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Introduction | Episodes |

91 Listening to Peking opera & painting face masks 听京剧画脸谱


Hi everybody, 大家好. 欢迎收看今天的成长汉语. Thanks for joining us for today’s episode of Growing up with Chinese.

Now Mike’s mom’s tour of 北京 has officially commenced. And I hear that there’re many fabulous destinations in store for our gang. So without further ado, let’s check in with Mike and his mom and see where they’re off to today.

Mike:对对,阿姨,为什么每个演员的脸上的图案都不一样呢? 我看,即使都是男演员,可是,他们脸上图案都不同。
Mike:画脸谱?! 给我吗?

Mike:听说过,听说过,齐天大胜孙悟空嘛! 我就要拍孙悟空。



我在美国看歌剧的时候, 观众都要等演员表演结束后, 才会鼓掌. We do usually wait until a Western opera performance is over or at least at stopping point before we applaud, right? 才会鼓掌.

可我刚才看到观众们一边看戏, 一边鼓掌. And yet, just then the audience was watching and applauding all at the same time. 一边看戏, 一边鼓掌.

Now Mike’s mom even noticed that 很多观众在叫好. Many of the audience members were calling out or yelling 好! 叫好. So, the question is “doesn’t this interfere with the performer’s performance?”

这不会影响演员的表演吗? 影响演员的表演 to interfere with the performer’s performance. And the answer is, no, not in the slightest.


Now we’ll get into what I’m about to mention some more in our cultural spotlight selection today. But so that you can all follow the dialogue a bit better right now, the 生 character in 北京 opera refers to a main male character.

So the attendant at the photo studio was asking Mike what kind of main male character he wanted to be. 武生 refers to a main male character who does 武术. And probably the most famous 武生 of 北京 opera is 孙悟空 or the Monkey King. Now, Mike referred to the Monkey King as 齐天大圣孙悟空. 齐天大圣 is actually Monkey King’s self proclaimed title, hmm, which can translate as “great sage equal of heaven.”

Mike:听说过,听说过,齐天大胜孙悟空嘛! 我就要拍孙悟空。

OK, let’s take a few minutes to go over some of today’s vocabulary.

  • 鼓掌 applause, applaud. gǔ zhǎng
  • 图案 pattern, design. tú àn
  • 化妆 put on makeup. huà zhuāng


The costumes of 北京 opera performer wears are stunning to say the least*1. Now even the more simple costumes are full of embroidery and bright colors. Getting dressed and applying your makeup can take upwards of two hours can you imagine? Now this is in large part do to makeup and hair.

Now depending on the role you play, you might have different patterns to paint on your face that identifies you as a good guy or bad guy. A spirit or a living being, a king or a servant, a monkey, yes like Monkey King, or a human.

Now as far as hair goes, well, let’s just say that between wigs, individual hair pieces, decorated hair jewels, and ornaments, hats, feathers, headdresses, you’re looking at pounds of weight on your head. So much so, the many 北京 opera performers struggle with headaches in the first few years of practice. But boy*2, are they beautiful.

Now many of the stories acted out in 北京 opera come from legend, myth and history. And unlike a lot of realistic theater that we’re used to seeing these days, 北京 opera is extremely stylized*3 much like the commedia dell’arte*4 of Italy or Japanese Kabuki.

Now there are four main characters in 北京 opera. The 生 main male character, the 旦 any female character, the 净 painted face male character, usually quite a forceful character, and the 丑, the clown or comic relief.

Now obviously there are many subtypes for each character depending on the piece of opera being performed, but they all fall under one of the categories I just mentioned. And they can be identified by their costumes and makeup.


All right it’s time to look at today’s language points and to begin with we have a pattern: 与其 A 不如 B.

Now this pattern is used when you compare two things A and B. And decide to go with the latter option or B. Now oftentimes 还 is added before 不如 and so the pattern becomes 与其A还不如B.

So 小明’s mom said today “Mike, 你与其看书, 还不如自己尝试一下画京剧脸谱呢.” Mike instead of looking at it up in books, you might as well go personally to try having 北京 opera makeup put on. OK, so you could also say 与其你去, 还不如我去. Rather than you going, I will go.

  • 与其在家看电视,我们不如出去走走。/可一会儿有NBA球赛,你不看了吗?
  • 我们与其站着看别人放风筝,不如自己放。/好啊!

OK we’ve got another pattern to go over with 左 something 右 something.

Now typically the verb or phrase that comes after 左 and 右 should be the same. And it implies that something is repeated be it an action or a thing.

So Mike used the 左右 pattern this way today. 怎么左一个“生”, 右一个“生”的, 我都听不懂. What’s up with all the 生s, or a 生 here and 生 there, I don’t get any of it. Now you could say 他左说右说, 妈妈还是不让他去. No matter what he said, his mom still wouldn’t let him go.

  • 不知道兰兰现在干什么呢。/你一句兰兰,一句兰兰,不如给她打电话问啊。
  • 好一朵美丽的茉莉花”,“好一朵美丽的茉莉花”……/你怎么唱都是这一句啊。

All right, finally we gonna take a look at the expression 还在后头呢. Now this can also be said as 还在后边呢. It’s like saying X is yet to come, it can be good or it could be bad. For example, you could say to me, 这本书我刚看了开头很好看. I’ve only read the beginning of this book, but it’s already really good. And I could reply 好看的还在后头呢, 我一口气全看完了. Well the best is yet to come, I read it all in one sitting*5. OK so today 小明’s mom said 好玩儿的还在后头呢. The most fun is yet to come.

  • 哇,北海公园真漂亮!/漂亮的还在后头呢,跟我来!
  • 小明,这首歌真好听。/嗯,更好听的还在后头呢

好了, 我们今天剩的时间不多了. We’ve just about run out of time for today, I hope you all enjoyed our show.

Now, please don’t forget to visit our website if you want to review anything or watch today’s episode again, and while you are there please feel free to leave us any comments or send in any questions you have. It’s always good to hear from you and your feedback is very important to us. OK, I will see you all next time. 大家, 加油, 下次见.

*1:to say the least 控えめに言っても

*2:boy いやはや

*3:stylize 型にはめる

*4:commedia dell’arte 中世イタリア発祥の即興喜劇

*5:in one sitting 一気に