These pages are meant to guide new and audiences not yet familiar with Peking opera towards a better appreciation of Peking opera. Click on the menu to your right to learn about the four major categories of character roles, the symbolic gestures associated with these characters, the use of voice, and some examples of acting and pantomime in Peking opera.
Four Major Characters
The term sheng refers to the male role. Typically, a sheng character would be a scholar, an official, or another man who conforms to accepted customs and societal norms. This category may be further subdivided into the lao sheng (elderly man), xiao sheng (young man), and wu sheng (military man; a warrior or a general).
Similarly, the dan category refers to any female role, including subcategories such as the lao dan (elderly woman), hua dan (a vivacious coquettish young woman, typically a maidservant), qing yi (a woman of virtue, dignity, great loyalty, and strong character), and wu dan (a young woman skilled in fighting and riding).
Usually, the jing role refers to powerful, or heroic characters. Their power may be seen in thought, word, or deed. They may be men of action, warriors, outlaws, crafy ministers, upright judges, honourable statesmen, and gods or other supernatural beings.
The last major character category is the chou, or the comic characters. They may be recognized by the white patch of make-up painted over their nose area. Clowns may be civilians or military characters. Their main task is to win laughter from the audience. They tend to be humorous, sharp-witted, even cunning, and sometimes evil.
...more about the characters