Chinese Culture Index


The main features of Chinese Opera are a spectacle of song and dance which, together with the colorful costumes, make-up, acrobats, jesters, storytellers, acting, poetry and martial arts combine to present the Opera in a very attractive way.

The earliest known theatre appeared in the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960 to 1279) with a square stage enclosed by railings. During the period of first emperor Kublai Khan in the Yuan Dynasty (A.D. 1279 to 1368) the opera had evolutional changes and the period was classified as the Golden age of the Classical Opera.

In the 19th Century the Opera was dominated by a form called Peking Opera featuring colorful costumes, elaborate make up, facial expressions and was spoken and sung in Mandarin dialect. Other operatic forms also evolved using the dialects of different areas, such as Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chiuzhou and Suzhou. The plays come from legendary tales and some are interpretations of actual historical events such as "The Three Kingdoms" and the "Outlaws of the Marsh".


The majority of the Operatic Clothing design came from the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368 -1644). The magnificent embroideries, the gorgeous headdresses, the jeweled girdles for the men, the hair ornaments for the women, the high court shoes which help to increase the height of the performers and the different styles of face painting are the most attractive features people would like to explore.

Face Painting

This is probably one of the most fascinating arts in connection with stage costumes as each painted face has a special meaning to knowledgeable theater-goers.

The hero type characters are normally painted in relatively simple colors, whereas enemy, bandits, rebels and so on have more complicated designs on their faces.

Colors to distinguish the Characters



Redder: Courage, loyalty and straight forwardness

Blacker: Impulsiveness

Bluer: Cruelty

Whiter: Wickedness

White Nose: Joviality



Western Audiences

Chinese opera has little in common with Western opera, and the screeching falsetto of the singers, the loud clacking of the clappers and the noisy banging of drums and cymbals can sound strange to Western ears. But it is the costumes, variety of facial expressions, the actors' eye expressions and martial arts movements that mostly attract Western audiences.

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