Role Types

Beijing opera has four major role types: sheng (male role), dan (female role), jing (painted face), and chou (clown) (Yi 2005: 8). Sheng roles are men with subdivisions such as xiaosheng (young man), laosheng (old man), and wusheng (military male) (28). Dan roles are female; some of the subdivisions are qingyi (young/middle age demure woman), laodan (old woman), wudan (female warrior), and huadan (vivacious young woman) (56). Jing is a male role with the actor's face covered with face paint which shows his personality (76,80). Jing actors also play supernatural beings (80). Two major roles are zhengjing (major jing), fujing (secondary jing), and wujing (military jing) (76). Chou are mostly male with civil (wenchou) and martial (wuchou) subdivisions (92) (see also Wichmann 1991:7 in Performance section).

Due to the prevalence of English writing on the chou role I have divided the web page into two sections: role types in general and chou.

1.Role Types in General

  1. To see a video of a laosheng performance by Zhu Lianzhai click on the following link:
  2. To see a video of a performance by qingyi performer Wang Rongrong and laosheng performer Zhang Jianguo click on the following link:
  3. To see a video of a jing performance by Li Changchun click on the following link:
  4. To see a video of a chou performance (performers unknown) click on the following link:


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

    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:

  • Administrator. 2010. Beijing Opera (Peking Opera). Oct. 8.

    All four roles are described in detail including sub roles and their personalities, ranks, and skills on this web page.

  • 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 Performers)

    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.


Video of a wuchou (warrior clown) performance (performer unknown)

Dazhongren. 2009. Yinyue_Chou Jingju Pianduan. (Music_Clown Beijing Opera Segment). Mar. 1. 15 Oct. 2010


  • Thrope, Ashley. 2007. The Role of the Chou ("Clown") in Traditional Chinese Drama: comedy, criticism, and cosmology on the Chinese stage. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.

    This book examines the chou role from two different viewpoints: one of history and textual analysis and the other of performance. Within these areas a wide range of topics are discussed. Some of these include the history of the chou, Beijing opera chou training, the chou's relationship with Beijing opera music, and finally, chou ritualism in Chinese theatre.

    "In Jingju [Beijing opera], the wenchou consists of seven different kinds of chou role and each sub-type requires a precise spoken and physical vocabulary in order to demonstrate characterisation clearly" (177).

  • Scott, A.C. 1975. Traditional Chinese Plays. Vol. 3. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

    Scott writes about the basic characteristics and stage manner of the chou role type. The two English language play scripts star the chou actor as well as provide a means for outsiders to study and perform Beijing opera scripts.

    "He [the clown] by the very nature of his role is customarily confined to a supporting function, but this in itself lends added piquancy to those moments when he takes over the whole stage, as he frequently does in these two pieces, keeping the pace going with an elan that eludes capture by any written description"(vii).

    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.

  • Zhang, Jinliang and Hansheng Zhang. 1996. Facial Makeup in Traditional Chinese Operas: A Hundred Chou roles. Shandong, China: Shandong Pictorial Publishing House. (also in Costumes)

    This book provides an overview of chou facial makeup in traditional Chinese operas as well as pictures and descriptions of 115 chou characters and their makeup. It also describes how different types of characters are depicted in traditional opera.

    "Such being the case, facial patterns for chou have strict distinction between each other, and change with plots and characters instead of at random" (9).

Bernhard, Hans. 1981. Peking_opera_04. Wikimedia Commons. 4 Oct 2010.