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Chinese Makeup for Lips

The fine image of Zhang Ziyi in the movie the Banquet is quite impressive to many audiences, especially her red and bright lips, well decorated cheeks, and short and dark eyebrows.

In ancient China, especially in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618—AD907), there were generally seven steps in cosmetic makeup: powder base, applying color to the face, eye-brow darkening, applying “forehead gold” or “floral twinkle/gold”, painting the dimples, decorating the cheeks and applying lip color.

If eyes are compared to the windows to the soul, lips, the mirrors of one's character and temperament. Being an inalienable part of face making up, the decoration of lip has gone through a long history and has various types in different periods.

Seven Steps in Cosmetic Makeup
The Creation of Makeup for Lips in China
Before the Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 206 BC), women had already paid special attention to the lips. This was proven in 1983, when a life-sized head statue of a goddess was excavated from Niu He Liang Hongshan Culture Site, having a history of more than 5000 years, whose lips were red. This definitely shows that the act of reddening lips has already came up before 5,000 years in ancient China.

It is said that lip makeup was originally used to satisfy gods in religious occasions. With time passing by, people realized that with a bit decoration in the lip could liven up one's vitality and sometimes even show one's social status. As a consequence, different materials for lip decoration were constantly tested in order to make the lips red and bright, forming up the Chinese art of lip makeup.

In ancient China, the lip beauty products were normally called "lip balm" or "mouth balm", according to the records of Chinese Shiming (or: Explanation of Names) Dictionary written by Liu Xi in the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD25—AD220).

The Production of Lip Balm
In prehistoric times, the pigments for lip beauty products were generally extracted from plant juices, animal bloods, or minerals. Due to historic records, the raw material for making lip balm was vermilion, the composed element is majorly mercuric sulfide (HgS), which was produced in Hunan, Guizhou and Sichuan Province. However, because of lacking in strong adhesion, vermilion is easily dissolved on warm lips so its shiny red could not last for long. Later on, the brilliant Chinese ancient people added in mineral wax and animal fat, making vermilion water-proof with strong adhesive force.

Typles of Lip Makeup in Different Dynasties
Between Pre-Qin ( The 21st Century BC—221 BC) and Han (202BC-220AD) Dynasties, instead of using lip balm to all parts of the lips, women put a big red dot on the lower lip and painted the upper in a small dot, leaving the rest of parts to be covered with powder.

In Wei, Jin, and North and South Dynasties (AD220—AD589), fan-shaped lips were widespreaded. Women made an obvious depression on the upper lip, making lip profile in the corners of the mouth clear.

In Sui and Tang Dynasties, a shiny style of lip makeup gained popularity. First they powdered the lips, and then drew any pattern they prefered. During that period, cherry lips (lips with the shape and color of a cherry) were prevailing. Two dots were usually painted outside the corner of the lips to accentuate the image of dimples. Another popular pattern took the shape of a little flower.

In the late Tang Dynasty, several new patterns for lip makeup were also appeared. Due to Records of the Unworldly and the Strange, there were 17 patterns in the late 30 years of Tang Dynasty. The color of red for lips included red, light red, red with golden powder, pink and so on.

In the Song (AD960—AD1279) and Ming (AD1368—AD1644) Dynasties, lip makeup was practiced to make women look more fashionable and elegant. Cherry lips originated in the Tang Dynasty were also highly favored.

In the Qing Dynasty (AD1644—AD1911), women usually applied rouge to the whole or nearly whole upper lip, and painted a cherry-like dot in the middle of the lower lip. Also some women dotted in the middle of the two lips respectively, and in late Qing Dynasty, the whole society viewed Lin Daiyu as the beauty, an image in the Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber, beautiful but fragile both physically and emotionally.

Although both ancient and contemporary Chinese women mainly employed red for the lips, there is a black “tear makeup” which gained popularity in the Yuanhe years of the Tang Dynasty (AD806—AD820). Black balm was applied to the lips, producing a seemingly crying sad face. Failing to satisfy aesthetic sensibilities of many people, so it soon went out of fashion.