Education About Asia

A Brief Introduction to Beijing Opera

Download PDF

Beijing opera is a colorful, spectacular performance art that dazzles, fascinates, and often puzzles foreigners. A quintessentially Chinese art form, its elaborate costumes and makeup, gestural and acrobatic stage movements, highly symbolic and stylized content, and unique musical style amaze and intrigue audiences. The art might be best thought of as a confluence of stylized patterns of dress, makeup, action, staging, text, and music (instrumental and vocal). Each of these parameters is the fruit of a system several centuries old, presented as living art through the work of highly trained performers. This essay attempts to provide useful basic information about Beijing opera as well as selected helpful details sometimes absent from elementary guides to the art. The goal here is to present an introduction to Beijing opera that provides insight for teachers and students approaching the art while avoiding excess specialized terminology.