Beijing Opera (Peking Opera) has been around since the late 18th century and was originally performed for the imperial family of the Qing Dynasty. It has enjoyed something of a revival since the Cultural Revolution, with visitors from around the globe coming to see the highly stylized costumes, dances, and singing.
While Beijing Opera—much like Western opera—is a bit of an acquired taste, it’s well-worth experiencing during your time in the Chinese capital. Beijing hosts several theaters and performance troops, including the newbie-friendly Liyuan Theatre at the Beijing Qianmen Hotel and the more traditional Huguang Guild Hall.
The most popular way to enjoy a performance is in combination with a Peking duck dinner. In addition to dining on one of the city’s most famous dishes, you can also combine your night at the opera with a nighttime walking tour of Nanluoguxiang Alley and historic Shichahai, or a full-day visit to sites, such as the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, or Summer Palace.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Beijing Opera is a must-see for music lovers, couples, and first-time visitors.
- Performances can be quite loud, so bring a pair of earplugs if you’re sensitive.
- Beijing Opera performances are almost always in Mandarin Chinese, but the elaborate makeup, costumes, and gestures help add context for English speakers.
- Guided tours to an opera performance often include hotel pickup and drop-off.
How to Get There
There are several theaters hosting traditional Peking opera performances throughout the city. The easiest and most convenient option is to book a guided tour with round-trip transportation included.
When to Get There
Chinese opera performances typically take place in the evening around 7pm and last about 90 minutes to two hours, depending on the production. It’s a good idea to arrive a few minutes early to find your seat.
It’s All in the Beard
Beijing Opera can be a bit mystifying for the first-timer, but there are many visual cues to help you understand what’s going on onstage. For example, the type of a performer’s beard can indicate the temperament of the character—ghosts and those with hot tempers often have red beards, while villains sport curly beards. Short beards demonstrate selfishness, while long and thick beards are a sign of wealth and power.