Horse Ladle Facial Make-ups for Folk Performances

China Intangible Heritage Industry Alliance

Horse Ladle Facial Make-ups for Folk Performances
Shehuo is a kind of folk performances originated from the sacrificial ceremonies in the remote ancient period, while today’s facial make-ups for these folk performance are believed to have evolved from the make-ups worn by sorcerers on ritual ceremonies. Handed down from generation to generation among folk artisans, the facial make-ups for folk performances have gained a history of over 1500 years. As an evolved form of facial make-ups for folk operas, Horse Ladle Facial Make-ups are a unique art form existing in China’s northwestern Shaanxi province. Horse ladles, as indicated by the name, were tools used by forefathers of Shaanxi to feed horses. They were painted with various motifs believed by the ancient Shaanxi people to be magic ones in hope to protect the horses against diseases and thus live a peaceful and happy life with the help of these livestock.

Selecting designs of facial make-ups.

The process of emboss painting.

Objects showing the coloring process of Horse Ladle Facial Make-ups

Classic Horse Ladle Facial Make-ups for Folk Performances by Li Jiyou
Born in 1936 in Rugao county of China’s eastern Jiangsu province, Li Jiyou started to teach himself folk arts in the spring of 1958 and then dedicated himself to the study of making clay sculpture and painting facial make-ups for folk operas following masters all across China. He has evolved into a high-achieving artisan of facial make-ups for folk operas thanks to his diligent and relentless exploration in the past decades. Based on the traditional facial make-ups for folk operas in Shaanxi, Li has integrated the facial make-ups with horse ladles warding off evil beings, thus creating a new art form — Horse Ladle Facial Make-ups for Folk Performances.

Li Jiyou is producing facial make-ups.

Judge Bao (wood-carved facial make-up). Judge Bao was a poker-faced government official known for his righteousness and absolute adherence to the law in Chinese folklores. Legend has it that Judge Bao, while presiding over trials in this world in daytime, practiced justice in the nether world during the night. His signature crescent motif on the forehead is believed to be testimony to his super ability of travelling to the hell.

Dragon (gourd). Evolved from a ritual vessel used in Nuo Yi, a kind of sorcery practiced in ancient times, the facial make-ups in today’s folk art performances in Shaanxi province are closely linked to the primitive totemism of China, which established dragons as the totem that has been worshipped by the Chinese people from ancient times until now.

Thunder God. In the classic ancient Chinese novel Investiture of the Gods, Lei Zhenzi is a character with an indigo face and cinnabar hair who grew a pair of wings capable of arousing winds and thunders after eating magical apricots. He was granted the title “Lord of Thunder” by Jiang Ziya. The mouth of Thunder God in this make-up was painted in the shape of a bird beak.

Ling Guan. Ling Guan, or Numinous Official literally, is the Heavenly General in Taoism. According to the Taoist belief, there are 500 Ling Guan in Taoism, among which the most well-known one is Ling Guan Wang who is believed to be a deity responsible for protecting people against all evil spirits or beings.

Nine-head Bird. There is an opera in Chinese folk art performances named “the Kunpeng bird can fly 90 thousand li by one flip of swings, as fast as Emperor Qin Shihuang unified China”, which adopts the legend of the nine-head bird, also a symbol of wisdom in the folk Chinese culture.

Taishang Laojun. Taishang Laojun, or the “Grand Supreme Elderly Lord”, is a Taoist deity who participated in the creation of the world and is responsible for redemption and admonition of people on earth, according to Chinese mythology and literary classics such as Journey to the West, Investiture of the Gods, etc. The seven motifs of bagua along the outline this facial makeup signifies Taishang Laojun’s status as the founder of Taoism.

Yang Ren. Yang Ren is a character in the classic ancient Chinese novel Investiture of the Gods who was rescued by Daode Zhenjun after his eyes were dug out and body discarded by the notorious tyrant King Zhou of the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600-1046 BC). This figure appears in Chinese literature and art usually in an image with eyes growing from hands, and hands growing out of eyes. This facial make-up has not only adopted an exaggerated design on the eyes of Yang Ren, but also achieved breakthrough in the shaping.

Chi You. Legend has it that Chi You, leader of the Jiu Li Tribe in ancient China, was a figure with an ox face and two wings on the back. Known for his bravery in battles, Chi You was seen as god of war. The make-up of Chi You in folk operas features the most diversified designs, with the least restrictions.

Cang Jie. Cang Jie is a legendary figure in Chinese mythology, believed to be an official historian and the inventor of Chinese characters during the reign of the Yellow Emperor, thus gaining the title of “Saint of Chinese Characters” and the honor of character deity in Taoism.

White Elephant on Water-dipper. The white elephant is one of the five monsters in the folk art performance named “Taishang Laojun subduing five monsters”.

White Tiger. As a character in the opera named “Guardian Gods of Five Directions” in Chinese folk art performances, the white tiger is believed to be the auspicious animal guarding the West according to the traditional Chinese Five Elements theory.

Ling Guan, a Taoist Heavenly General believed in Shaanxi province to play the role of protecting people from evil beings, usually appears with a yellow-black tiger as deities leading the way.

Ji Lanying. Ji Lanying is an able, resourceful heroin in the folklore of Shaanxi province. Legend has it that she had a beautiful right side of the face, as shown the exquisite make-up characteristic of pretty female opera roles, but an ugly left side of the face, as displayed by the appalling make-up featuring green spots signifying birthmarks on the forehead, temple and cheek.

Water-dipper-shaped Qilin. Usually made of bamboo strips and vines, water dippers were tools used by ancient Chinese Han people to water crops. The use of such bamboo water dippers required two persons standing face to face, pulling the two ropes attached to two sides of the dipper to fetch water from river.

China Intangible Heritage Industry Alliance
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