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Facial Makeups in Operas (Lianpu)

Typical characters are Cao Cao, powerful and cruel prime minister in the time of the Three Kingdoms, and Qin Hui, treacherous Song Dynasty prime minister who put the national hero Yue Fei to death.

All the above facial makeups belong to a category of characters collectively called jing - all males with pronounced personal traits.

For the clowns of traditional drama, there is a special makeup called xiaohualian (the petty painted face), i.e., a small patch of chalk on and around the nose to show a mean and secretive character, such as Jiang Gan of the Three Kingdoms who fawned upon Cao Cao. It is also occasionally painted on a young page or an ordinary workingman, often to enhance his wit, humour or jesting and to enliven up the performance.

Another type of players, called "acrobatic clowns" (wuchou), are also touched up with a tiny patch of white on the tip of the nose to show an astute mind, a keen and quick wit. Several of

the stage heroes from the novel Water Margin are made up in this way.

The facial makeups date a long time back to the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271 - 1368) dynasties at least. Simple patterns of painted faces are found in tomb murals of that age. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), improvements were made in the skills of drawing and in preparing the paints, leading to the whole set of colourful facial patterns that we see in today's Jingju (Peking Opera )

As to the origin of the facial makeup, it is still largely a matter for conjecture. And there are different theories:

1) It is believed that primitive hunters painted their faces to frighten off the wild beasts, and highwaymen in the old days did the same to hide their identity and also to overawe the wayfarers they were to rob. Either practice may have led to the emergence of dramatic facial makeups.

Historically Cao Cao was astatesman of great talent and bold vision, yet through
the bias of early writers, has been presented on the stage as a wicked man behind
the facade of a white face.

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