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Types of Roles

Peking opera is a theatrical art that incorporates singing, dancing, acting and acrobatics. But what we see on the Peking opera stage does not imitate real life. For example, Peking opera uses special imagery in the creation of characters. All roles are classified according to sex, personality, age, profession and social status. Hangdang is the general term for role types in Peking opera. As we all know, there are four types of role in Peking opera today - namely, the sheng (male role), dan (female role), jing (painted face) and chou (clown). The sheng is the male protagonist, the dan the female protagonist, the jing a male supporting figure with distinct characteristics, and chou a comic or negative figure or foil for the protagonist. The four role types are a result of the large variety of roles from earlier stages in the history of Peking opera being combined and reduced.


The four basic role types have their subdivisions, each with its own specialties and techniques. For example, the sheng role is divided into elderly (laosheng), young (xiaosheng), military (wusheng), red-faced (hongsheng) and young boy (wawasheng) roles, and the elderly male role can be further divided into singing, acting and martial laosheng roles, and so on. The role types cover all the characters on stage, and every actor or actress specializes in a particular role type.


The role types in Peking opera have been artistically refined to categorize, systematize and standardize the myriad images in the complex life of society according to the practical requirements of opera performance. The role types distinguish the characters’ inner traits, expressed through appearance. Thus came about Peking opera’s unique system of imagery, which functions as a framework in this integrated theatrical art and distinguishes Peking opera from other types of opera.


Based on the role types, a complete set of standards has been formed for aspects such as costumes and facial makeup. These aspects and the classification of role types supplement each other, both being very important in the creation of characters and demonstrating the full beauty of Peking opera.

The chou role type:Xiao Changhua (left) as Tang Qin in From Trial of the Severed Head to the Killing of Tang Qin (Shen Tou Ci Tang)

The dan role type:Mei Lanfang as Yang Yuhuan in The Drunken Beauty (Guifei Zuijiu)

The jing role type:Qiu Shengrong as Yao Qi in General Yao Qi (Yao Qi)(PerformerQi Xiaoyun)

The sheng role type:Ma Lianliang as Qiao Xuan in At the Sweet Dew Temple (Ganlu Si)

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