Artisan captures opera masks in a most eggs-quisite fashion
By Lu Feiran
Fei Yongquan, 77, adores
Peking Opera and has
developed a very distinctive way of expressing thatlifelong fascination. He paints the
opera’s distinctive facial masks
“Of everything about Peking
Opera, the facial mask paintings
fascinated me most,” said Fei. “I
loved to study how the different colors and shapes expressed
the different personalities of
He has created more than 200
facial mask paintings in the last
decade and now teaches a class
on eggshell painting in his local
community. His craftsmanship
was honored at the World Expo
Prior to retirement, Fei taught
mechanics at a vocation school
in Minhang. It all seems a far cry
from his artistic endeavors.
Fei said he always loved to sing
Peking Opera and once joined a
club for amateur singers. However, his native Zhejiang Province
accent didn’t quite capture the
tones of lyrics written for the
pure Beijing dialect.
“It was weird, and not in a good
way, to sing Peking Opera with a
Zhejiang accent,” said Fei. “So I
needed to find some other way to
pursue my interest.”
He turned to the traditional
face masks of the opera genre, beginning self-study with the help
of a book entitled “The Art of Peking Opera Facial Mask Painting.”
First, he needed to find a medium
to work in. He tried several before
finally settling on eggshells.
“The shape of an eggshell is
very similar to the human face,”
said Fei. “I found eggshells perfect for mask art.”
One by one, eggshells have
become the classic characters
of Peking Opera: Bao Zheng, a detective with a black face; Guan
Yu, a general with a red face; and
Dou Erdun, a swordsman with a
The works are displayed in a
glass cabinet in his living room.
Each piece is tagged with the
name and story of the character.
Fei admitted that painting on
eggshells isn’t as easy as he originally thought. It took him years to
master the technique.
He starts by puncturing an egg with a small hole on the top
and a somewhat larger one on the bottom. Then he blows out
the yolk and white from one end.
The natural surface of the shells
is too rough to hold paint, so he
first polishes them with fine sand
paper. Eggshells, of course, are
fragile and sometimes break during the process.
Fei then draws a draft of a
facial mask with pencil on the
shell. He used to then paint them
with watercolor pens, but found
the color faded too quickly.
“My daughter-in-law bought me acrylic paint, and it worked
perfectly,” said Fei. “The faces are
glossy and never fade.”
The offshoot of his artistic
hobby is a steady fare for the family dinner table: scrambled eggs, steamed eggs, fried rice with eggs
and egg drop soup.
“I’m grateful that my family
supported me and didn’t complain,” he said. “I’m sorry that
they have had to put up with
eating so many eggs.”
His work has attracted attention. Fei gives free lectures in a
local community school every
week, teaching people how to
His works were also displayed
on Central China Television during a Peking Opera competition,
which attracted media attention
from all over the country.
During the World Expo Shanghai 2010, Fei was invited to
demonstrate his techniques in the
“At that time, I drew Haibao,
the mascot of the event, and a lot
of older people came up and told
me they wanted to learn this art
form,” he said.
Fei has declined to sell his eggshell masks to inquiring buyers,
but he does give away some of the
creations to friends as gifts.
“My hope is that more people
will become interested in painting Peking Opera face masks,” he said. “It’s an excellent way to
continue this traditional culture.”