Magical Face Changes in Sichuan Opera

Sichuan Opera
Sichuan Opera
Sichuan Opera (Chuan Ju) originated at the end of the Ming (1368-1644) and the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). With immigrants flooding into Sichuan, different dramas were brought in to blend with the local dialect, customs, folk music and dances. Gradually, brisk humorous Sichuan Opera, reflecting Sichuan culture, came into being. Face changing is the highlight of Sichuan Opera. It is said that ancient people painted their faces to drive away wild animals. Sichuan Opera absorbs this ancient skill and perfects it into an art. There are three types of face changes. In the Wiping Mask routine the actor applies cosmetic paint in a certain position on his face. If the whole face is to be changed, the cosmetic paint is applied to the forehead or eyebrows; for changes on the lower half of the face, paint is applied to his cheeks or nose; or to other specific parts. The Blowing Mask routine works with powder cosmetics, such as gold, silver, and ink powders. Sometimes a tiny box is placed on the stage; the actor draws near and blows at the box. The powder will puff up and stick to the face. Sometimes the powder is put in a cup. The secret to success in this act is to close the eyes and mouth and to hold the breath. The Pulling Mask routine is the most complicated. Masks are painted on pieces of damask, well cut, hung with a silk thread, and the lightly pasted to the face one by one. The silk thread is fastened in an inconspicuous part of the costume. With a flick of his cloak the performer magically whisks away the masks one by one as the drama develops. One Sichuan Opera master also used qi gong movements as he changed face color from red to white, then from white to black. Face changing is a magical art. Actors change more than 10 masks in less than 20 seconds! By raising the hand, swinging a sleeve or tossing the head, an actor uses different masks to show different emotions, expressing invisible and intangible feelings through visible and tangible masks. From green to blue, red, yellow, brown, black, dark and gold, these masks show fear, tension, relaxation, slyness, desperation, outrage, and so on. Sichuan Opera master Peng Denghuai changed 14 masks in 25 seconds, and reverted to four masks after revealing his true face. This was his latest Guinness World record, breaking his previous one. Hong Kong super star Andy Lau was said to respect Mr. Peng as teacher and mentor in this stunt. Today hi-tech is used to enhance this traditional art. Lasers and twinkling lights add a touch of mystery. And modern faces like Zorro are invited to the stage. Sichuan Opera, like hot-pot and other Sichuan cuisine winners, is exciting, rich and good-natured.

Yellow hat Monk
Yellow hat Monk

Tibetan Monks
Tibetan Monks
The government of a Tibetan Monastery may be described as a pyramid organized into three levels. At the lowest level the general monk population is divided into groups called ‘khangchens'(or ‘michens’). Monks are organized into “khangchens” by their place of origin. Each “khangchens” consists of about 100 monks, with the one topmost in seniority serving as the “jigen” or leader. An executive committee within the ‘khangchen’ handles the day-to-day affairs. The level above the ‘khangchen’ is the ‘dratsang’ or school (it is more fashionable to call it ‘University’). Usually formed by several ‘khangchens’, each ‘dratsang’ is run more or less independently. Resembling a monastery within a monastery, each has its own prayer hall, library and monks, and possesses its own land, pastures and housing. However, ‘dratsangs’ differ from each other in size and wealth. Some of them are so small that they have no `khangchen’ under them. Some ‘dratsangs’ are schools of exoteric Buddhism, and some of esoteric or tantric Buddhism. While in Tibet we met a lot of monks. Roughly monks in Tibet are categorized as follows :
a) Lama
The term ‘lama’, meaning ‘guru’ or master in Tibetan, used to be the tittle reserved solely for high-ranking or accomplished Tibetan Buddhist monk, ordinary monks were merely ‘drapas’. Later, as ‘lama’ came to be used as a polite form od address for any ‘drapa’, it became a common misnomer for all Tibetan monks.
b) Monks
Tibetan Buddhism used to have private tutorships for monks. Ge-lug-pa started a school system for monks. That is the ‘dratsang’ system. All sects, including Bonism, adopted this system. In a monastery, monks are divided into four groups:
(1). Monk students of exoteric and esoteric Buddhism. Called ‘bachogwa’ (scholars) in Tibetan, these monks, are prospective holders of the top degrees of monastic study, and stand an excellent chance of becoming candidates for the position of monk officials. They represent “the best hope” of all monks but not all of them can hope to fulfill this intention.
(2) Monks trained in religious professions. These are monks who hire themselves out to pray for the safety and the happiness of their clients; to conduct religious ceremonies to release the dead from their sins, or as oracle consultants. Sometimes they pray on the street.
(3) Artisans and specialized practitioners. This category includes sculptors, molders and casters of images, painters, wood-block carvers and printers of Buddhist texts, and doctors.
(4) Monk laborers. These ordinary monks who perform various chores and duties about the monastery make up the majority of the clergy.
But these official descriptions does not imply the beauty of all these humans. The video below gives an impression of the privelge we had to meet some of these wonderful people. Enjoy!.++