China’s Ancient Opera still Alive with Mao Wei Tao

Mao Wei Tao is considered a living treasure in China—she has an estimated 20 million fans. She imitates men in the opera roles she plays—a reversal from Imperial China when women were not allowed on stage so men played female roles.

“In 1923, the training of female actors for this art form was set up. Since 1928, the Shaoxing opera troupes, consisting of solely female actors, began their performances in Shanghai. In a few years, females impersonating males had become the most important feature of this opera form, and at the same time the Yue opera became well known all over China.”

East China’s Zhejiang province gave China’s Shaoxing Opera Mao Wei Tao, who in her decades long career on the stage is best known as an outstanding male impersonator with a cult following of women.

I was introduced to Yue Opera in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province more than a decade ago.

Mao Wei Tao and her husband have a theater company near the shores of the famous Westlake. My wife translated while I watched the live-opera performance in fascination.

The costumes were lavish and the acting and opera was dramatic while classical Chinese music played in the background.

The challenge today is to keep this form of Chinese opera alive, because the audience for opera is shrinking dramatically in China while remaining popular with the older generation.

Television, movies and the Internet are claiming the shorter attention spans of younger Chinese.

Mao Wei Tao, considered an innovative genius on stage, adapts and works to keep the art form alive. According to her husband, no two performances are exactly alike.

In November 2010, she performed in Taiwan as a cultural ambassador from the mainland. Today, “the company continues to tour and has staged productions in Paris, Hong Kong, Korea, Macau, Taiwan, the United States, Singapore, Spain, Holland, France, Belgium and Japan.”  –


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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