December 8, 2013

0893 CHINA (Hong Kong) - Elaborate make-up of Chinese Opera performer

Chinese opera together with Greece tragic-comedy and Indian Sanskrit Opera are the three oldest dramatic art forms in the world. Its roots going back as far as the Three Kingdoms period (220-280), and during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) the Emperor Taizong established an opera school with the poetic name Liyuan (Pear Garden). Since the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) it has been encouraged by court officials and has become a traditional art form. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it became fashionable among ordinary people, and performances were watched in tearooms, restaurants, and even around makeshift stages.

It evolved from folk songs, dances, talking, antimasque, and especially distinctive dialectical music. Gradually it combined music, art and literature into one performance on the stage. There are numerous regional branches of Chinese opera, one of them, Kun Qu opera, being listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO since 2001. One of the major categories in Chinese opera is Cantonese opera, popular in  Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Malaysia. Like all versions of Chinese opera, it involve music, singing, martial arts, acrobatics, and acting. Before widespread formal education, Cantonese opera taught morals and messages to its audiences rather than being solely entertainment.  

It is generally accepted that opera was brought from the northern part of China and slowly migrated to the southern province of Guangdong in late 13th century. With the invasion of the Mongol army, Emperor Gong of Song dynasty fled with hundreds of thousands of Song people into the province of Guangdong in 1276, among these being some Naam hei artists. Beginning in the 1950s massive waves of immigrants fled Shanghai to destinations like North Point, and their arrival boosted the Cantonese opera fan-base significantly. There are two types of Cantonese opera plays, Mou ("martial arts" - emphasize war) and Man ("highly educated" - gentler and more elegant), and four types of roles: Sang (male roles), Daan (female roles), Zing (painted-faces), and Cau (clown figures). Until the 20th century all the female roles were performed by males.

Applying makeup for Cantonese opera is a long and specialized process. Each character's makeup has its own distinct characteristics, with symbolic patterns and coloration, indicating its personality, role, and fate. One of the most common styles is the "white and red face" (in the postcard): an application of white foundation and a red color around the eyes that fades down to the bottom of cheeks. The eyebrows are black and sometimes elongated. Usually, female characters have thinner eyebrows than males. There is black makeup around the eyes with a shape similar to the eyes of a Chinese phoenix. Lipstick is usually bright red. Actors are given temporary facelifts by holding the skin up with a ribbon on the back of the head. This lifts the corners of the eyes, producing an authoritative look.

About the stamp

The stamp is one of the series of two, issued on October 1st, 2013:
• Local Mail Postage stamp - it's on other postcard
• Air Mail Postage stamp - it's on the postcard

Chinese opera - Wikipedia
Chinese Opera - Travel China Guide
Cantonese opera - Wikipedia

Sender: Pam Pang (direct swap)
Sent from Hong Kong on 26.11.2013
Photo: Steve Vidler / 2008

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