Beijing opera had many famous performers. Some in the nineteenth century were Cheng Changgeng (1811-1880), Yu Sansheng (end of 18th century--mid 19th century) and Zhang Erkui (1814-60) (Yi 2005: 100). They established the laosheng (old man) role 's "former Three Schools." Three later performers, Tan Xinpei (1847-1917), Wang Guifen (1860-1909), and Sun Juxian (1941-1931) formed the laosheng "Later schools" (101-103). In the early twentieth century a set of four male dan (female role) actors made their mark on Beijing opera: Mei Lanfang (1894-1961), Shang Xiaoyun (1899-1976), Cheng Yanqiu (1904-54), and Xun Huisheng (1899-1968) (113-115).

One of these performers, Mei Lanfang, became one of Beijing opera's most famous performers. Within the first twenty years of his life Mei Lanfang became famous in Beijing and then Shanghai(Scott 1957: 59). He then went on to promote Beijing opera through international tours to Japan (1919, 1924, and 1956), Russia (1935), and the United States (1930) (Wu 1981: 1). Mei Lanfang also helped to create new plays and costumes (Li 2010: 48). After the 1949 when the People's Republic of China was established he continued to perform and give tours (Wu: 1, 12). He has his own section of the webpage.

Later generations carry on Beijing opera. Performers of these generations are discussed by Li Ruru and are found on the internet resources.

Finally, the web page is divided into two sections: performers in general and Mei Lanfang.

1.Performers in General

A video of the famous laosheng performer Zhou Xinfeng (1894-1975) (Yi 108).
laoda312. 2007. Jing ju zhou xin fang (Beijing opera's Zhou Xinfang). Youku. 15 Oct. 2010.


  • Li, Ruru. 2010. The Soul of Beijing Opera: Theatrical Creativity and Continuity in the Changing World. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.(also in International Exchanges)

    Li Ruru studies the changes in Beijing opera over the past century through describing the lives of and issues undergone by six performers in China and Taiwan: Cheng Yanqi, Li Yuru, Ma Yongan, Yan Qinggu, Kuo Hsiao-chuang, and Wu Hsing-kuo. A short epilogue outlines the current situation of Beijing opera from 2005 to 2008 and the possible future.

    "Performers and their endeavors in their new work re-form but also continue the tradition, and the dynamics between the creativity and continuity form the "soul of jingju [Beijing opera]," which has made the theatre relevant to audiences since its inception about two hundred years ago" (10).

  • Yi, Bian. 2005. Peking opera: the cream of Chinese culture. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press. (also in Role Types)

    This book introduces Beijing opera role types, performing school styles, and costumes and stories associated with each role. The book is divided into introductory, and role types (sheng, dan, jing, and chou) with its own categories. An index also includes a detailed description of Beijing opera schools and representative plays.

    "The sheng is the male protagonist, the dan the female protagonist, the jing a male supporting figure with distinct characteristics, and chou a comic or negative figure or foil for the protagonist" (8).

Internet Resources:

  • California Institute for Chinese Performing Arts. 2010. Hu Wen-ge. Oct 8.

    Hu Wen-ge is a young male actor playing the female role type qingyi. This website briefly describes his background and contains a picture of him in and out of costume.

  • China Daily. 2010. Female Peking Opera Star Playing Men's Roles has Sex Appeal. Oct. 8.

    This web page is an article about a 32 year old Beijing opera actress, Wang Peiyu who specializes in the male laosheng role. She was trained as a Beijing opera actress and is currently trying to promote Beijing opera through lectures and new performances.

  • Sherman. 2010. Four Roles of Peking Opera: Sheng, Dan.Jing, and Chou [spacing as appeared on the web page]. Jan. 19. Oct. 8.(also in Role Types)

    The four role types and some famous actors associated with certain role types are described on this webpage. Of particular interest is the short paragraph on how roles are assigned to entering students in Beijing opera schools.

  • Wang, Xu-Ming. 1997. Beijing Opera Famous Players. 8 Oct. 2010.

    Ten famous male performers who were active from the late nineteenth to around the mid-twentieth century are listed on the web page within the Beijing opera website under the link by Xu-Ming Wang. Their role type and the plays that they created are also included.

2.Mei Lanfang

gustavosthomasteato. 2010. Old Mei Lanfang giving Beijing Opera lessons (1960). Feb. 10. Youtube. 8 Oct. 2010.

gustavosthomasteato. 2010. Mei Lanfang: "The Drunken Beauty" Choreography Plates (1930). Feb. 10. Youtube. Oct. 9


  • Li, Ling and Juan Cao. 2006. Mei Lanfang, the art of Beijing opera: an illustrated record of Mei Lanfang's performances. New York: Better Link Press.

    This illustrated book not only contains Mei Lanfang's costumes and choreography in twenty-five plays, but also describes props, facial paint, headdresses, and weapons of traditional Beijing opera. A short foreword describing Mei's 1930 tour to America and photos next to each play of Mei Lanfang performance brings deeper insight into his life and performance.

    "Before they left for the U.S., the troupe had commissioned the top artists to design the costumes, the masks, and the instruments. They also had a scrolls [sic] painted to introduce the Beijing Opera to the American audience(...)This book is a collection of some of the painted scrolls Mei traveled with over 70 years ago " (15).

  • Scott. A.C. 1957. Mei Lan-fang, Leader of the Pear Garden. Hong Kong: Cathay Press.

    Scott writes in a novel like style, captivating the reader with events from Mei Lanfang's life up to 1957. Partly based on a two hour interview with Mei Lanfang in 1956, this book describes events such as family life in Beijing as well as his American tour in 1930. A brief introduction of Beijing opera as well as impressions of Beijing and Shanghai in the late imperial and Republican period are also provided.

    "Mei Lan-fang was fourteen when he left the training school and began his professional career while continuing to study under his uncle and Wang Yao-ch'ing" (37).

    This book uses the Wade-Giles romanization instead of the pinyin. If you want to convert Wade-Giles to pinyin click on the Wade-Giles convertor link below.

    Library of Congress Pinyin Conversion Project. 1999. New Chinese Romanization Guidelines. Library of Congress. May 28. 28 Sept. 2010.

  • Wu Zuguang, Zuolin Huang, and Shaowu Mei. 1981. Peking Opera and Mei Lanfang: A Guide to China's Traditional Theatre and the Art of Its Great Master. Beijing: New World Press.

    In the first half of the book, three Chinese writers, Wu, Huang, and Mei, discuss Mei Lanfang's history, similarities to Stranislavsky and Brecht, and comments by non-Chinese on his performances abroad. Mei Lanfang writings on his performance career are also in this first section. The second half contains an introduction to Beijing opera role, song and speech, acting, costumes, stage props and symbolism, musical instruments and synopses of twenty-five Beijing operas.

    "[During the years of Japanese occupation of China Mei Lanfang] pawned and sold his belongings to support his family and impoverished friends in the same profession and managed to earn a living by painting" (13).

Internet Resources:

  • Mei Lanfang Memorial Museum. 2002. Mei Lanfang. 8 Oct. 2010.

    This website provides an introduction to Mei Lanfang, his family, and his hobby and passion of painting. Detailed biographies of his four children is of particular interest.

  • 2010. Former residence of Mei Lanfang. China Information Center. Oct. 8.

    A picture of Mei Lanfang's bust, his Beijing residence address, and his publications are on this web page.