Facial Makeup in Peking Opera



Peking Opera uses different colours in facial make-up to exaggerate or distort a performers' features, but originally, only three colours were used -- red, white and black - each with its own symbolic meaning. Red is the colour of loyalty, integrity and courage; black suggests a serious and taciturn disposition, including with it strength and roughness; white reveals a crafty and suspicious character. Later, other colours were gradually incorporated, such as purple -- a symbol of solemnity, serenity and a sense of justice; yellow, representing intelligence and calculation or bravery when used in warrior roles; blue shows uprightness and stubbornness; green indicates bravery and irascibility; and gold and silver are sometimes used on the faces of immortals, demons and monsters. Different colours also distinguish nobility from the common folk, goodness from evil or loyalty from treachery.



Of the four roles of Peking Opera -- sheng, dan, jing and chou, only the jing and chou roles have elaborate facial make-up. There are relatively few make-up patterns for a chou role -- the most common being a white nose for comic effect. The make-up pattern of jing-role patterns are much more complicated and varied, they include the "whole-face," "three-tile face," "quartered face," "six-division face," "tiny-flowered face" and "lopsided face." Each pattern is rooted in its ability to reflect subtle and interesting changes in a human facial expressions, and each pattern has its own symbolic meaning. In the case of Meng Liang, a warrior of the Song Dynasty, Red was the main colour of his facial make-up. On his forehead is the pattern of an inverted hulu (or gourd). This pattern represents a particular weapon called huohulu (or "gourd containing fire lighter") he uses.
Although facial make-up is extremely stylized in terms of colours and patterns used, no two painted faces are alike. For instance, there are more than 100 face-painting styles designed for Xiang Yu, the hero of Farewell My Concubine, and each one is very different.