Photo by Wang Yifan: Courtesy of Wang Yifan
Makeup tools restored by Wang Yifan Photo: Courtesy of Wang Yifan
Red lips, white skinâ¦ the tendency to browse the makeup used by Chinese women during different dynasties has recently emerged. But what did Chinese women use for makeup thousands of years ago?
Examining references in ancient books, Wang Yifan, a 29-year-old woman from northeast China’s Liaoning Province, collected 39 types of cosmetics and makeup tools from different Chinese dynasties, including one powder used by Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor, during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and bath beans, a type of facial cleanser used by Empress Dowager Cixi in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) ).
From hobby to occupation
Wang has expressed a keen interest in cosmetics since childhood. She loved spending time with her grandfather, who once studied medicinal incense and knew the formulas of some ancient cosmetics, and was also familiar with basic techniques such as extracting plant pigments. They often made red and nail polish themselves.
However, this special hobby only became her official career after she married and moved to Shanghai with her husband.
âIn my hometown, no one would think that restoring old makeup could be a way of making a living. But in this big city, I saw that a lot of people were doing ‘interesting’ jobs and could live well, which made up my mind to choose my hobby as a job, âWang said.
After making his decision, Wang visited a professor at the Shanghai Drama Academy who wrote a book on ancient makeup and also studied modern cosmetics at an Australian natural beauty lab based in China.
âWhile learning how to make modern cosmetics, I discovered a new understanding of ancient Chinese cosmetics, and I also realized the importance of what I was doing: Restoring ancient makeup is not just a simple restoration, I also want to further improve these formulas by taking their essence and removing grime to better provide high quality cosmetic products to future generations, âshe said.
Currently, Wang’s recovered cosmetics cannot be sold, they are only for display as they still need refining.
“If we only inherit without progressing, fewer people today will do this kind of old makeup restoration, let alone the next generation,” she added.
An eventful recovery
According to Wang, due to the idea that “men are superior to women” in ancient China, there were only a few books written on makeup for women.
âThe recorded ancient makeup can mainly be divided into two types: one is from well-known historical figures like Yang Guifei, one of the four beauties of ancient China during the Tang Dynasty; the other is from some really weird makeup that looks confusing. and uncomfortable, âWang said.
Although Wang was guided by books such as Compendium of Medical Subjects and Makeup of ancient Chinese women, she still could not recover 100% of the original makeup. But she always does her best to come as close as possible to the original makeup.
She pointed out that in order to keep their formulas a secret, the ancients deliberately omitted one or two ingredients from the records, which meant that Wang had to find out the missing ingredients through step-by-step experiments.
Meanwhile, the same ingredient may have different names during different time periods, making it harder to find the right one.
Wang recalled that the most difficult makeup she has collected is the peach blossom powder used by Wu Zetian, which took her two years to recreate. This motherwort powder is the same color as a peach blossom and is known to cover spots and smooth the skin.
According to Wang, while movies and TV shows often feature historical costumes and make-up, some films such as Disney’s Mulan make historical mistakes.
In the film, the director confused huanghuang and ehuang, two traditional Chinese make-up techniques for the ornamental forehead.
In the film, the character Hua Mulan dyed and painted a decoration on her forehead, but in fact she should have used a flower-shaped pattern cut out of gold leaf which would then be glued to her forehead, so that it conforms to “Before the mirror , I adorned my forehead by pasting a yellow motif “in the poem the” Ballad of Mulan. “
She then made a video on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, to cover the correct makeup process using the right makeup tools. The video was widely liked on social media. Wang said that the film Mulan was a very good platform for spreading traditional Chinese makeup to the world, but there are some details that have to stand up to the history’s scrutiny.
She noted that she was very happy to see more videos of ancient makeup on social media and that Chinese makeup had also started to become popular in China and abroad, which she said was due to improving national confidence.
Wang said that Chinese makeup does not have a specific definition, but it can show the beauty and charm of various dynasties in China.
âI hope that in the future, we can also see Chinese makeup as a kind of main branch of makeup in the cosmetics market in addition to European and American makeup, and Japanese and Korean makeup,â Wang said. .