Bian lian – Sichuan’s Face Changing Mask Performing Art

Based in China’s Sichuan province and originally performed as part of Chinese Opera is the beautiful performing art of face-mask changing – Bian Lian (变脸, 變臉, Biàn Liǎn).

Watch this next routine I recorded in a Sichuan cuisine restaurant called Sichuan Folk in a Shenzhen Overseas Chinese District (posh) shopping mall.

Although I’ve previously heard about this act, I found myself staring at this again and again in disbelief. You might notice at mid-video that the performing actor came up to me (the only foreigner in the area) and asked me to touch his face and when I did he changed his face in front of me (knocking off my video camera). There’s no way I can explain how he does this, it’s a complete mystery to me.

Wikipedia has a bit more history:

Bian lian - Sichuan's Face Changing Mask Performing Art 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. […]

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.

If you want to see it as part of a Chinese Opera, watch this next video :

Or about the HK actor on SCMP:

Brilliant.

Slightly more obvious, yet still entertaining are supplementary acts such as Fire Blowing.

Those Sichuan face changing artists are hard to come by. There’s only one active famous performer in HK and I’ve heard there are only a selected few in Taiwan (on a Taiwanese TV show). If you can find a local artist/show, I strongly recommend going to see that up close and in person to appreciate the wonder.

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