"Lianpu" (painted face) was an important part of make-up in Beijing opera. It distinguished the dispositions of different roles and revealed their moral qualities via exaggerated colors and lines. Of the four roles, sheng, dan, jing and chou, only jing and chou roles had elaborate lianpu, while sheng and usually just wore light make-up.
The origin of lianpu can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty, when actors in dances wore masks and in the roles of fu jing in the canjun comedy painted colorful patterns on their faces. Nanxi (southern opera) and zaju (variety play) inherited this tradition. But at the beginning, it was a very simple make up composition. For example, a white stain in the center of a face was used as a nose, two white rims as eyes, and a few black lines as wrinkles on the forehead. With the development of drama, lianpu became more elaborate, complex and varied.
Lianpu could be classified into several major types, and more subtypes were developed in combination with the characters and dispositions of different roles. The composition of each lianpu was designed in accordance with the appearance and characters of the role in the play. The basic types were: whole-face, three-tile face, lopsided face, crown face and fabled face. The last type was used for the images of gods or monsters in fairy tales. These faces were so painted as to offer a vivid hint of what beings they were meant to represent. The monkey face in The Journey to the West was perhaps the most renowned face painting.
Each different color for lianpu had its own symbolic implication. In general, color was a symbol of the character's nature. For instance, red meant loyalty and bravery; black implied justice and power; yellow denoted cruelty and viciousness, though this did not mean that the colors had a definite one-to-one correspondence to their symbolic meanings.
^ Back to Top