Chinese Face Changer
The face changing, or "bian lian" in Chinese, is an important aspect of Chinese Sichuan opera. Performers wave their arms and twist their heads, and their painted masks change again and again and again.
Face changing began 300 years ago, during the reign of the Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795). At the beginning opera masters changed the color of their face during performances by blowing into a bowl of red, black or gold powder. The powder would adhere to their oiled skin quickly. In another method, actors would smear their faces with colored paste concealed in the palms of their hands.
Face-changing was first used in a story about a hero who stole from the rich to help the poor. When he was caught by feudal officials, he changed his face to puzzle them and escaped as a result.
By the 1920s, opera masters began using layers of masks made of oiled paper or dried pig bladder. Skilled performers could peel off one mask after another in less than a second. Modern-day masters use full-face painted silk masks, which can be worn in layers of as many as twenty-four, and be pulled off one by one.
Watch as the next two images are in sync with the performance of the master as he is changing his face.
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