Tang Dynasty Cosmetics

January 13, 2009
Editor: yf

The seven stages of Tang Dynasty (618AD-907AD) facial makeup (Chinese Women's Traditional Ornaments written by Zhou Xun and Gao Chunming)
Facial makeup was an elaborate process for Tang Dynasty women. It began with a foundation of face powder, followed by rouge and a dusting of light yellow powder. Bluish black eyebrows were then painstakingly painted in, lipstick applied, and dimples either added or accentuated. Last was an ornamental design either pasted or painted on the forehead.

Although facial makeup had not been invented in the Tang Dynasty, it advanced during this progressive era.

Eyebrows have always taken precedence within Chinese facial aesthetics, each style with its own name. Tang Dynasty eyebrows painted in bluish black were called daimei, long, fine eyebrows were emei, and guangmei eyebrows were short and thick. Eyebrow modes seen in the imperial palace included the yuanyang, xiaoshan, sanfeng, chuizhu, yueleng, fenshao, hanyan, fuyun, daoyun, and wuyue. Popular folk eyebrow styles included the liuye, queyue, kuo and bazi.

The ornamental designs Tang beauties pasted on their foreheads were often of bird feathers or black paper, and possibly of shell, goldleaf, fishbone or mica. Or they would simply paint on a motif.

It was also fashionable to dab a xiehong, or spot of rouge, on either cheekbone and to paint the lips in round, apricot pit, bird or flower shapes, adding, ye–dimples– on either side of the mouth

Ancient cosmetic modes often originated in legend. Ornamental designs on the forehead were attributed to a princess named Shouyang, favorite of Southern Dynasty Emperor Songwudi (363AD-422AD). A blossom fell on the princess' forehead one afternoon as she slept under the shade of a plum tree in the palace garden. Liking the effect, Shouyang wore the flower for a few days. Other court ladies followed suit, painting ornamental designs and pasting metallic patterns on their foreheads. This vogue peaked during the Tang Dynasty economic boom that succeeded a period of nationwide chaos.

The hero of another forehead enhancement legend is a man named Weigu. He one day met Yuelao, the marriage god who connected pairs of men and women destined to be married with red thread. When Weigu asked Yuelao who his future wife would be the god told him she was the three-year-old daughter of a peddler living north of the city. Unwilling to marry a woman so lowly born, Weigu ordered his servant to find and kill her. The servant was loath to carry out this cruel mission, and servant could do no more than slash the girl’s forehead. Years later, Weigu married the foster daughter of a feudal provincial lord. Curious as to why his new wife always wore an ornamental design on her forehead, even in bed. Weigu soon discovered she was the girl whom Yuelao had told him he would marry.

Another legend explains the origins of xiehong – the spot of red rouge on either cheekbone. Emperor Weiwendi (187AD-226AD) of the Three Kingdoms Period (220AD-280AD) had a concubine called Xue Yelai whom he loved passionately. One day a crystal folding screen fell on Xue Yelai' head, and blood streamed down her face.When the wound healed the red scar it left on one side of her face appeared to inspire even greater passion in the king for his favorite. Other court ladies hence began to paint faux scars on both cheekbones in hopes of catching his attention.

There are many legends about eyebrows, the pre-eminent feature of Chinese feminine beauty. The most famous tells of Emperor Suiyangdi (569AD-618AD), who homed in on and fell instantly in love with one of hundreds of women rowing a dragon boat by virtue of her long, graceful eyebrows.

The scope for innovation in these fashionable make up trends had been exhausted by the late Tang Dynasty, when women stopped using face powder and colored their lips black, in the"Sad" or "Tear" gothic mode that gave a more dramatic emphasis to feminine beauty.

(Source: showchina.org / Translated by womenofchina.cn)


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