We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Chinese Opera

The Actor's Craft

Siu Wang-Ngai with Peter Lovrick

Publication Year: 2014

Chinese opera embraces over 360 different styles of theatre that make one of the richest performance arts in the world. It combines music, speech, poetry, mime, acrobatics, stage fighting, vivid face-painting and exquisite costumes. First experiences of Chinese opera can be baffling because its vocabulary of stagecraft is familiar only to the seasoned aficionado. Chinese Opera: The Actor’s Craft makes the experience more accessible for everyone. This book uses breath-taking images of Chinese opera in performance by Hong Kong photographer Siu Wang-Ngai to illustrate and explain Chinese opera stage technique. The book explores costumes, gestures, mime, acrobatics, props and stage techniques. Each explanation is accompanied by an example of its use in an opera and is illustrated by in-performance photographs. Chinese Opera: The Actor’s Craft provides the reader with a basic grammar for understanding uniquely Chinese solutions to staging drama.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (95.3 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (39.3 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (168.1 KB)
pp. ix-x

Many years ago, a director of Chinese opera took pains to train me for a part in one of his productions. He had a habit of suddenly stopping to burst out, “Chinese opera is just wonderful!” With all his experience, he kept discovering new facets to admire. Chinese opera is indeed one of the great cultural achievements that China off ers to the world. It is also a wonderful window into China itself, combining its music, poetry, history, folk tales and philosophy...

read more

1. How Chinese Theatre Solves Theatrical Problems

pdf iconDownload PDF (106.3 KB)
pp. 1-4

A first visit to the Chinese opera can be mystifying, if not overwhelming. Audiences used to realistic theatre are lost. Th eir usual frame of reference is gone. Instead, high-pitched falsettos, clanging gongs, stylized movement, and unrecognizable props thread through the play in an often glorious, but frequently confusing, way. Audiences new to the Chinese opera hearing the explosive cries of approval “Hao!” from seasoned opera goers wonder just what they are missing...

read more

2. Using Stage Movement

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.7 MB)
pp. 5-38

Relying on mime, or pure stage movement, to indicate physical realities is one of the primary solutions that Chinese opera developed for theatrical problems. Th e Chinese opera blends mime into performance. It is a tool that actors use along with singing, manipulating costume, and handling props to express a reality rather than recreate it as is the practice in Western naturalist theatre. This approach means that Chinese opera does not need to develop extensive sets or use a wide range of realistic props...

read more

3. Using Props

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.8 MB)
pp. 39-92

Chinese drama has from the beginning called for horses on the stage. Sometimes, this would be for a solitary rider on a long journey. At other times, it might be for several mounted generals on a battlefield. Th e problem in each case is how to bring the familiar reality of riding a horse into a theatre, teahouse or banquet hall. Other dramatic traditions have used hobbyhorses and various costumes to solve the problem...

read more

4. Using Weapons and Skills for Stage Fighting

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.4 MB)
pp. 93-130

The Chinese stage becomes a battlefield in many operas. Great generals, heroes, villains and warrior maidens fi ght with a variety of weapons in carefully choreographed scenes requiring a high level of skill. One of the most common weapons used in these scenes is the spear. This weapon is light, long and flexible, ideal for combat with more than one adversary. Actors will parry, thrust and toss their spears through the air in a variety of ways that require not only manipulation of the weapon, but acrobatic skills as well...

read more

5. Using Costumes

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.0 MB)
pp. 131-170

The male, female, painted face, and clown roles in Chinese opera all use pheasant tail skills for particular characters. The young man’s role even has a particular subcategory role type for it. These actors play heroic, and sometimes fierce, characters, who enter the stage with two long pheasant tails attached to their headdresses. These feathers can be as long as six feet. They are more, however, than just dramatic additions to the costume...

read more

6. Using Special Skills

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.1 MB)
pp. 171-190

The Sichuan opera is famous for its tales of the fantastic. Ghosts, demons, and fairies share the stage with emperors, beauties, and heroes. It even has a special role type for female ghosts and fox spirits. The Sichuan opera makes use of special skills to tell these stories. One of the most famous of these is face changing...

read more

A Final Word

pdf iconDownload PDF (52.4 KB)
pp. 191-192

The best Chinese opera troupes of various genres from across the country with top-grade actors and actresses visited Hong Kong between 1985 and 1993. Th is event has great historical significance and became a major part of my life’s work. Looking back at it, I believe a performance series like that will probably never happen again. I was fortunate enough to record these operas with my camera, and am pleased to share these images with the reader of this book...


pdf iconDownload PDF (293.9 KB)
pp. 193-194

Appendix 1: English Guide to the Photographs

pdf iconDownload PDF (70.1 KB)
pp. 195-202

Appendix 2: Chinese Guide to the Photographs

pdf iconDownload PDF (330.5 KB)
pp. 203-210


pdf iconDownload PDF (40.6 KB)
pp. 211-212


pdf iconDownload PDF (66.7 KB)
pp. 213-216

E-ISBN-13: 9789888268269
Print-ISBN-13: 9789888208265

Page Count: 228
Illustrations: 227 colour illus.
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 1