Hi there! We are a group of students from Singapore Management University (SMU). As part of our Leadership and Team Building (LTB) Module, we are required to plan and conduct a Community Service Project to serve a particular need of the community.

Understanding the need to ensure the continuation of undervalued art forms, our group (iOpera) plans to expose more young people to Chinese Opera. iOpera hopes to reach out to the younger generation by making our activities fun and interactive; and making our resources available on the internet.

iOpera has since conducted a three-day pilot workshop with Lakeside Family Centre. Through fun activities such as Chinese Opera-related games and Chinese Opera mask painting, twenty primary school students were given a glimpse of the magical world of Chinese Opera; raising their awareness of an integral part of our culture. We hope that the success of this pilot program, coupled with the positive feedback from the children and staff of Lakeside Family Centre, will encourage more organisations and schools to implement this workshop.

This website serves as iOpera’s medium for reaching the young who utilise the Internet on a frequent basis. Through our website, we hope to create a lasting resource that will allow both teens and young children to learn more about the intricacies of Chinese Opera.

We hope you have as much fun as we did learning about Chinese Opera!

The iOpera Team.


(Navigate the site using the menu above!)

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iOpera seeks to develop an interactive and engaging programme targeted at local youths through diverse forms of new media, coupled with the implementation of a workshop in partnership with Lakeside Family Centre so as to raise general awareness and appreciation of Chinese Opera among the younger generation.

To achieve this, our immediate goals are:

1. To obtain endorsement of our project and website from our beneficiary (Chinese Opera Institute).

2. To achieve a website visitor rate of 100 within the first week.

3. To obtain positive feedback regarding our proposed activity from both children and teachers of the beneficiary (Lakeside Family Centre) through a post-course survey.

4. To convince our beneficiary (Lakeside Family Centre), through our provision of materials and conduct of pilot project, to consider the implementation of our project as a permanent fixture.
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Click the image below to view the history timeline of Chinese Opera!

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Due to Chinese Opera’s long and rich history, there are still approximately 368 different types of Chinese Opera today. Here is a brief descriptions of four types that are probably more well-known in our region. They are:

  • Beijing Opera
  • Shanghai Opera
  • Cantonese Opera
  • Sichuan Opera


Beijing Opera

Beijing Opera gained in popularity during the late 18th century. It remains one of the most popular and well-funded types of Chinese Opera today. It has two main melodies- the Xipi and Erhuang. The actions of Beijing Opera performers are symbolic, rather than realistic. There are four types of roles in a performance- the Sheng, Dan, Jing and Chou. Details of these four roles can be found under the link, Chinese Opera Characters.

Shanghai Opera

Shanghai Opera performances usually employ folk-songs of the Huangpu region in its music. Performances are sung in Shanghainese, the dialect of the people of Shanghai. As compared to other types of Chinese Opera, Shanghai Opera performers generally have simpler costumes and lighter make-up. Due to the cosmopolitan nature Shanghai, western influence is said to be evident in the stories and music of Shanghai Opera.

Cantonese Opera

Cantonese Opera places a strong emphasis on good gymnastics and martial arts skills. It is broadly divided into two types of plays- Mo and Mun. Mo plays involve characters who are warriors and generals. The themes of these plays are about battles, wars, loyalty and bravery. On the other hand, Mun plays involve characters that are scholars or royalty. The themes of these plays include romance and ethics. Today, Cantonese Opera continues to thrive, mainly due to the efforts of numerous performing arts academies in Hong Kong.

Sichuan Opera

Sichuan Opera is characterized by solo performances and high-pitched tunes. It boasts of unique face-changing scenes where actors go through numerous changes of face masks within seconds. This skill is effectively mastered only by an elite few performers. Before the performance, the actor prepares layers of masks made of materials such as sheep embryo or silk. These layers are then peeled off to change the “face” of the actor quickly.

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The characters of a Chinese Opera play can be divided into 4 broad types- Dan, Sheng, Jing and Chou. An actor is usually trained to take up roles of a single type, though some versatile performers are able to master more than one type during their career. The four types are discussed below.



Dan is the general name for female roles in Chinese opera. It is interesting to note that Dan roles were played by male actors up till the 1930s, when it then became socially acceptable for females to perform in opera.  Dan is further divided into many roles which include laodan, wudan and so on. Laodan are played by older women, while Wudan refers to martial women. Young female warriors are known as Daomadan. Virtuous and elite female characters are referred to as Qingyi. The Qingyi role requires females with a high-pitched voice and good-looks, who are often more skillful actresses that are difficult to find. Vivacious and unmarried women are Huadan. A Huadan character is usually below 16 years of age, so the actress chosen for the role must correctly depict a youthful character.


