Chinese theatre draws on very different traditions from western theatre. The crucial difference is the importance of music to Chinese theatre, and thus it is usually referred to as opera. Contemporary Chinese theatre, of which the most famous is Beijing opera, has a continuous history of some 900 years, having evolved from a convergence of comic and balladic traditions in the Northern Song period. From this beginning, Chinese opera has been the meeting ground for a disparate range of forms: acrobatics ,martial arts, poetic arias and stylized dance.
Operas were usually performed by traveling troupes whose social status was very low in traditional Chinese society. In the past Chinese law also forbade mixed-sex performances, forcing actors to act out roles of the opposite sex.
Despite this, opera remained a popular form of entertainment, although it was considered unworthy of the attention of the scholar class. Performances were considered an obligatory adjunct to New Year celebrations and marriages, and sometimes to funerals and ancestral ceremonies.
Opera performances usually take place on a bare stage, with the actors taking on stylized roles that are instantly recognizable to the audience. The four major roles are: the female role, the male role，the ‘painted-face’ role (for gods and warriors ) and the clown.