Beijing or Peking opera (simplified Chinese: 京剧; traditional Chinese: 京劇; pinyin: Jīngjù) is a form of traditional Chinese theatre which combines music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics. It arose in the late 18th century and became fully developed and recognised by the mid-19th century.
The form was extremely popular in the Qing Dynasty court and has come to be regarded as one of the cultural treasures of China: major performance troupes are based in Beijing and Tianjin in the north, and Shanghai in the south. The art form is also preserved in Taiwan, where it is known as Guoju (國劇; pinyin: Guójù).
Beijing opera features four main types of performers; performing troupes often have several of each variety, as well as numerous secondary and tertiary performers. With their elaborate and colourful costumes, performers are the only focal points on Beijing opera's characteristically sparse stage. They utilise the skills of speech, song, dance, and combat in movements that are symbolic and suggestive, rather than realistic. Above all else, the skill of performers is evaluated according to the beauty of their movements.
Performers adhere to a variety of stylistic conventions that help audiences navigate the plot of the production. The layers of meaning within each movement must be expressed in time with music. Melodies include arias, fixed-tune melodies, and percussion patterns. The repertoire of Beijing opera includes over 1,400 works, which are based on Chinese history, folklore, and, increasingly, contemporary life.
Beijing opera was denounced as 'feudalistic' and 'bourgeoise' during the Cultural Revolution, and replaced with the eight revolutionary model operas as a means of propaganda and indoctrination. After the Cultural Revolution, these transformations were largely undone and in recent years, Beijing opera has attempted numerous reforms in response to sagging audience numbers. These reforms, which include improving performance quality, adapting new performance elements, and performing new and original plays, have met with mixed success.