Comparing Chinese Operas to Western Ones

January 29, 2020

San Francisco Opera.com reports that Western Opera was born in Italy more than 400 years ago during the Renaissance. Western Opera is a combination of vocal and orchestral music, drama, visual arts and dance. An opera, like a play, is a dramatic form of theatre that includes scenery, props, and costumes. However, in opera, the actors are trained singers who sing their lines instead of speaking them.

How about China’s opera?

“Since the time of the Tang Dynasty’s Emperor Xuonzong from 712 to 755—who created the first national opera troupe called the ‘Pear Garden’—Chinese opera has been one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the country, but it actually started nearly a millennium before in the Yellow River Valley during the Qin Dynasty (221 to 206 BC).

“Now, more than a millennium after Xuanzong’s death, it is enjoyed by political leaders and commoners alike in many fascinating and innovative ways, and Chinese opera performers are still referred to as ‘Disciples of the Pear Garden,’ continuing to perform an astonishing 368 different forms of Chinese opera.” ꟷ Thought Co.

Not only is Chinese opera almost 1,900 years older than Western Opera, it is also culturally different.

For instance, China Highlights.com lists 7 differences: The first being “Western operas focus on powerful singing and emotional expression during the performances. The acting is self-explanatory, fluid, and life-like.

“In Beijing opera, as well as the more stylized singing, each performer’s actions are important ways to tell the story.

“The performance style is more of a rigid, symbolic visual show. For example, a performer will tie a horsewhip on their wrist and when they wave the horsewhip it means they are riding a horse.”


If you live in the United States, you do not have to travel to China to see a Chinese Opera.

“Chinese Opera, a product of Chinese tradition and innovation spanning many centuries, is at the core of traditional Chinese art. The Confucius Institute of Rutgers University (CIRU), since its establishment in 2007, has been committed to the preservation and promotion of this traditional Chinese art. For over a decade, CIRU has been hosting events and providing platforms to showcase the exquisiteness of Chinese opera. This documentary features several renowned Chinese Opera performers and their stories.” ꟷ Rutgers University

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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