It is said that Peking Opera has multiple origins. But, whatever are the origins of this opera, the make-up is a significant component because of its creative value.
Peking Opera Facial Make Up being extremely artistic, an assured talent is required to realize them. Just like for calligraphy and painting, the brush must be handled with potency and precision as the application of colours solicit harmony between strong tints and light tints. Drawing the lines requisite to use some very fine ink; it is only like this that make-up becomes alive and full of meaning gifted to draw the attention.
Traditional make-ups, close to masks, and elaborate costumes allow spectators to identify easily characters.
Facial make-up used in Peking Opera get its origin in entertainments dating back about 1 400 years. The various make-up colours, as well as the diverse facial expressions, represent the different personalities and fates of the roles.
Usually before a Peking opera stage, members of the audience can, before the entrance of the artists, attend the traditional make-up, which is an art in itself and transforms faces into real masks.
Peking Opera Facial Make Up is very specific. The make-up is marked and erudite. It has value of symbol. It reveals the soul of the character. Certain colours are used to emphasize qualities and imperfections. Make-up indicates the nature of the character. It is always very beautiful and covers completely the face. It is minutely executed according to rules of the kind.
The actors playing the main male role, the Sheng (生), and the Dan (旦) referring to any female role draw false eyebrows or encircle their eyes in black.
The Jing (净) is a painted face male role. The patterns and colouring are thought to be derived from traditional Chinese colour symbolism and divination on the lines of a person's face, which is said to reveal personality. Easily recognizable examples of colouring include red, which denotes uprightness and loyalty, white, which represents evil or crafty characters, and black, which is given to characters of soundness and integrity.
It is around the 12th-13th centuries that appeared clowns' masks with a big white spot in the middle of the face. However, as far as the art of Chinese operas develops, wearing a mask occur to bother more and more the actors on the stage.
The actors then choice powder, ink, make-up, soot scratched on the bottom of pans, to paint directly their face. This is the way the masks of Peking Opera are gradually born.
As the operas were especially sung outdoors, the spectators sat far from the stage and so could not see clearly the expression of actors’ face. But when those had the face painted like a mask, the assistance could perceive clearly their expression.
For the Dan role or feminine role, the Peking opera mask endows the actress of an oval face, a pointed chin, curved eyebrows, eyes in the shape of almonds and a rose button mouth, the idealized Chinese concept of feminine beauty.
Naturally round or angular, the visage of an actress can be transformed to seem perfectly oval thanks to a hairpiece (pianzi), stuck on the forehead and on temples. Other aesthetic attributes are created by white powder, blusher, lipstick and kohl for eyes.
Subtle differences of application distinguish the civil roles of the military roles; the eyebrows of general and warriors are curved upward over excessively big eyes, what stresses their military role.
To describe an angry man, the Chinese people often say: "spit beard and fire ". This is directly connected to the way with which anger is expressed in Peking opera because the rankou (artificial beard) is made with hair horse and is hung over actor’s ears.
To shake the rankou evokes enjoyment, and when the character sings: "I am so old that my hair are as white as the snow ", he makes rest his beard on his two palms, with a resigned manifestation. There are more than about ten techniques of representation linked to the beard - rankou gong-, and each is carefully choreographed to express its particular meaning.
Rankou has various colours: black, grey, white, red, blue or purple, and more than 20 different forms which indicate the social status and the nature of the character. The characters with red favourites are passionate and heroic, while the devils and the monsters wear a blue beard.
The mask of the male roles expresses their respective characteristics. The face of Guan Yu, a hero of the period of Three Kingdoms, is in compliance with the historic records: «red with eyebrows in the shape of vast silkworm, restrained eyes and a long beard. »
Given that Guan Yu embodied the Confucian virtues of compassion and integrity, the red mask denotes the righteousness.
Later, the eunuchs were depicted with red faces, what, in their case, indicates a well-being acquired at the expense of cruelly oppressed persons, but the eyebrows, eyes and mouth of these villains distinguish them from the virtuous role of Guan Yu.
Xue Gang deficiencies, the central figure of another Peking opera, are obvious in its white make-up which covers all the face up to lips. This one is the descendant of a hero, his rude behaviour had for consequence the execution of all his family.
The aspects of the mask of a male role also indicate its power and quality. For example, on the face of Zhao Kuangyin, Song dynasty founder and emperor appears a small dragon which announces its future glory.
Some of male roles make-ups also incorporate Chinese characters, in particular that of the Yang Yansi, seventh son of Yang Jiye and hero who excelled in martial arts. The face looks like a stylized tiger, and on his forehead, the symbol hu (tiger) is painted.
Also, Xiang Yu, the hero who knocked down the tyrannical dynasty of Qin, but who died tragically while he was still young, wears on each side of the face the Chinese shou inscription (longevity), what means that his heroism made him immortal. The make-up of the support roles is much simpler.
All these cosmetic complexities are not obvious for all the spectators, particularly for those who sit in the back row, where from the saying: "at distance judge a character by the colour of the face, and closely, by its characteristics. » The basic colour of every style of mask is eloquent. A white face indicates the ability, and a black, the incorruptibility. A yellow face indicates the courage and the bravery, blue and green are used for faces of hero like Robin Hood, and gold and silver symbolize gods.
The mask of famous Zhong Kui is known for its bat shape, a symbol of happiness because its pronunciation in Chinese is a homonym of that of the word happiness.
The bat motive symbolizes the happiness which he brings to the mortal, and the red ingot in the shape of a shoe on his forehead evokes its death, while it will rush the head against a pillar, as well as its noble character.
A smaller gold bat on his forehead indicates its god's status, and the red brown on the cheeks, its dignity. The black and white lines on the face symbolize its righteousness, and its smiling expression reflects its innate good mood.
Peking opera is an art which tries hard to make known in a blow of eye about the viewers which roles are played. The archetypes which it creates also serve as model, by assuming the virtues and the qualities which are admired in China and in all the countries.