Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Chinese Mask Trick

I'm no expert in the Chinese dramatic art of sudden mask changes. What I can tell you is this: that some Tibetans were familiar with it nearly a thousand years ago. This video of the Singapore-based artist “Alex the Magician” is placed here as a footnote and an introduction to a relatively short compilation of Padampa's pieces of advice, given to a select group of individuals, called “White Conch Fragments.”

Bian lian, or ‘changing face,’ is a special dramatic technique associated with Szechuan Opera in particular. I don't know how old it is, although I suppose it must be quite old. Right now I would have to say I'm sure it isn't true to say that it was first documented 300 years ago. Write us a comment if you have some clear idea. I am unsure of the real explanation for the very impressive effect, which is instantaneous, or very nearly so. What I can do is give a quote that would seem to explain it, at least up to a point. It's from an article by Wei Minglun and Yu Shiao-ling:  “This change is brought about by having the actor wear several layers of facial masks, all painted on very thin paper.”

If that destroys the magic for you, so be it. I think it’s OK. What's the point of living if we can't peel away delusions and see more clearly what it’s really all about?  (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.  Go find your own answers.)  We’re supposed to gain in knowledge (experience, wisdom) and find better ways to live.  I don't know how I can explicate our human predicament any simpler (and better?) than that.  (And that was a rhetorical answer.  Go ask your own questions.)

Padampa uses it in a context of political leadership and, well, politics. Everyone knows that politicians change their faces to suit different needs and circumstances. We also know that the great changes they boast of, or promise for the future, are often little more than cosmetic or just simply false. The underlying malaise remains.  

What you will find at the link offered below is a translation-in-progress, which means I’m conscious of not succeeding in ironing out every problem, and of course — for those familiar with Padampa’s modes of expression this will go without saying —  there are lots of passages that would seem to require commentary. For the most part Padampa has encouraging words, but a couple of times Padampa lets the least hopeful cases know they’re going nowhere fast. I am completely unaware of any translation ever being made before this one, and I did it without assistants (I meant that word assistants). As for assistance, I looked for it wherever I could find it, even in YouTube, and yes, even in Wikipedia. Or, as the old Islamic saying attributed to Muhammad goes, “Seek knowledge, even in China.”  Life is, as Padampa says, “bright but not long lasting,” while the art is long. This we know, or surely ought to, even without relying on online resources.

To get there immediately, press here once or twice.

Biblio. ref.:

Wei Minglun and Shiao-ling Yu, "Pan Jinlian — The Story of One Woman and Four Me, a New Sichuan Opera," Asian Theatre Journal, vol. 10, no. 1 (Spring 1993), pp. 1-48.

Dissolving the most fundamental delusion is what 'Buddha' means.  

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