”role categories” comprise individual sets of characteristics, including gender, age, temperament and status. In Beijing Opera, the characters on stage are generally divided into four types, namely, sheng, dan, jing, and chou (male, female, painted face and clown). The actors and actresses tend to specialize in one or two of these role categories.

Laosheng (老生, old man): As the name suggests, actors, or actresses in rare cases in this role category perform the roles of middle-aged and senior males, with light makeup and wearing finely decorated costumes. In accordance with the differences of age of the characters, they wear artificial beards or whiskers of black, gray or white.

Xiaosheng (小生,young Man): Artists in this role category play young male roles (typically young scholars). They usually wear fine costumes. Over a thin layer of pinkish powder covering the whole face, greasepaint is used to delineate the eyes and brows, to suggest the vitality of youth.


Dan (旦,female): Mainly depicting middle-aged and young female roles, the actresses or actors in rare cases usually wear heavy makeup. Their cheeks are mostly painted red to set off the powdery white of the forehead, nose and jaw. Heavy black grease-paint is used to highlight the eyes and brows, and red color is applied to the lips to demonstrate the classical beauty of Chinese women.


Laodan (老旦,old female): The makeup is usually light, with light delineation of the corners of the eyes and cheeks to give the audience the impression that the characters have reached the evening of their lives and are reliable and steady.


Jing (净,painted face): Exaggerated colors are used to depict bold, powerful and fierce male characters. The range of these styles is the most intriguing in the whole of traditional opera.


Chou (丑,clown): There are usually nimble, witty, humorous or cunning minor characters. The face patterns are rather simple. It is only necessary to draw different shapes of white spots around the ridge of the nose and delineate the eyes and brows.







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