1. The Monkey King (Sun Wukong)

Clever, resourceful, and brave, the Monkey King is a favorite character in Beijing Opera. He has his origins in Chinese folklore, but was made famous by Wu Cheng’en’s 16th-century classical novel Journey to the West.


Preparing for the role of Monkey King

2. Jing

There are four main role types in Beijing Opera: sheng (male), dan (female), jing (painted face), and chou (clown). Jing have stylized patterned, colored faces, and represent warriors, heroes, statesmen, adventurers, and demons. Not only do these characters have the most striking look of all the performers, they also usually have predominantly forceful personalities.


Jing performers on stage

3. Dan

Dan are the female roles. Laodan are old ladies, caidan are female comedians, and wudan are martial artists. The most important category, qingyi, play respectable and decent ladies in elegant costumes.

4. Sheng

Sheng are divided into laosheng, who wear beards and represent old men, xiaosheng who are young men, and wusheng, who are acrobats.

5. Chou

The chou are the comic roles, characterized by white patches on their noses. Patches of different shape and size imply roles of different characters. It is the chou who keep the audience laughing.


The comic chou character

6. Mei Lanfang

The foremost male interpreter of the female role (dan) during Beijing Opera’s heyday in the 1920s and 1930s was Mei Lanfang. All female roles were once played by male actors. However, this is no longer the case today.

7. Colors

The colors of the performers’ painted faces symbolize various qualities. Red, for example, stands for loyalty and courage, purple for solemnity and a sense of justice, and green for bravery and irascibility.

8. Musical instruments

Despite the dramatic visual elements of Beijing Opera, the Chinese say that they go to “listen” to opera, not to see it. Typically six or seven musicians accompany the dramatics. The stringed instruments usually include the erhu, or Chinese two-stringed violin, while percussion includes clappers, gongs, and drums.


Women playing the erhu violin

9. Acrobatics

Beijing Opera is a form of “total theater” with singing, speech, mime, and acrobatics that combine graceful gymnastics and martial arts movements. Training is notoriously hard. Costumes are designed to make the jumps seem more spectacular by billowing out as they spin.

10. Repertoire

The traditional repertoire includes more than 1,000 works, mostly based on popular tales. Modern productions aimed at tourists often include English-language displays of the text.


1. Huguang Guild Hall

prac_info 135 5252 7373 • 3 Hufang Lu

One-hour highlights shows held on most days.


Show at Huguang Guild Hall

2. Chang’an Grand Theater

prac_info 7 Jianguo Men Nei Dajie • 6510 1308

Regular two-hour performances of mostly complete operas.

3. Mei Lanfang Grand Theater

prac_info 32 Ping’Anli Xi Dajie • 5833 1217

A large steel-and-glass theater.

4. Tianqiao Performing Arts Center

prac_info Building 9, Tianqiao Nandajie, Xicheng District • 400 635 3355 •

A massive arts venue specializing in ballet, musical theater and traditional opera.

5. National Center of Performing Arts

Beijing’s temple to the arts offers large-scale performances (see National Center for the Performing Arts).

6. Lao She Teahouse

prac_info 6303 6830 • 3 Qian Men Xi Dajie •

Daily 90-minute variety shows.

7. Li Yuan Theater

prac_info 6301 6688 • Qian Men Jianguo Hotel, 175 Yong’an Lu

Daily 80-minute highlights shows.

8. Mansion of Prince Gong

prac_info 8328 8149 • 17 Qianhai Xi Jie

Summer performances only (see Mansion of Prince Gong).

9. Forbidden City Concert Hall

prac_info 6559 8285 • West Chang’an Avenue, Zhong Shan Park

Concert venue holding occasional opera performances.

10. Zheng Yi Ci Theater

prac_info 138 0106 7568 • 220 Xiheyan Qian Men

Performances and 90-minute highlights shows held on selected days of the week.

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