Xiqu role types

Xiqu role types
Character portrayal in Xiqu (sung-drama/opera) is based upon a system of role types. Each specific role type is indicative of a particular gender, age and level of dignity, and is distinguished by makeup and costume conventions together with patterns of vocal and physical stylization. Each character is portrayed as a specific role type, and actors specialize in one or more specific role types.
Four general role types appear in contemporary Xiqu: sheng, dignified male characters; dan, female characters; jing, larger-than-life, ‘painted-face’ (hualian) male characters; and chou, often comic, earthy male characters.
Each specific role type is a sub-category of one of these four general types, and some are unique to one or a few forms of Xiqu. Most contemporary forms include both young (xiao) and old (lao) subcategories in the sheng and dan role types, and, in all four general role types, one or more civil (wen) subcategories featuring song, speech and dance-acting skills, and one or more martial (wu) subcategories especially featuring combat, acrobatics and other martial skills.
Role types help actors portray characters not of their own age and/or gender, as in Yueju (Zhejiang opera), in which women generally portray male as well as female leads, and Jingju (Peking opera), in which some individual performers portray characters not of their own gender, including the male dan star Mei Baojiu and the female jing performer Qi Xiaoyun. Role types have been the focus of much historical and contemporary creativity. They are also deeply woven into the fabric of Chinese culture, and even today provide a widely used means of personal description.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.