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Beijing Opera Costumes

The Visual Communication of Character and Culture

Alexandra B. Bonds

Publication Year: 2008

Beijing Opera Costumes is the first in-depth English-language book focused exclusively on the costumes of Jingju, the highest form of stage arts in China. This comprehensive volume provides both theory and analysis of the costumes and the method of their selection for the roles as well as technical information on embroidery, patterns, and construction. Extensive descriptions illuminate the use of colors and surface images derived from historical dress and modified for the stage. Details on makeup, hairstyles, and dressing techniques present a complete view of the Jingju performer from head to toe. Meticulously researched in Taipei and Beijing, this definitive work begins with an outline of the rich and complex history of Beijing opera and significant developments in design over the past millennium. Chapters on costume theory and design elements and their modification to create a wide variety of images are followed by presentations of individual costumes together with their historical background and use of color and pattern. A survey of the accessories and headdresses, makeup and hairstyles, accompanies the discussion of each costume. The intricacies of choosing costumes for a production and dressing actors are also discussed. Lavishly illustrated with more than 250 color and black-and-white photographs and pattern drafts, Beijing Opera Costumes is an indispensable record of and resource for Jingju as it is performed in China today. Textile artists will appreciate the beauty of the colors and designs as well as the information on embroidery techniques and symbolism of the images. China scholars will value the contextual analysis and theater specialists the explication of costumes in relation to performance. Finally, costume designers will relish the opportunity to examine in detail their art in another cultural setting and theatrical style.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i


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pp. v-vii

List of Tables

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

In 1960 the noted scholar of Chinese performance, A. C. Scott, wrote in his book Chinese Costume in Transition that “to treat stage costume in any detail requires a book in itself . . . .” * His words inspired me to compose the first book written in English dedicated to the exploration of this beautiful and expressive aspect of the art of traditional Jingju (capital drama), commonly known as Beijing opera, and...

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pp. xv-xvi

More than 300 forms of indigenous theatre entertainment incorporating song and music have evolved in China. The different forms of xiqu (music-drama), commonly translated as Chinese opera, were developed and performed in specific regions throughout the country. Jingju (capital drama), known in the west as Peking/ Beijing opera, is based in Beijing and is the most widespread and influential of the theatre forms, having been the nationally dominant form...


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pp. xvii


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pp. xix

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1. The World of Traditional Jingju

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pp. 1-30

The roots of Jingju and music-dramas reach far back into the history of China, for as early as the Zhou dynasty (1100–221 BC), records of ritual dance exist. Dancing was used in ceremonies and festive events, and was often embellished with spoken words and musical accompaniment. The integration of these performance elements found in ancient dance continues on as the essence of Chinese indigenous theatre. Succeeding...

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2. The World of Traditional Jingju Costumes

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pp. 31-49

An elaborate system of telegraphing character through the visual image has developed for modern Jingju costumes, which uses prescribed garments with specific symbolism in color and decoration. During the 200 years that Jingju has evolved, garments and colors have been chosen to define the most appropriate image for each character...

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3. The Form and Historical Roots of Costumes

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pp. 50-69

When classifying traditional Jingju costumes, the Chinese use a system of “outer” and “inner” elements to describe the visual impact. The outer describes the overall image, primarily the silhouette, which is rather simple, yet it indicates all six of the identifiers: the person’s status, gender, wealth, nationality, age, and whether they are military or civilian. The inner...

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4. The Symbolism and Application of Color

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pp. 70-91

At first glance the vibrant colors of the fabrics on the traditional Jingju stage may appear to be random and unrestrained, yet a complex system of color meanings for the garments and the roles controls the stage picture. While the silhouette of the garment represents the primary indication of the role type, the color of the fabric projects information about the specific character. To achieve...

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5. The Aesthetics and Meanings of the Embroidered Imagery

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pp. 92-112

The interaction of the color of the garments with the subjects and arrangement of the embroidery on the surface embodies the “inner” aspects of the costumes, not the minute details found in the type of stitch or the species of flower. The impact of the whole conveys the intent of the costume...

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6. The Costume Compendium

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pp. 113-202

The compendium catalogs a significant sample of the costumes worn in traditional Jingju. The costumes are classified by form and then organized by status or occupation. Four principal costumes comprise the majority of those worn by traditional Jingju characters. The mang (court robe) is considered the highest-ranking garment, and is worn by officials for court appearances. After the mang, the pi (formal robe) comes next in status, and it is worn by the some of the...

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7. Makeup, Hair, and Headdresses

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pp. 203-242

Between the rich colors and textures of the costumes, and the bedazzling, animated headdresses, the faces of the performers would be lost without the benefit of makeup. The enhanced visage has long been a tradition in both daily life and performance in China, and consequently, makeup designs have evolved into elaborate expressions of the countenance, from the epitome of beauty to the amplification of character through vibrant color and...

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8. Dressing Techniques and Costume Plots

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pp. 243-297

In the absence of a costume designer, the dressers are responsible for preparing the visual image and maintaining the integrity of the costume conventions. Rather than create newly designed costumes for every production, each Jingju troupe or academy collects a range of conventionalized costumes. The costumes can either be hand-embroidered and made to order from...

Appendix 1. Costume Pattern Drafts

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pp. 299-314

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Appendix 2. Dictionary of Jingju Characters

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pp. 315-316

Certain characters in the history and lore of China have become renowned for their bravery, beauty, valor, intelligence, or other outstanding characteristics. Their stories have mutated into the traditional Jingju canon, heightening their recognition. Some of these characters are referred to throughout the text to illuminate examples of dress patterns. To facilitate understanding of these characters and their place in the scripts, a brief description of their personalities and circumstances follows....


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pp. 317-321


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pp. 323-336

List of Performances

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pp. 337-339


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pp. 341-343


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pp. 345-350

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About the Author

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pp. 351

Alexandra B. Bonds is Professor of Costume Design at the University of Oregon. Her passion for Beijing Opera costumes began when she received a Fulbright to teach at the National Institute for the Arts in Taiwan in 1990. She became the first foreigner to study costumes at the Academy for Traditional Chinese Opera in Beijing, China, where she conducted extensive research for this book. An award-winning designer,...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861612
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824829568

Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Costume -- China -- Beijing.
  • Opera -- China -- Beijing.
  • Opera -- Production and direction -- China -- Beijing.
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