Silk embroideries of Peking Opera Dancers

Peking opera or Beijing opera is a form of traditional Chinese theatre which combines music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics.

The basic colors in modern Peking opera painted faces are red, purple (or crimson), black, white, blue, green, yellow, pink, gray, gold, and silver. Originally, colors were used just to emphasize or exaggerate a person's natural complexion. Gradually colors acquired symbolic meanings. In general, red is the color of loyalty and courage; purple, of wisdom, bravery, and steadfastness; black, of loyalty and integrity; watery white, of cruelty and treachery; oily white, of an inflated, domineering person; blue, of valor and resolution; green of chivalry; yellow, of brutality; dark red, of a loyal, time-tested warrior; and gray, of an old scoundrel. Gold and silver are used on the faces and bodies of deities, Buddhas, spirits, and demons, because their sheen produces a supernatural effect.

Peking Opera costumes are very colorful and quite ostentatious at times. They are knows as xingtou or xiyi to the performers. Like the stage and the acting, they are heavily stereotyped and represent not different dynasties or seasons, but instead correspond to character types and roles. For instance, emperors and rules should wear mangpao, whichare robes embroidered with clouds, dragons and wavey patterns. An actor playing a mandarin wears a similar robe, but with a square patch on both front and back and no embroidery. Officers and soldiers wear suits of armor called kao. There are soft and hard kao for the actors to wear, a hard kao having four triangular flags strapped to the actor's back, such as the one worn by Zhao Yun in Hui Jinzhou (Returning to Jinzhou), while a soft kao having none. Some costumes have a piece of white silk stitched to each of the cuffs. This is known as shui xiu, or water sleeves. Some characters wear ling zi, two long pheasant feathers, atop their hat, crown or helmet. Both shui xiu and for acting. A performer may be directed to wave his sleeves or stroke his feathers as a means of expression.

Below are some silk embroidery paintings of Peking Opera dancers, all hand embroidered with silk threads on silk.

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