Bian Lian, also known as Face Changing performance, refers to an old dramatic art that is associated with Chinese opera from Sichuan Province. Bian Lian is ranked as level two national secret and also considered to be part of China’s top cultural heritage.
History of Bian Lian Performances
The Bian Lian performance was first practiced around 300 years ago, during the Qing dynasty. The performance started as a survival technique. People used to paint all sorts of colors & designs on their faces with the aim of frightening wild animals, but over time the act turned into a dramatic art that is now performed on stage.
Over this entire time, Bian Lian performances have been surrounded by mystery, since no performer is willing to reveal the trade secrets. Bian Lian learned the technique from his father and passed it to the apprentices. However, girls were not taught the art with the main fear being that they would give away the secret to another family when they got married. Later in 1998, the taboo of teaching girls the Bian Lian art was broken when master Peng taught eight girls. Nevertheless, up to now men still dominate the field of Face Changing since the only well-known woman performer is Candy Chong
Further research indicates that the practice was also used by Robin Hood, who stole properties from the rich people and gave the poor. Robin trained the poor to use the Bian Lian technique to change their appearances and hence, confuse the guards and escape whenever concerned.
The speed and skill with which artists in China modify their beautifully-painted masks have greatly captured the imagination of many people worldwide over centuries. Performers elegantly swing their arms, turn their heads and raise their hands, every time boasting new and better masks. The secret and ability to change up to twenty masks during one performance with no one realizing. This is what fascinates the audiences.
Quality of performances is steadily improving
It should be noted that during early years when the technique was used in Sichuan opera performances, the face changers were not as skilled as they are nowadays. They performed in a less tricky way such that they went back stage to change their masks. However, over time the expectations of the audience grew, so they were forced to perk up their performances.