Music:
Music in Chinese opera can be divided into two categories: wen (civil) and wu (military). Civil music comprises string and wind instruments that accompany the singing performed by characters such as beautiful women and scholars. Military music uses percussion instruments to accompany more dramatic moments such as hand-to-hand combat and battle scenes.
As Singapore grew more urbanised in the 1920's and 30s, Chinese opera troupes became part of new entertainment concepts such as the amusement park. Troupes such as Sin Sai Hong performed Hokkien (Fujian) opera at amusement parks owned by the Shaw Brothers in Singapore and Malaya. In the 1940s, opera was popular with radio listeners, along with modern Mandarin songs.
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1950s Vinyl Record


Hair Ornaments:
To maintain its appeal, costumes and accessories used in Chinese opera were made with materials used in contemporaneous fashion. During the pre-war years, for example, sequinned opera costumes became popular, following the trend set by troupes in Shanghai. During the post-war period, opera performers wore diamante headdress. Later, light bulbs were added to Cantonese opera costumes for increased glamour.
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Glass, Copper Alloy - Phan Watt Hong Collection

The headdress is an important part of the costume as it helps the audience to identify the performer's role. The more important the character, the more ornate and striking the headdress.
These silver hair ornaments are part of a 45-piece set used in Beijing opera for the role of qinyi (a virtuous young woman). The ornaments are richly inlaid with kingfisher feathers and carry designs with traditional and auspicious motifs such as the bat, butterfly, chrysanthemum, peony and phoenix.
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Silver, Kingfish feathers - Phan Watt Hong Collection


Child Employment:
Child apprenticeship was a common practice among Teochew (Chaozhou) opera troupes. The contract commits children to learn operatic skills at a monthly salary of about $10. It will bear the signature and thumbprints of the troupe owner, parents and the child himself/herself.

In 1949, the Labour Ordinance was amended to raise the minimum age of employment. No person below 17 years could participate in any public entertainment without a license from the Commissioner for Labour. This helped to protect the welfare of child entertainers, while it became more difficult for professional troupes to recruit child performers.
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Child employment contract


Props:
Props used in Chinese opera are often suggestive and require mimed actions to complete the representation. Stage sets are also minimal as action is conveyed instead by the actor's movements. For example, the audience discerns the presence of a door from the actor miming the unbolting and opening of an imaginary door, stepping over a threshold and closing of the door.

Chinese opera roles are classified into four main types: sheng (male characters), dan (female characters), jing (male characters with painted faces) and chou (clown). Each role has its own subcategories, performance style, make-up and costume. The female symbols of the peony and phoenix on this handcuff indicates that this prop would be used by a dan.
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Handcuff, chain and padlock


Play titles tablet, Opera scrips and Divinity blocks:
Early Chinese immigrants frequently built temples to give thanks for their safe arrival in Singapore and to pray for protection from harm and sickness. Opera and puppetry performances were often presented as offerings in return for blessings from deities such as Ma Zu (the goddess and protector of seafarers), Guan Yin (the goddess of mercy) and Guan Di (the god of war and protector of tradesmen).

This handwritten opera script and titles tablet belonged to Sin Teck Gerk, a Henghwa (Xinghua) string puppet troupe established around the 1920s. The titles tablet has two wooden blocks enclosing 21 folded sides, on which the titles of 44 plays are listed. The play to be performed will be 'decided' by the temple deity through a ritual involving a pair of kidney-shaped divining blocks.
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Play title tablets, Opera script for 'Shades of Spring Willow' and Divinity Blocks


Costumes:
In Chinese opera, each role type has specific costumes, so that the audience can easily identify the character on stage. While there are different costumes for different regional styles of Chinese opera, they generally follow the styles used during the Mind Dynasty (1368-1644), which is regarded as the golden era of Chinese opera. However, these costumes were modified to increase the dramatic appeal of the designs and to allow greater fluidity in movement.
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Chinese opera costumes are generally divided into five categories:

1) Mang (four-clawed dragon robe)
The mang is a full-length costume worn by the emperor, members of the royal family and officials of high rank. This yellow robe has a five-clawed dragon motif and is made with rich and heavy embroidery or sequins to give weight to the character's importance.
The mang is also one of the most elaborate costumes for female characters. Multi-coloured and opulently embroidered or sequinned, it is worn by the empress, princess and sometimes royal concubine. The costume is worn with a phoenix coronet (feng guan), which has a circular crown studded with costume jewellery.

2) Pei (robe with a vertical collar worn by the elite class)

3) Kao (armour)
Worn by male and female warriors in fighting scenes, the kao has brilliant colours and is heavily embroidered or sequinned with imposing motifs, such as a tiger's head on the front flap for male characters. The full regalia of kao includes four triangular pennants strapped to the performer's back, which signify that the character is fully armoured.

4) Zhe (robe with a sloping collar worn by characters regarded of status)
The zhe can be worn by any character regardless of status or identity. This type of casual gown is made of satin with the design of a sloping collar. those with detailed embroidery are called "patternised zheyi" (hua zhezi), usually worn by young male characters (xiao sheng), male warrior characters (wu sheng) and comedians (cho).

5) Yi (costumes that do not fall into the other four categories)