Cross-dressing has a long history in Beijing opera, dating back to Feudal times when women were not allowed to perform on stage. As a result, male opera singers had to perform female roles. It was during what many term “Chinese opera’s golden age” in the 1920s and 30s that women were first allowed to openly make an appearance on stage. Owing to the move toward gender equality among the intelligentsia during that era, some female singers decided to take on male roles – just as male singers had traditionally taken on female roles. If you are a culture-lover, discover the cross-dressing in Beijing Opera would be a great experience along your China travel of Beijing.
What is important to keep in mind is that cross-reading was never thought of as humorous or ironic as in the West. “People didn’t go to the theatre to see men play women’s roles,” accomplished female impersonator Liu Zheng, of the Tianjin Peking Opera Company, said. “Although some audience members might have known that you were really a man, they would not have paid much attention to your gender, forgetting about that during the performance. It was very important that the male be made up to be really beautiful and that his gestures and mannerisms be really feminine.” Many students particularly like to discover how the actors dressed themselves in that way when they are watching the Beijing opera along their China educational tours.
But it was not simply an issue of putting on the opposite sex's garb. “Not many people are really good at it,” Wang Peiyu, of the same company, said. But when asked how difficult it was for her to assume a male persona, she said she had never really given it much thought. “I had 10 years of training, and it was both thorough and systematic,” she said. “I never really thought about my gender when I was performing. I was just playing a part.” It is no wonder that so many China tour agents have arranged the Beijing opera discovery along their itinerary.
During the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976), traditional Chinese opera was banned, replaced by Madam Mao’s Eight Model Plays, which drew on class struggle and communist exploits during the anti-Japanese war and Chinese civil war as themes. Although traditional Beijing opera was allowed to be performed again in 1978, it has never regained its former popularity. Modern audiences understand neither the historical contexts nor the literary allusions of the scripts. They are also unfamiliar with the highly stylized conventions that can make the genre all but unintelligible to the uninitiated. Why not extend your China travel packages to Beijing and discover the Beijing opera further?
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