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Formation of Peking Opera

Peking opera is regarded as China’s national opera and is the most popular and widespread opera in the country. It is generally believed that Peking opera developed from several ancient local operas during the mid and late 19th century. In 1790, the 55th year of the Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong’s reign, the Sanqing Anhui Opera Troupe moved from Anhui Province to Beijing to perform in the celebrations to mark Emperor Qianlong’s 80th birthday. Later, three more Anhui opera troupes - the Sixi, Chuntai, Hechun troupes -also came to perform in Beijing. Together with Sanqing, they were referred to as the Four Anhui Opera Troupes. Each troupe had its own characteristic way of performing. The troupes and the Han opera performers from Hubei with whom they were working had a mutual influence on one another. The performers also borrowed some plays, melodies and performing techniques from Kunqu and Shaanxi opera, drew on some folk tunes, and showed a greater and greater Beijing influence in terms of the lyrics, recitative and rhyme, gradually developing what is now Peking opera.


Peking opera is a comprehensive art that has singing, recitation, acting and acrobatics (dancing) at its core. Feelings and ideas are often expressed through symbolic motions, and the unique format has developed over long years of performance. Using its standardized yet flexible format, many Peking opera artists have created a lot of vivid, touching characters with distinct personalities, thus helping Peking opera develop and prosper.


Peking opera takes its name from the city of Beijing, where it developed. It was formerly called pihuang (after xipi and erhuang, the two main types of melody in Peking opera), Beiping opera (after an old name of Beijing) and National opera, among other names.

A folk theater

A theater building

Picture of an opera performance in a rural area in the late Qing Dynasty, painted in 1875

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