Getting Started / “Orientation” 开始

(reposted from: Apr 5, 2010)

You can download the libretti in PDF here.

This is an insert to the 1973 tour book containing (at least some of) the words in both English and Chinese to the following operas:

  • Slaying of Yen Liang (Chan Yen Liang)
  • The White Serpent (Chin Shan Szu)
  • The Paper Man (Chin Tung Yu Nu)
  • Two Loyal Officials (Erh Chin Kung)
  • The Monkey King (The Monkey King)
  • At the River Ford (Han Tsin K’ou)
  • The Cowherd and the Village Girl (Hsiao Fang Niu)

The file is about 20 MB.


See you next time,


People here in North America frequently ask me two questions about Beijing Opera. The first is, why do I love it? The second is, how can I love it?

These are two different questions.

The first is pretty easy to explain.

There came a point in my life when I consciously decided that in all things it was important to stop wasting time and to seek quality. I stopped watching television and stopped listening to the news on the radio. I stopped watching garbage movies that aim for the lowest common denominator. I stopped reading Dilbert and read Richard Feynman‘s books instead. I put the Astronomy Picture of the Day as my home page. I started to listen to Mozart as much as possible. I tried to eat better and to live as much as possible in the here and now. Once I got in that frame of mind, I became very receptive to something new and beautiful. And Beijing Opera at its best is the most heart stopping beautiful thing imaginable.

The second question is harder, but I do have an explanation for that too.

The way I see it, opera is a lot like baseball. Many people like baseball, but it has its detractors and as one friend put it, “it’s a so-called sport of grown men hanging around in pajamas”. Both baseball and opera have a lot of history and tradition, and a lot of tedious procedure. It starts slow and for a long stretch nothing remarkable or interesting goes on, it just plods along. In either western or Beijing opera, same thing, the good arias and spectacular notes are never at the beginning. A coloratura needs to warm up her voice. You have to wait for it. But what a payoff in the middle innings when it happens: suddenly there are fireworks! A home run on loaded bases! Beijing Opera performers singing the main aria and then moving with the incredible precision they have trained all their lives for! Poetry in motion, with singing! It’s not hard to get drawn in to the “how”.

Right now Beijing Opera is not advertised well by China. Some performers are simply so much better than others, but are not promoted better or differently. You first have to understand jingju, know the different schools, see the same plays a few times to figure out who you think the really outstanding performers are. The current system is a bit too egalitarian, and the dices are loaded when there are competitions. Not necessarily the brightest and the best win at the most opportune moment. I used to think I was getting it all wrong, but the Chinese audiences watching the plays on the videos react the same way I do and at the same moment. Those events are more like “lifetime recognition” awards than “choice” awards I guess.

In western opera, fans have it easier. Pretty much anyone opening and closing the season at the Metropolitan Opera is generally considered as the best. You don’t have to beat yours brains out about it, here let me help you: Fleming, Netrebko and Gheorgiu for the gals, Diego Florez for the gents, Muti for the direction. Done.

But the day will come soon when the Chinese DVDs of its brightest stars will be “all region”, in HD, and with multi-language subtitles with no spelling errors in them.

Any sane person will see then the why and the how the same way I do.


Referred to here is the 1937 book “Secrets of the Chinese Drama” by Cecilia Zung, which contains synopses for 50 Beijing Opera plays.

I found the book, now in the public domain, online at here.

Click here to download the PDF

Peking Opera

This episode is titled “Life on Tour”.

Click here to download video

Peking Opera Part 1


Géza alerted me this week to the fact that this impressive looking CCTV documentary had been translated into English.

The wonder and love shows in every scene. Needless to say, if you are new to Peking Opera, this is a splendid place to start.

The complete series is presented here:

Or click here to download the video for Part 1 from our mirror

(45 minutes, 170 MB)


Wolfram Eberhard

A history of China., [3d ed. rev. and enl.] by Wolfram Eberhard

See bio of author here.

A nice introductory external link here

Another one with too many ads here

Both discovered by twitting. Er, twittering. Er, via Twitter.

stone chimes


Today a splendid CCTV New Frontiers documentary on the history of Chinese musical instruments, in English.  Very informative and simple to understand, I learned the difference between a pipa and a ruanxian, which I have both seen played in Beijing Opera concerts!

This video is freely available from here, but although intended for western audiences, from where I am in North America it is impossible to watch one of these videos from beginning to end from the web page without serious clipping (i.e. bandwidth limitations).

Nor can the video be downloaded easily, nor once downloaded can it be assembled easily! I had the same technical issues with this one as with two parts from the Kunqu opera series I posted last week.

I am including all three parts in multiple five minute segments in one zip file. It’s a minor annoyance to have more files, but you will see that it is well worth the inconvenience!

The video comes in three parts, each roughly a half hour long. The beginning of Part 2 and Part 3 re-run about 5 minutes from the previous part right at the beginning, please note this is not a mistake on my part, but rather a desire by Chinese editors to format the videos to fit a time slot.

Click here to download a zip file containing all the video files (262 MB, videos are .mp4 format)


It seems they start to take it to heart.

The website of the Shanghai Jingju Company was revamped too!


This is really just a quick note, but might be helpful.

In case you previously bookmarked the English site of China National Peking Opera Company, delete and update the link to

The site made tremendous advancement lately, including a pretty long list of opera synopses, the articles from 2012 are written by someone who definitely can speak English. Hopefully old articles gradually get a face-lift too. Some operas got really good titles, for example the story of Jin Yunu was “translated” as Pay Your Price. Isn’t that brilliant?

Their Who’s Who is clearly in the “under construction” phase, let’s hope the new editor keeps up the good work and updates the profiles of performers, as he/she did with Dong Yuanyuan’s for example.

The pages of the old site are still online though, I don’t know it’s good or bad. I suspect they get removed when everything is rendered into final and internationally acceptable form on the new site.

Anyhow, congratulations to the new webmaster and editors of CNPOC!

Next Page »