Sun Quan: Really Han Chinese?

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Sun Quan: Really Han Chinese?

Unread postby Shi Tong » Tue Nov 01, 2005 12:33 pm

When I was in Taiwan last month I went to a shop which sold Taiwanese Marionettes. There were lots of Three Kingdom's characters there.

One thing that caught my attention was the depiction of Sun Quan. I think when we read the novel we look at the description once and then ignore it or forget about it, but Sun Quan was apparently described as having a red beard.

I know that the descriptions of these characters have come down from generation to generation without a definate way of knowing what these people really looked like, but Sun Quan with a red beard is quite a vivid one.

Does anyone else think that there may have been some non Han Chinese people living in China at the time of the Three Kingdoms? I think I remember reading about Mong Hou (sorry dont know how to spell- he was the barbarian which Kongming defeated many times in the South West). Mong Hou also seemed to have some caucasian features.
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Unread postby Mistelten » Tue Nov 01, 2005 2:30 pm

I'm pretty sure that the novel's description ties into the character's physiognomy.
Liu Bei's long ears are a Buddhist representation of loyalty.
Green eyes are a sign of someone looking out to the sea. Maybe the best way to say this is "hopeful." A reddish, purplish beard has something to do with villainy. I think the contrast in good and bad features are supposed to show Sun Quan as a kind of good villain, or at least a neutral.

Other ones I can think of:
White is the color of filial piety, I think. This may have something to do with Ma Chao being described as so fair.
Guan Yu's ruddy face..... Isn't it something about sitting too close to a fire? I think the backstory had Guan Yu hiding from the authorities in a burning building.
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Unread postby Zhao Yun '87 » Tue Nov 01, 2005 2:59 pm

Long Ears was a sign of imperial relation.

Guan Yu's reddish face came from a story about him where he killed an official's corrupt son and hid in a temple. The priest(is that the right word?) gave him a liquid that when he washes his face it would turn it red so he wouldn't be recognized.

I thought white was mourning?
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Unread postby Shi Tong » Tue Nov 01, 2005 3:04 pm

The idea of colour being used as symbolism rather than real features is a good point. I thought that Guan Yu's red race was to do with the fact that he was supposed to be quite easy to anger, therefore his face would go red.

Can anyone remember what Mong Hou's description was in RTK? I'll look for it later if I get the time! :D
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Unread postby Starscream » Tue Nov 01, 2005 4:13 pm

It could be exaggeration. Sun Quan could well have brownish beard if the conventional beard for chinese is black. If we don't look at it in a literal way (the purple beard and green eyes), the historians or story tellers could well meant that he was a man of extraordinary features.

Another possibility could be the mode of story-telling in ancient China. Street performances that started maybe during the Jin dynasty and evolved till present day's operas may have an influence on the way a character is described to look like. Operas are a form of story-telling and right here as I would like to suggest is the possibility that Luo Guan Zhong was influenced by the tales told by the operas about the heroes of the three kingdoms. He also researched on SGZ and add in more information to spice up the story. Such additional information could originate from folklores and performances.

In chinese operas, a red face character represents good and white face character evil. I forgot about the black face though. As far as I remember, Guan Yu has the red face while Cao Cao the white face and Zhang Fei the black face. Maybe Liu Bei has a white face too... :lol: So there seems to be a general agreement that Guan Yu is good and Cao Cao is evil. To confirm whether it is the opera that influences the novel or the other way round, we would have to check the time of origin of the opera or even the first street performance made on three kingdoms characters. Can we have volunteers? :D
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Unread postby GuangRong » Wed Nov 02, 2005 2:56 am

Purple = sacred
green= beastial/monster
sacred beast = Dragon
dragon = Emperor= Sun Quan..
(not so subtle)Hint of Sun Quan's destiny..

Red= uprightness, loyalty etc.
White=treachery
Black=Virgorus,Strong, Bold, etc

LGZ's was obviously fiitting his characters into well-established historical archetypes that long existed in literature,folk tales, street performance etc.

This is a well-used device and you see it all over the place in water margin ..

Guan yu is very much Lian po ,whom incidentally also have a reddish face in opera
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Unread postby Shi Tong » Wed Nov 02, 2005 12:46 pm

If white is supposed to be evil, then why is Zhang Fei painted with a black and white face with a "butterfly" pattern on his eyes and face?

The Zhang Fei (which I bought) also has moving eyes.

Liu Bei had a white face, as did Zhuge Liang, does this mean they were supposed to be trecherous?

What is a brown-ish face supposed to mean? Pang Tong had a very brown face, and I was wondering why? I think in SGYY he was supposed to be quite ugly.
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Unread postby Starscream » Wed Nov 02, 2005 5:15 pm

Shi Tong wrote:If white is supposed to be evil, then why is Zhang Fei painted with a black and white face with a "butterfly" pattern on his eyes and face?

The Zhang Fei (which I bought) also has moving eyes.

Liu Bei had a white face, as did Zhuge Liang, does this mean they were supposed to be trecherous?

What is a brown-ish face supposed to mean? Pang Tong had a very brown face, and I was wondering why? I think in SGYY he was supposed to be quite ugly.


Zhang Fei is officially categorised as a black face (the main base colour). A black face with white or other coloured patterns is really quite different from a white face. Here's a link that provides wonderful examples of masks of different characters and explanations for the basic mask colours. Spot the difference between Zhang Fei and Cao Cao and you may understand what I meant. Pang Tong is red face too I think.
http://www.paulnoll.com/China/Opera/index.html
I love Cao Cao's and Sima Yi's masks' resemblance to each other. Jiang Wei and Pang Tong have the taoist yin yang symbol on the forehead to probably show some divinity? or associations with Kong Ming or Taoism?

The coolest I think is Wen Zhong, the Grand Tutor of Emperor Zhou of Shang Dynasty. His forehead is painted with the third eye, really cool. Despite him siding Shang, he was still honoured as a righteous person as reflected by his red face. :wink:

P/S: I just realised that Sun Quan is actually a white face and has an extraordinary beard (large red section). Oh my... :lol: I give up defending his integrity for the time being.
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Unread postby GuangRong » Wed Nov 02, 2005 6:26 pm

Sima Yi looked like an old Nun....
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Unread postby Shi Tong » Thu Nov 03, 2005 10:53 am

That's what I found shocking. The fact that his face is white and his beard is very red. That site is cool.
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