Comprehensiveness - Beijing opera was a comprehensive artistic form covering chang (singing), nian (reciting), zuo (acting) and da (acrobatic fighting). Nian could be further divided into two categories according to different accents of its language, namely, yunbai (literally, rhymed speaking) and jingbai (literally, speaking with the Beijing accent). Yunbai developed from the accents of Hubei and Anhui - melodious, semi-classic and fairly elegant. Yunbai was usually used in roles from high social classes. Jingbai, on the other hand, was based on the Beijing accent. It sounded clear and straightforward, and was generally used in roles with low status. Zuo included body postures, eye expressions, solo dance, group dance, etc. As for the dances, some were real stage dances, but most were artistically transformed life routines. Da (literally, fighting), a mixture of martial arts and acrobatics, could be used in scenes of gongfu competition and fighting.
Simulation - In Beijing opera, characters' acting and stage settings were mostly simulated.
Among these simulated acts, some were the imitation of real-life behavior such as door-opening, door-closing and drinking. Such acts were similar to real life. Others, a larger and more important proportion, were of generalized and exaggerated actions, quite different from those in real life. For example, the act of spurring a galloping horse on a Beijing opera stage could be implied through a sequence of actions, including running around, turning back, whipping the horse and reining it in. On the stage, actors used such actions to express the feelings and manners of the characters.
Beijing opera also used pretend settings. For example, in acting door-opening and window-opening, there were no real doors or windows; a scene where boats floated along a river was conveyed through the characters' acting. The settings were created and carried along with the actors when they came up and acted on the stage. By using their imaginations, the audience could grasp the situations and background of the story.
In addition, the performance of Beijing opera could transcend the limitations of time and space. On stage, the most important parts were always highlighted: A flash of thought could be expressed in long singing, while walking around the stage could mean a journey covering thousands of miles. Two events that happened at different times and locations could appear on the stage simultaneously.
Formalization - meant that many acts borrowed from real life gradually became fixed and standardized on the stage to be observed by actors and accepted by the audience. For example, if death, or fainting due to shock, sorrow or despair had to be expressed, the actor had to do a formalized act called "jiangshi dao" (dead-body fall). He would fall backwards (sometimes frontwards) like a corpse, with his whole body looking quite stiff.
Exaggeration - Acting in Beijing opera also featured exaggeration. Even a simple act in real life, such as pointing with a finger, was embroidered into a series of acts with both fingers and eye expressions. The manner of speaking in Beijing opera was also overacted in diction, intonation and rhythm. It could be said that exaggeration was involved throughout the whole performance of Beijing opera.
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