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.