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Intriguing facial makeup in Peking Opera

Guangming Online)  09:26, November 30, 2012

(file photo)

The facial makeup is a unique way of portrayal in the traditional Chinese theater. Makeup types number thousands, and different types have different meanings. At an early date, most faces were painted black, red and white. As plays increase in number, opera artists used more colors and lines to paint the faces of characters, to either exaggerate or differentiate, according to Weng Ouhong, a researcher of the classic Chinese theater.

They drew inspirations from classical novels, which portray characters as having "a face as red as a red jujube," "a face the color of dark gold," "a ginger-yellow face," "a green face with yellow beard," "a leopard-shaped head with round eyes," "a lion’s nose" or "broom-shaped eyebrows."

Color patterns painted on the faces of opera characters are called lianpu , or facial makeup. When a character’s face needs to be exaggerated, a makeup type is painted. The most common facial makeup types are jing and chou. Jing is an actor with a painted face and chou is the role of a clown.

For different roles with different makeup types, ways of color application and painting are different. For some makeup types such as one for a hero, color is applied to the face with hand; no paintbrush is used. For most types of warrior, colors mixed with oil are painted on the face, and meticulous attention is paid to shades of coloring, the size of eye sockets and the shape of the eyebrows. For treacherous court officials, the face is painted white, with the eyebrows and eye corners slightly accentuated and a couple of "treachery" lines added.

A facial makeup type points to the personality of a particular character type. A red face indicates uprightness and loyalty, a black face a rough and forthright character, a blue face bravery and pride, a white face treachery and cunning, and a face with a white patch a fawning and base character.

Making facial makeup is a special skill for Peking Opera professionals. Zhang Jinliang, a famous clown player, is able to make close to 1,000 varieties of facial makeup. This is a self-portrait of Zhang Jinliang who played Chong Gongdao in Yu Tang Chun the Courtesan.

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