Editing: Jackson Harvey
Camera: David Barnes, Shiyu Wang, Abby Sternberg
Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
[Catalog No. CFV11262; © 2019 Smithsonian Institution]
Known in Chinese as bian lian(bee-en lee-en) literally, “face changing”; a Chinese dramatic performance in which performers wear brightly colored costumes and several masks that quickly change.
, face changing
is an important aspect of Chinese Sichuan operaa type of Chinese traditional opera that originated in Sichuan, southwest China.
. Faster than the eye can detect, the faces of opera performers may change multiple times during a performance. One technique allows the performer to whisk away one facemask while another is pulled down from the top of the head by a series of silk threads attached to different parts of the costume. The secrets of face changing have been passed down from generation to generation, but only some two hundred individuals have mastered the art. Traditionally restricted to males, the practice of bian lian
is now being learned by women as well. Many of the facemasks depict well-known characters from Sichuan(sih choo-ahn)
opera. The colors range from green and blue to red, yellow, brown, and gold; they depict emotions such as fear, tension, relaxation, slyness, desperation, and outrage. In this video from the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program, China: Traditiona practice, skill, or talent that is passed down from generation to generation. and the Art of Living
Dongxiao from the Zhejiang(juh jee-ahng)
Wu Opera Troupe displays seven different faces in sixty seconds.