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Cultural Heritage / Trip Ideas

The four most popular Chinese operas

By Teng Mu

September 27

Chinese opera is an ancient art form with enduring charms.

Chinese opera is an ancient art form with enduring charms.

There are more than 360 types of Chinese operas, with Beijing Opera, Huangmei Opera, Yue Opera and Yu Opera considered the four most famous.

1. Beijing Opera

The Beijing Opera [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Liu Jianhua]
The Beijing Opera [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Liu Jianhua]
The Beijing Opera is considered the quintessential Chinese performance art.  It originated in Beijing but has spread all around China to become a symbol of Chinese culture. Combining singing, dancing, dialogue and martial arts, it has five main types of characters: Sheng, Dan, Jing, Mo, Chou. These refer to male characters, female characters, forceful characters, middle-aged male characters and comedic figures respectively. Because the Beijing Opera was originally a feature of the imperial palace, it had stricter requirements for the performance, costumes, makeup and songs.

2. Yu Opera

The Yu Opera [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Shi Kuihua]
The Yu Opera [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Shi Kuihua]
The Yu Opera originated in Henan Province and is the most widely performed type of local opera in China, having 167 professional troupes around the country as of 2006. The Yu Opera is characterized by its sonorous tone, cadence and intonation. It uses a wide variety of traditional Chinese instruments including fifes, silk strings, and the Suona, which resembles a small trumpet. The stage display is simple and all the performers usually wear thick makeup.

3. Yue Opera

The Yue Opera [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Long Wei]
The Yue Opera [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Long Wei]
The Yue Opera, from the southern costal areas of China, is lyrical and centers around singing. Usual themes include gifted scholars and beautiful ladies, and the love story The Butterfly Lovers is well-known example. During its development, the Yue Opera has undergone a historical change from having mainly male performers to mostly female performers, making it a distinctive feature of Yue Opera that even its male roles are performed by actresses.

4.Huangmei Opera

The Huangmei Opera [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Yan Liping]
The Huangmei Opera [Image Credit: photostock.china.com.cn/Yan Liping]
The Huangmei Opera originates from Huangmei, Hubei, and is a very lively form of opera that tells the life stories of ordinary people.  Legend says that because Huangmei is located on the northern bank of the Yangtze River, it was frequently struck by natural disasters, especially floods. Its residents  were forced to learn Huangmei Opera to beg in other places, which promoted the spread of this folk art. The most famous piece of Huangmei Opera is The Goddess Marriage.

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