As a section of the famous Sichuan Opera, Face-changing is a special kind of Chinese dramatic art with stunning skills. During the show, Face-Changing performers wear multi-colored costumes and facial make-ups. With the fast dramatic music, they will change their facial make-ups in quick succession with a wave of the hand or by turning around.
The Face-changing first appeared in Sichuan Opera during the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty. The changing of facial make-ups and colors reflect a character's mood - red representing anger and black extreme fury.
In ancient times, the technique of Face-Changing was far simpler than it is today. Performers put oil on their faces and applied colorful powder from a container placed in a hidden corner on the stage. When they blew onto the powder, it would be absorbed onto the face. Another method is to hide the colored powder on the performer's palms. They would then mop it up onto their faces with oil. However, these two techniques are seldom used these days.
Nowadays, professional Facing-Changing performers can change some 10 masks in 20 seconds. And there are three basic techniques of face-changing, including wiping the face, blowing the face and pulling the face. Besides, it is said that performers sometimes change the color of face by breathing. However, nobody knows how the performers manage to change their facial make-ups so accurate and in such a short period of time.
As a national treasure, the secret techniques of Face-Changing are not allowed to be revealed to others. Nowadays only 100 people in China have inherited authentic skills, with certificates issued by an institute of the Sichuan Opera in that province.
As a popular night entertainment in Chengdu, the performance of Sichuan Opera could easily be found at local tea houses in the city, and the Facing-Changing section is no doubt the highlight the performance.