Chinese Opera

Traditional Chinese opera has existed for more than a thousand years, reaching its mature form in the thirteenth century during the Song dynasty (960–1279). It evolved from folk songs, dances, talking, antimasque, and distinctive forms of music. Performers wear distinctive and traditional costumes and makeup, which cues the audience about their status and personality. For instance, a red face represents loyalty and bravery; a black face, valor; yellow and white faces, duplicity; and golden and silver faces, mystery. Today, there are more than 360 regional opera styles in China, which often share similar stories, but vary according to their music and manner of speaking. In this video from the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program China: Tradition and the Art of Living, members of the Zhejiang Wu Opera troupe from Jinhua in eastern China perform β€œSedan Chair,” in which four men carry a nervous bride to her wedding in an imaginary sedan chair.

Questions for Discussion

  • List some of the characteristics of Chinese opera that you noticed in the video. What do you notice about the story, costumes, music, and the acting style?
  • Do online research about Chinese opera. How does this art form combine music, art, and literature? Why was Chinese opera important at the Chinese imperial court during the Qing dynasty?
  • Watch a Chinese opera performance that took place at the National Museum of Asian Art in 2019 here. What do you notice that is similar or different compared to the video from the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival?