King of Sichuan Opera Changes Three Faces Instantly

April 4, 2006 12:00 am Last Updated: April 4, 2006 12:00 am

Is “face changing” in Sichuan opera magic or a unique skill? How are those colorful masks changed so quickly? And where are the masks hidden?

The youngest king of mask switching (literally “face-off” in Chinese) in Sichuan opera, He Hongqing, said, “Except for our many custom made masks, our costumes are usually the property of the production company. The secret of our mask switching lies within our costumes.

According to Beijing Sci Tech Report, in Chengdu city, Sichuan province, the home of face changing, He Hongqing is the youngest king of switching masks. Fifteen years ago he started to train for the Sichuan opera. After learning how to switch masks and acting skills from his teacher, he developed an enormous interest in mask switching.

Ten years later, He Hongqing has become the youngest and fastest face changing performer. No one can beat his switching speed. He can flawlessly show three different masks in one and a half seconds.

He Hong Qing explained that there are many ways to change masks: there is mask-blowing, mask-wiping, mask-ripping, and mask-pulling. In the performers' professional terminology, the mask switching performance is called mask-pulling. As implied by the name, it refers to pulling the mask with wires. This is the secret of face changing.

A good mask is not only beautiful, but also needs to be flawless. In perfecting the art of mask switching, He Hongqing begins by making his own masks and costumes.

In order to create a mask with a beautiful style that does not affect performance speed, He Hongqing uses his face as a mould. After preparing a plaster solution, he lies down, closes his eyes, and applies the plaster solution onto his face. As a result, the mask perfectly matches the contours of his face.

The secret of face changing is the way the costumes are designed and fabricated. The clothes are made of unique materials.

He Hongqing said “The costume for a mask switching performer and his stage props are of vital importance. I can disclose a little of it. We have secret mechanisms both on our heads and bodies. But just this is not enough. Like a magician, we must train diligently and for a long time to become proficient. It is so fast you can't even understand how it operates. This is why it is such a mystery.”

How are ten or more masks pulled and where are they hidden during the performance? He Hongqing says that if he tells us, the mystery of mask switching would be lost.

However, He Hongqing still gives away a secret, that is, the overcoat on his body. All performers of mask switching can't perform without the overcoat. As to the function of the overcoat, he leaves it people's imagination.