Nai-Xin Anne Long
8 DEC 1988
Chinese Opera’s Characteristics
|II. The Stage|
The stage itself is very simple.
A flat platform covered by a red carpet, a large backdrop and two
side curtains, which indicate the entrance and the exit, form a suitable
stage for performing Chinese Opera.
Brightening the stage is the whole function of stage lightening; no
more special design is needed.
On the bright bare stage, members who play percussion instruments
of the stage orchestra signal the start of a dramatic piece.
It is the mixture of the redness of the carpet, strong lighting and
the sound of drums, clapper, cymbals and gongs that creates the enjoyable
atmosphere which Chinese people are very accustomed to.
A considerably important feature
is that “No property or scenery representing realism is allowed on
stage” (Cheng 18).
Tables and chairs covered by embroidered red cloth are the main
in some cases they are pieces of furniture, their symbolic meanings make
them more significant.
A chair set in front of a table symbolizes a casual situation; on
the contrary, an official locus is introduced by the opposite way of
A table with a chair on it means a mountain; with another table
instead, a high wall. Quite commonly, a chair substitutes a
bridge, a well, a rock, a loom or the entrance of a jail.
Therefore, by moving tables and chairs, the scene is changed.
Two stagehands do this in front of the audience and their
appearance will not lead to interruption or bewilderment (Wang 8).
According to Nicoll, stagehands even evidence the spirit of Chinese
characteristic of the performance in this
theatre is the appearance of stage of the
necessary for the
progress of the pieces, hands small
properties to the actors during the course
Symbolism also applies to two other items of stage techniques: costumes and
make-up. Through their styles and colors, costumes show characters'
status. Historicity is totally neglected, hence two emperors in
different dynasties wear the same yellow royal robe with embroidered
dragons. A plain black robe indicates poverty. A patched black
robe, however, hints prospective wealth and high position of a beggar.
A faithful official wears the green Mang(蟒) while a
loyal general wears the green kao(靠). In fact, from headdress to
footwear, every character's stage appearance is strictly ruled.
Backstage workers who are responsible for costumes must bear every
character's standard stage appearance in mind in order to costume a play
correctly. As regards make-up, it helps the audience recognize what
kind of role is played. For example, "The make-up for a female
role is to paint her face in white and then surround her eyes with a red
tint... The Chou, the clown, generally paints his face with a
butterfly-shaped white patch in between his eyebrows and his nose"
(Wang 15). Make-up patterns for the Jing(淨) roles are extremely
complicated and various. All different colors and types of forehead,
eyes, eyebrows, nose and mouth have symbolic meanings.1
1For make-up of Jing, see Liu 52-54.