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Beijing Opera 'Faces'

The Usage of the 'Faces'

The 'faces' in Beijing Opera or Lian Pu mean the types of facial make-up or face-painting. In the performances, they are exaggeratively to express the dramatis personae' character, psychology and physiology. In the Beijing Opera, the 'faces' can serve for the plot of the play. They are considered to be able to strike a chord for the audiences.

Significances of Different Color 'Faces'

In Beijing Opera, different types of facial paintings express different significances. Anyone, a historic figure or any persona has a specific type of facial painting. Take some examples: red facial painting symbolizes loyalty, bravery, justness and uprightness. The type of the characters of Guan Yu, Jiang Wei and Chang Yu Chun are of this kind; black facial make-up has a meaning of uprightness, unyieldingness, intrepidity, even of impertinence. Such typical make-up as that of Bao Zheng, Zhang Fei, Li Kui; yellow face make-up indicates that the characters are homicidal and tyrannical e.g. Yu Wen Chengdu and Dian Wei; blue and green face-painting show that the characters have a forthright and testy temper. The most typical characters are Ma Wu and Dou Erdun; white 'face' is usually used to point the treacherous and evil men like Cao Cao, Zhao Gao etc. (See the pics below)

How to Paint the Face

Painting the opera face is considered as a principal step in Beijing Opera performance. Basically, kneading, plastering and delineating are the three primary methods. Here is a face-painting process of the persona Dou Er Dun in the play Stealing The Imperial's Horse.

Clean the face and paint base. First washing your face, then dip your fingers into the water-white color and knead your face. This step is for getting rid off the oil on your face. It makes the colors can be easily drawn on the face.

Locate the positions of the persona's facial features on your face, and then knead your eyes and nasal fossa. Dip some water-blue color to plaster the rough outline of the forehead, an upright line on the forehead and the cheek. Use the black greasepaint (thinly) to locate the eyes and the noste. Leave the white of the eye in your eyehole.

(The above two steps are finished by fingers, hence called "finger kneading".)

Use the paintbrush to dip the strong water-white and delineate the gallbladder ophryon patterns, eyebrow sockets, white glabella lines, white lines under the eyehole, white base on the nose, two white writ lines on both sides of the nasal fossa. Dot the two whites of the eyes in the black eye sockets. Finally, delineate white the chin.

Use a paintbrush to delineate the eye sockets with strong black greasepaint , leave the white of the eyes, then draw the mouth fossae; put the paintbrush away, pick up the writing brush and dip some ink to draw the double-hook shaped patterns in the white eyebrows (near the eye sockets). After that, draw two unciform patterns on your white chin.  

Paint red (red greasepaint) the white gallbladder ophryon patterns with pen brush, leave the symmetrical white edges. Polish the outward nose; delineate two red lines on the two white writ patterns (must be thinly and strongly) respectively, while you are about them delineate red the ends of the eyebrow and paint red the lips.

Use the strong water-blue to draw your forehead and the cheek. Lastly, put the yellow greasepaint in the middle of the white eyebrows. The whole make-up is finished.

Note 1:
For seeking a perfect dynamic expression of the persona in the play performance, the patterns between the white eyebrows, the white patterns under the eye sockets, the  writ patterns and the white of the eyes should be delineated loosen. The double-hook shaped patterns in the white eyebrows are symbolically, don't paint so realistically. The gallbladder ophryon patterns indicate that Dou Er Dun is so bold and skillful in Kung Fu that he dared to sneak to the camp to steal the emperor's horse. The two patterns should be delineated markedly.

Note 2:
Guan Yu (160?-220 A.D.), Zhang Fei(?-221 A.D.), Jiang Wei(202-264 A.D.), Dian Wei(? - 197) and Cao Cao (155~220 A.D.) are the people in the Three Kingdoms Period (184-280 A. D.). The classical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms (by Luo Guan Zhong in the Ming Dynasty) depicts them a lot; Chang Yu Chun(1330~1369 A.D.), a famous general in the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 A.D.); Bao Zheng aka Bao Gong (999-1062 A.D.), a famous honest and upright official in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127 A.D.); Li Kui,one of the Mount Liang heroes in the classical novel Water Margin (by Shi Nai An in the Ming Dynasty); Yu Wen Chengdu, a persona in the novels The Stories of Tang and The Flourishing Tang. Dou Er Dun, a legendary hero depicted a lot in many Qing Dynasty novels. Ma Wu (?-61 A.D.), a famous general in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 A.D.); Zhao Gao (259 - 207 B.C.), a treacherous court official in the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.).

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