The Male Dan In Chinese Opera Essay

The Male Dan In Chinese Opera Essay

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The film, Farewell My Concubine, directed by Chen Kaige drew the attention of the western world onto Chinese Opera at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival by winning the Palme d’Or award that year. Farewell My Concubine is one of the most famous plays in Beijing Opera in which the loyalty of Yu Ji (Beauty Yu) is contested by the King of Chu when his state is defeated. The main character, Cheng Dieyi, mirrors both Mei Langfan and Yu Ji. Mei Langfan is considered the most representative artist in Beijing Opera because of his perfection as a female impersonator. Cheng Dieyi, much like Mei Langfan, is the most popular male dan(female role) at the time in the film. The most intriguing aspect of the film is the similarity between Yu Ji’s life and Cheng’s. As Director Chen explains in an interview with BOMB Magazine, “He (Cheng) blurs the distinction between theater and life, male and female. He’s addicted to his art. He’s a tragic man who only wants to pursue an ideal of beauty, to become Yu Ji, the concubine in the opera.” The film raises many questions about female impersonators’ gender identity, because in order to portray the femininity, they must think and act like women even in daily life. Many of them might undergo similar struggles Cheng suffers. While many people associate them with homosexuality and prostitution, let us examine male dans’ gender identities in various aspects.
The practice of male dan could be dated back to as early as Han dynasty (206 B.C. – A.D. 219) in which a source cites female impersonators’ performance. (Tian 79) During Tang dynasty (618-906), the Empress banned females from theatrical performances. Her order resulted in separation of “male players and female singers and dancers employed at the court.” As Tia...


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...nese Opera is a highly symbolic theater style that the mastery in posture, singing, movement coupled with costume could easily disguise an actor's identity in real life. Therefore, it is a real artistic form of drama where the skills of the actors are valued over everything. Mei Langfan, whose personal life was most written about as a Chinese opera female impersonator, had a normal family life with his wife and children and even affairs with other actresses were commonly rumored. Although other female impersonators’ personal identity had not yet been widely discussed and researched on, I believe they still possessed their own will in gender identity just like Mei whether homosexual or heterosexual despite the common association with prostitution due to the economical reasons and the femininity they present on stage might let people relate them to females more often.

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