Around 50 expats living in Beijing, including diplomats, chamber of commerce personnel, foreign journalists and students, attended a Peking Opera salon staged by the Fenglei (Wind and Thunder) Opera Troupe on April 8, 2017 to get a taste of traditional Chinese opera culture.
Expats watch a Peking Opera performance at the Fenglei Peking Opera House in Beijing on April 8, 2017. [Photo by Chen Boyuan / China.org.cn]
It was the latest in a series of activities entitled "Beijing Salon – Experiencing Beijing" organized by the Beijing Foreign Cultural Exchange Center to give foreigners living in the capital hands-on experiences of the city's charming and unique culture.
As the second Peking Opera salon in the series, this one focused on the facial makeup of Peking Opera whereas the previous one, two years ago, focused on the costumes.
Song Yan, head of the Fenglei Peking Opera House, told the expats that one possible origin of facial makeup in Peking Opera was the Prince of Lanling of the ancient Kingdom of Qi.
"Brave and fierce as he was, he looked quite gentle as a man. So, he painted his face with formidable colors to look daunting to his enemies in battle," explained Song, who is a national-level Peking Opera performer.
The facial makeup is an essential part of Peking Opera; different coloring signifies different characters and personalities. Red denotes uprightness and loyalty, white represents evil and craftiness, black is given to characters of sound integrity and gold stands for deities.
The expats watched highlights from three operas before they got the chance to paint their own faces and perform on stage following instructions from professional performers.
This was the first-ever hands-on experience with Peking Opera for most of the foreigners although some had previously attended some performances, especially since coming to live in Beijing.
While Peking Opera, among other traditional Chinese operas, is losing its charm for many Chinese due to the influence of Western culture and the development of Chinese pop culture, it continues to be regarded as a quintessential representation of the real Chinese art by many foreigners.
Terho Rajala, counselor at the Finnish embassy in Beijing, said he was fascinated by Peking Operas, including the singing style and the storylines. However, he also addressed concern that, in general, foreigners could not understand the lyrics without a subtitle prompter, which usually did not function properly.
Apart from Peking Operas, many expats attending the event said they also knew about Sichuan Opera, mainly for the face-changing tricks unique to the genre.