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Female Dan: The Art of Female Roles in Chinese Opera

Female Dan: The Art of Female Roles in Chinese Opera

Chinese opera is a rich and diverse art form that has a long history and many genres. One of the most fascinating aspects of Chinese opera is the role of female characters, or female dan. Female dan are women who play female roles in Chinese opera, often with distinctive costumes, makeup, singing styles, and movements. Female dan can also be played by male actors, who are known as nandans. This practice of female impersonation dates back to the Qing dynasty, when women were banned from performing on stage. Some of the most famous nandans in history are Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu, Shang Xiaoyun, and Xun Huisheng .

There are different types of female dan in Chinese opera, each with its own characteristics and skills. Some of the common types are:

  • Guimen dan: The role of the virtuous lady, usually young and unmarried women with high social status. They sing in a high-pitched and piercing voice and have little movement. They often wear elaborate dresses and headpieces. Examples of guimen dan roles are Du Liniang from The Peony Pavilion and Wang Baochuan from Wujiapo.
  • Zheng dan: The role of the middle-aged woman, usually married, dignified, and elegant. They are often the roles of wives and mothers. They sing in a clear and smooth voice and have more movement than guimen dan. They wear simple and elegant costumes. Examples of zheng dan roles are Lady Yang from Farewell My Concubine and Mu Guiying from The Generals of the Yang Family.
  • Hua dan: The role of the lively and vivacious woman, usually young and lower-class. They sing in a lively and expressive voice and have a lot of movement. They often wear colorful and short costumes. Examples of hua dan roles are Sun Erniang from Water Margin and Li Xiangjun from The Peach Blossom Fan.
  • Wu dan: The role of the martial woman, usually heroic and courageous. They sing in a powerful and forceful voice and have a lot of acrobatic skills. They often wear tight-fitting costumes and carry weapons. Examples of wu dan roles are Hua Mulan from Mulan Joins the Army and Princess Zhaojun from Zhaojun Goes Beyond the Frontier.
  • Lao dan: The role of the old woman, usually wise and humorous. They sing in a low and coarse voice and have moderate movement. They often wear plain and loose costumes. Examples of lao dan roles are Granny Liu from Dream of the Red Chamber and Granny Jia from The Romance of the Western Chamber.
  • Cai dan: The role of the comic woman, usually ugly and funny. They sing in a nasal and exaggerated voice and have a lot of facial expressions. They often wear ridiculous costumes. Examples of cai dan roles are Sister-in-law Tang from The Story of the Western Wing and Aunt Dou E from Dou E Yuan.

Female dan are an essential part of Chinese opera, as they portray various aspects of women’s lives, emotions, and personalities. They also showcase the beauty, grace, and skill of Chinese opera performers. Female dan are not only actors, but also artists who create their own style and interpretation of their roles.

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