The Sheng is the main male role in Beijing opera. Like the Dan, it is further divided into many subtypes. The Laosheng is a dignified older role played by older male actors while young male characters are known as Xiaosheng. The Xiaosheng character has a high, shrill voice and can only be played by younger actors. Wusheng refers to martial men. Actors playing these roles  have to sing well, and also well-versed in martial arts.






The Jing is a painted face male role and is either a primary or secondary character of a play. The personality traits of the character vary according to the colour and design of his face mask. The Jing character is a forceful one, so actors who are chosen for these roles usually have a strong voice and are able to exaggerate their movements. There are 3 main types of Jing- Tongchui, Jiazi and Wujing. The Tongchui role emphasises singing, while the Wujing role is characterised by skillful physical performances such as martial art fighting. The Jiazi role is in between, involving a good balance of both singing and fighting.




The Chou is a male clown role. This role is usually a minor role, however it can be one of the most difficult roles to perform. Chou roles can be divided into Wenchou and Wuchou. The former involves civilian roles while the latter refers to military roles. Wuchou is the more demanding of the two. It requires an actor with good humour and wit because the nature of the role gives much space for the actor to improvise and involves comic acting in addition to the usual singing. In the past, a Wuchou would burst into an unscripted folk song and the orchestra would follow suit to play the song. However, in recent years, such improvisation is rarely seen anymore.

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Chinese opera performances are renowned for heavy face makeup. There are two techniques that actors employ to put on such makeup. It is either directly painted on the face or worn as a decorated cloth. The main colour of the mask represents the character of the role played. Common colours seen in performances and their associated meanings are explained further below.  Colours like gold and silver represent  gods and spirit.


Red represents loyalty, heroism, intelligence and courage. An example would be a general of the period of the Three Kingdoms, Guan Yu, who was known for his loyalty to his Emperor, Liu Bei.

Black symbolizes forcefulness and boldness. An example of such a character is the famous Bao Gong , an impartial judge of the Song Dynasty who was described as bold and fearless.


Yellow signifies ferocity and  ambition. Yellow may also refer to a cruel and evil character.


White represents hypocrisy and craftiness. It is commonly reserved for the powerful villain of a performance.


Blue represents intelligence and loyalty. Xiahou Dun, Cao Cao’s most trusted general, is an example of a blue character.


Purple symbolizes uprightness, justice and sophistication. Sometimes, purple may substitute the colour red. An example of a purple character would be Hou Yi, a grain officer in the opera, ” Green Dragon Pass” .


Green represents a character who is impulsive and violent.

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In contrast with Western Opera, Chinese Operas have very simple props. Complicated backdrops are often not utilized. Instead, the setting of a performance is conveyed to the audience through the acting and usage of simple props.  The audience is thus given much of room for imagination.

Since there is often a lack of scenery in the form of a backdrop, Chinese opera instead utilises hand-held props to aid the audience’s understanding. For example, a performer swinging a tasseled whip illustrates a rider riding his horse. Also, dances performed with blue flags signify a flood, while those performed with red flags symbolise a fire.

Simple props found on stage, known as Qimo include articles of everyday life such as handkerchiefs, tea sets, and fans. Larger props include chairs, tables and various weapons. An imaginary room is depicted by the presence of a table and two chairs. These are usually decorated to suggest the setting of the performance. In a palace room, the table covering will be covered with dragon motifs ; while in a study, the table coverings will be embroidered with several orchids. The audience is then left to imagine the rest of the stage setting. They could imagine the area around the table and chair to be a palace, a study, or even a soldier’s tent.

The various arrangements of the props on stage hold different meanings as well. For example, when a chair is placed in front of a table, it depicts a room of an ordinary household. However, when the chair is placed behind the table, it denotes a solemn occasion such as when an emperor holds a court audience, or when a general handles military affairs.

A single prop can represent various things as well. A table can serve as a bed, a mountain, or even a cloud. For instance, an actor shows that he is sleeping by slumping over the table with his head resting on one hand. When a character of a play is climbing a hill, he will stand on a table to illustrate this. If he is climbing a high mountain, the actor will stand on a table that has been placed on top of another. Like tables, chairs are also used to represent many things such as weapons, or the entrance of a cave.

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