Asian theatre is comprised of more than one geographic area. It consists ofIndia, China and Japan. Each brought their own uniqueness to Asian theatre. Asian theatre as it pertains to China will be discussed in this chapter. AncientChinese chronicles mention other theatrical activities such as skits,pantomimes, juggling, singing and dancing. This serves as an indication thatthere were early Chinese versions of popular entertainment.
During the YuanDynasty, China was ruled not by a Chinese emperor but rather by a Mongol. Therewas an outbreak of drama in the Yuan Dynasty. Yuan drama was usually written infour acts. Usually the leading character sang all of the music in any given act. The poetic content in these plays was considered the central factor in theirsuccess.
One of the most famous plays that have survived from this period is TheRomance of the Western Chamber, by Wang Shifu. Also, by this point both malesand females alike were performing on stage. Chinese theatre in the Ming Dynasty,which came when the Mongols were overthrown after the Yuan Dynasty, brought backtraditional social behavior. A Chinese emperor was restored to the throne duringthis time.
Dramatists reverted to writing only for the elite, and theaters lostcontact with the broad public. Lute Song by Gao Ming was a best known play ofthis time. It dealt with questions of family loyalty. In particular it dealtwith a husband leaving his wife abandoned. Beijing Opera was formed fromelements of folk theater and other genres popular among ordinary people. It wasoriginally called Peking Opera because for many years it was known westerners asPeking.
It is not like the grand opera of the west. It combines music andtheater, but is also based on dance and even acrobatics. The theater arrangementfor these operas are like a modern dinner theater. The audience has dinner anddrinks as the performance goes on. The costumes and makeup are also verysymbolic. Chinese theatre has its own uniqueness.
Although other areas oftheatre have used makeup and costume symbolically, Chinese theatre symbolism isexaggerated more. The bright costumes and lavish makeup tell you a story aboutthese characters, not only their emotion. The colors and patterns of makeupsignal to he audience what kind of character the performer is playing.