The ancient art of ‘changing faces’

March 18, 2010, Thursday

SIBU: The performer, attired in brightly coloured costume, takes but a fleeting second to change his mask (face) for the many characters he acts out.

MASK OFF:  Wong in traditional costume with hat in hand.

MASK OFF: Wong in traditional costume with hat in hand.

‘Bian Lian’ is an ancient Chinese dramatic art that is part of the Sichuan opera.

It began 300 years ago during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795) of the Qing Dynasty.

Edmond Wong Yik Tze, 33, performed it for a Chinese New Year celebration.

Dressed in bright red traditional costume, he had on layers of the masks, which he quickly changed one after another to the amazement of his audience.

Wong has been interested in the arts from young. He was into the Southern Hakka Praying Mantis martial art which he learned from his father.

He went on to learn the Chinese opera moves from

his mother and later picked up some magic tricks.

The businessman learnt about the Sichuan traditional art of mask-changing from a friend and was coached by two teachers, Jin Zhenyang and Zhang Zhaomeng last year.

Both teachers are from Sichuan. Jin is much younger than Wong.

The Sichuan  youth inherited the art while lady teacher Zhang learnt it after the Sichuan Earthquake.

Wong said Zhang was lucky as according to tradition, women were to stay out of the arts.

According to Confucius’ teachings, the fairer sex must not acquire any form of art from her family as she will be married into another family.

What comes from her family must be handed down to the sons only.

Wong said Sichuan Opera told stories of Chinese heroes and legendary figures like the Monkey King in the Tale of the Journey to the West, characters found in the Romance of the Three Kingdom and so forth.

He said the personality of a character was expressed in the mask, and when he had the mask of a certain character on, he would act accordingly.

“The storytelling must be crystal clear because it is a mime show.”

The speed of the mask-changing is impressive and has remained a secret for centuries.

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I’m glad to see an ancient art like Bian Lian is being performed right here and to know that my friend, Edmund, is the one performing it!!!🙂

Cheers Edmund!! Keep up the good work and passion for the art – “Preservation of Culture”.