Peking Opera, which originated in the late 18th century, is a synthesis of music, dance, art and acrobatics. It is the most influential and representative of all operas in China. Peking opera is a national treasure with a history of 200 years, whose richness of repertoire, great number of artists of performance and of audiences, and profound influence are incomparable in China.
Like any other traditional opera, Peking Opera tells stories through movement, singing and elaborate dancing. It is a graceful and consummate art which combines the best elements of literature, music and dance. By maintaining the heritage of traditional opera and absorbing so much from other local arts, it came to dominate the theaters of the imperial capital and enjoyed rapid growth.
As it developed, Peking Opera has experienced periods of full bloom, diminishing popularity and near extinction. But in the end, it has still been passed down from generation to generation and maintained a loyal following because of its immense vitality.
Peking Opera can be divided into "civil" pieces characterized by singing, and "martial" ones featuring acrobatics and stunts. Some operas are a combination of both. The operatic dialogues and monologues are recited in Beijing dialect, and some of the words are pronounced in a special fashion, unique to the opera.
Peking opera is a synthesis of stylized action, singing, dialogue and mime, acrobatic fighting and dancing to represent a story or depict different characters and their feelings of gladness, anger, sorrow, happiness, surprise, fear and sadness. In Peking opera there are four main types of roles: sheng (male) dan (young female), jing( painted face,male), and chou (clown, male or female). The characters may be loyal or treacherous, beautiful or ugly, good or bad, their images being vividly manifested.
The repertoire of Peking opera is mainly engaged in fairy tales of preceding dynasties, important historical events, emperors, ministers and generals, geniuses and great beauties, from the ancient times to Yao, Shun, Yu, the Spring and Autumn Period, the Warring States Period and the dynasties of Qin, Han, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing.
The costumes in Peking opera are graceful, magnificent, elegant and brilliant, most of which are made in handicraft embroidery. As the traditional Chinese pattern are adopted, the costumes are of a high aesthetic value.