Getting Started / “Orientation” 开始


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!

Head dress collection

I recommend this nice video on Youtube in Chinese with English subtitles.

I learned what the crescent means on Judge Bao’s forehead, saw some impressive handkerchief waving and of course, got to see some monkeying around by the king.

Géza wrote me today:

Dear Bertrand:

I read with interest your discussion about creating an index for Chinese Opera titles. It would be a helpful way to find operas on your website. However, I would like to add my two cents worth to this discussion, since it is also of interest to me.

Both you and Nora are very familiar with many operas since you have been extensively involved with them and therefore know many titles. Any way you would list them would be useful to you. However, that is not the case for me (or to other “novices”) like me.

I have recorded many operas from CCTV, but I do not know the titles to any of them! The reason for this is twofold.

1. I do not speak Chinese; therefore, I did not learn the title to any of the operas I watched and recorded.

2. Because the program guide given by CCTV is non-descriptive and inaccurate, all the operas I recorded are missing the titles and the first 5 to 15 minutes! I record them when I happen to catch them.

Based on the above, Your list would not be useful for me and to any others having the same problems.

However, there is a way by which I could locate an opera without knowing the title: Opera for Dummies.

By providing several pictures of signature scenes with the titles would make identification possible.

For example:



I know it is rather primitive, but effective for novices like me and others. We need to encourage the participation of other lovers of Chinese operas. This is how I found the titles to these two operas from you website.

I know the feeling well! This website is borne of the same need to understand. Fortunately Fern and I have been instrumental in putting down in writing what we have learned so far, so others won’t have to start from scratch like we did.

There are characters in Beijing Opera such as the white snake, Judge Bao or the Monkey King who are very easy to spot. Some of them , however, appear in many different operas, so that might not help you figure out why Judge Bao is about to chop a neck.

Costumes are unique to a major character throughout all operas so that can help, the Unicorn Purse red headdress is immediately recognisable for example, but there are variations in costumes between productions are troupes: Alexandra Bonds in her book on Beijing Opera costumes shows all the variations in costumes by photos for one opera and it takes up a full chapter.

The China National Peking Opera Company made an effort to list their productions in exactly the way you describe. Take a look at:

A little surfing might turn up something interesting. Unfortunately that web site is not up to date and has a lot of mistakes Perhaps the Chinese Ministry of Culture will think of sending me plane fare to Beijing to take up the task in person, one can only hope (naturally I will need to see at least one opera every day for research and all the dim sum I can eat). My family will be happy to get rid of me. Er… I mean, they will be happy to bear the sacrifice.

There are some approaches which I have found help me to identify an opera: first and foremost, rely on Fern. ;)  When looking at results for a search for “京剧” (jingju) in peer-to-peer programs, I searchFern’s list of opera titles by Chinese title. When I search for links on the Verycd web site, I compare dates and file sizes with Fern’s current list of videos.

When you are lucky, state Chinese web sites will also provide information in English.

The approach I like best is to latch on to a performer and find out all about them. Usually a performer has a limited repertoire that is repeated numerous times. Googling a performer by his Chinese name along with 京剧 and using either Bing or Google translate will go quite a long way. We have put in some effort to add the Chinese names of performers in the website’s sidebar to be copied and pasted for just such a purpose.

I hope this gets you started!



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