Zi, ji, yin Picture

"We must suffer for our art in order to achieve perfection..."

Beijing Opera is deemed as the highest form of national quintessence, presenting an encyclopaedia of Chinese history, rich culture, and artistic expression through an unique art of drama, music, poetry, singing, speaking, beautiful paintings, breathtaking costumes, graceful gestures, pantomime, stunts, and acrobatics. Actors utilise the skills of speech, song, dance, and combat in movements that are symbolic and suggestive — and, above all, beautiful.

Liu Lian (surname before forename) was the daughter of Shanghai-born Liu Fang-Yuan, the superstar of the Four Great An-Hwei Beijing Opera and noted "Beau Brummel" of the Orient, and Hong Kong-born Xiao Ai-Shi, an acrobat of the Wu-Han Circus Troupe. His father, a descendent from a line of operatic actors, was a superlative singer, actor, dancer, and female impersonator. (He was also an unfortunate opium addict.) Although an ancient law prohibited women on stage (set up by Qian-Long Emperor in 1772), her mother regularly performed for the opera, ironically, impersonating male roles.

Under their tutelage, Liu Lian began her militant and rigorous, almost mediaeval, training at the age of seven, where she endured an incredible regimen of abuse and discipline in acting, music, voice, make-up, dance, acrobatics, and combat. She performed formally on stage at the age of twelve, starring as the lead female roles. As the relationships between China and their neighbouring countries soured, however, Liu was "obliged" to spy under the advisement of her government as she toured, with the An-Hwei troupe, to Japan (twice), Soviet Union (twice), Europe, and America. She worked briefly for the powerful Zhang Zuo-Lin, the supreme ruler (and warlord) of Manchuria, until his assassination by the Japanese in 1928. She was recruited a year later by the International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC), aiming to provide an unique range of essential services for the law enforcement community whose mission is detecting, preventing, and suppressing crime on a global scale. Miss Liu remains one of their top international secret agents whose assignments and activities are shrouded in mystery, through her exotic Pacific Rim adventures against villainous masterminds, violent cut-throats, and designing warlords — and is sometimes partnered with a Japanese ICPC agent, Moto Kentaro.


Beijing Opera training is extremely brutal, where children are taken away from their families, routinely beaten and abused, and pushed to their limits to instil mastery of this specialised form of art. This is Miss Liu in Beijing Opera costume as a dan qing yi (the elitist female role), ready to perform a water sleeves (or long sleeves) dance. Her head-dress did not come out the way I wanted; I'm suffering from insomnia, therefore I'm not really in a position to really care too much about it. I was more concerned about her expression — and the fact I could draw her at all despite my lack of sleep. Check out Beijing Opera clips of Li Sheng-Su's Dadengdian, Leslie Cheung's Farewell My Concubine, Li Yu-Gang's Shin Gui Fei Zui Jiu, and a Water Sleeve Dance on YouTube.

The bird on head-dress is that of a mythological feng huang (phoenix). It's believed that each part of feng huang's body symbolizes a word — the head represents virtue, the wing represents duty, the back represents propriety, the abdomen says belief, and the chest represents mercy. It is also the symbol of immortality; the phoenix (in the head-dress) is burning itself in a fire to be rise from the ashes reborned.

(Zi, ji, yin is Chinese for "Beauty, skill, and art.")

Models - Ruan Lingyu, He Saifei | Costume - Dan qing yi (traditional)

Medium – Photoshop, mechanical pencil.

Miss Liu © John P. Marquand (and Diane N. Tran).
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