Chinese opera performers mainly have two methods of makeup: masks and facial painting. The frequent on-stage change of masks, without the audience noticing, is a special technique, known as changing faces. Opera facial painting falls into four main categories — personality makeup (facial designs, painted faces or Lian Pu), decorative makeup (decorated faces), mood makeup (changing facial designs), and pictographic makeup (animal-like facial designs).
Personality makeup, or Lian Pu, refers to facial designs for Jing and Chou roles. It originated from daily life experience, describing such changes of expression as white for fear, red for shyness, dark for suntan, and sallow for illness. Most facial designs attach great importance to the eyes and eyebrows. Lian Pu has formed a complete system, such as the facial designs of Peking Opera.
Red, yellow, white, black, purple, green and silver are the main colors used for facial designs to represent different characters. For instance, red stands for loyal, courageous and upright people; white for sinister and cunning officials; and golden and silvery colors for gods and ghosts.
The facial designs for the Jing roles are made by painting, powdering and coloring in the basic forms of Zheng Lian (keeping the basic face pattern), San Kuai Wa Lian (three-section face) and Sui Lian (fragmentary face). These types are widely used to represent generals, officials, heroes, gods and ghosts.
The Chou actors can be recognized by the patch of white in various shapes (cube-, date pit-or bat-shaped) painted around the eyes and nose. Sometimes these patches are outlined in black, hence the term Xiao Hua Lian (partly painted face). The Chou roles fall into the following two categories: Wen Chou (civil) and Wu Chou (martial).