Makeup Trends Throughout Ancient Chinese History
It is honestly astounding to think about how far back makeup has existed in history! Makeup and makeup styles in Chinese history have existed as far back as 1600 BCE. In fact, each Chinese dynasty has a unique makeup style that gives us a window into the rich culture of China as a whole. Shen Yunlu, a professor from Shanghai International Studies University who lectures on women's study remarked that “ancient beauty practices were closely related to social, political and economic factors.” We can even see that this statement is true regarding modern beauty practices as well.
Now, let’s deep dive into the different makeup styles of the different Chinese Dynasties!
Shang Dynasty (1600 to 1046 BCE)
Since the Shang Dynasty is the earliest ruling dynasty to be established in recorded history, there is not a lot of concrete information on the makeup and makeup practices during this time. However, rouge, which is a powder used to color the lips or cheeks, was believed to have been around since as early as this dynasty! The rouge was usually made from the extracted juice of leaves from red and blue flowers.
Essentially blush and lip color has been around for that long!
Zhou Dynasty (1046 to 256 BCE)
The Zhou Dynasty essentially opened up the new era of Chinese makeup history. Specific beauty practices like eyebrow makeup, lip makeup, face makeup, makeup powder, facial cream, lip gloss, and fragrance became a trend during this dynasty. The makeup style of the Zhou Dynasty could be described as simple and elegant. This makeup era was known as the “plain makeup era.”
Fun fact 1: The cosmetics of the Zhou Dynasty included specific cosmetics referred to as “Zhi” (“脂”). Zhi is the grease from animals or the oil from plant seeds. Lip zhi referred to lipstick, and face Zhi aimed to moisturize the face.
Qin Dynasty (221 to 206 BCE) and Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE)
There aren’t many records of the makeup practices in the Qin Dynasty, but the Han Dynasty inherited many of the Qin Dynasty’s culture and makeup practices. During the Han Dynasty, the practice and customs regarding makeup was greatly developed, and in turn, women paid more attention to their makeup in general.
Han Dynasty women often put on the “white powder and black Dai (黛, Greenish-black pigment used to paint eyebrows.)” makeup look. Due to social status, lower class citizens often used “natural cosmetics,” like finely ground rice grains as this foundation. This method is definitely more healthy than the more sought out method, but the effect of whitening is not as obvious. Women of higher social status put on white powder made from lead, which has a strong whitening effect, but is inherently toxic as we all know. This powder was made of materials such as lead and tin, which were converted into powder after chemical treatment. With a white face, the next most important thing to draw are the eyebrows. In order to apply the black Dai, it needed to be dissolved in water in advance.
Fun Fact 2: Dai was widely used during the Han Dynasty, and stone inkstones for grinding Dai were excavated in Han tombs on several occasions.
In the Han Dynasty, while white makeup was very popular, due to the introduction of rouge, women also began to experiment with bolder styles like “red makeup.”
Red powder, also called “fufen”（“敷粉”）, was the first step in applying makeup. During the Qin Dynasty, “red makeup” had become popular, and women used powder and Zhu (”朱”, a red material) in their makeup. Red powder and white powder were usually used as the foundation.
Rouge came next after powder. The primary raw material for making rouge in ancient times was safflowers. Rouge has a strong viscosity, so it’s not easy to fade away. Women would apply rouge to their cheekbones for the long-lasting effect of “blushing.”
Lip grease (aka Ancient Chinese lipgloss/chapstick) is made of water and cinnabar, and it can prevent lips from cracking and bleeding. Cinnabar (“朱”) was made of mercury sulfide with a small amount of iron oxide, clay, and other impurities. It was ground into powder and used as an ingredient in a lot of the “red makeup” during this dynasty. It’s a red mineral pigment, also called “Dan,” which is bright and gorgeous.
It was popular to have long eyebrows before the Qin Dynasty but this changed during the Han Dynasty when women frequently shaved their eyebrows and drew new ones instead!
Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 CE)
The Tang Dynasty was a very open period in Chinese history, as the Tang people were more open and bold in their makeup than previous generations.
If the Han Dynasty people favored “White Makeup,” then the Tang Dynasty people liked red much more. The “Red Makeup” is the favorite of Tang women. They prefered graceful and luxurious face makeup, so rouge became the most popular cosmetic product! The makeup trend that defined the Tang Dynasty the most was the application of red rouge on the face in a large area, creating a rich and luxurious presentation.
During the Tang Dynasty, makeup technology was also developed to an unprecedented peak. We can roughly divide the order of face makeup for women in the Tang Dynasty into the following: lead powder, rouge, eyebrows, appliqués, dotted face and slanted red, and lipstick. Since strong red makeup was the most popular at the time, the red makeup varied in shades of color and size. Different shapes of eyebrows also came about during this time, with about fifteen different kinds of eyebrow styles.
In order to highlight the contours of the face and make the face look redder, women would choose one or a few places to dye rouge on the forehead, eyelids, cheeks, and chin. As a result, specific red makeup accent styles such as Huadian(花钿), Xiehong(斜红), Mianye(面靥), and other variations came about during this dynasty.
Tang Dynasty women followed specific steps when applying their makeup.
The 7 steps are:
1) Powdering the face
2) Rouging the cheeks
3) Drawing the eyebrows
4) Decorating the forehead with ornamental designs called Huadian (花钿)
5) Dotting the cheeks with ornamental designs called Mianye (面靥)
6) Painting the temples with crescent-shaped designs called Xiehong (斜红)
7) Coloring the lips
Huadian (花钿) came in a variety of colors (red, green, yellow - but mostly red), shapes (flowers/petals, animals - birds/fish, etc.), and materials (paint, paper, gold, pearls, petals, fish bones, seashells, feathers, etc.). This mark was solely worn on court ladies and high ranking women at the time.
Mianye (面靥) were Huadian that were painted/placed on the corners of the mouth to simulate dimples and came in a variety of shapes, including coins, peaches, birds, and flowers.
Xiehong (斜红) were another form of Huadian that were crescent-shaped designs painted at the temples that have a very interesting origin story. Xue Yelai, a consort of the Wei Emperor Cao Pi crashed her head through a glass screen when attending upon the Emperor in his study. Fortunately, no lasting damage was done besides two long gashes besides her temples. They healed into two red crescents that Cao Pi praised as resembling the rising sun peeking over the horizon. Other women in the Wei Harem painted red crescents resembling Xue Yelai’s scars on their faces, hoping to attract the Emperor and eventually this practice spread to become a common red makeup accent during the Tang Dynasty.
| Jiuyun Makeup |
When the Tang Dynasty was at its peak, there was closer communication between different ethnic groups, so women's makeup developed even more. For example, Jiuyun makeup (酒晕妆, jiǔ yùn zhuāng), simulated the look of a woman after drinking wine. It is the most intense of the red makeup styles.
| Peach-Blossom Makeup |
Next is the Feixia makeup (飞霞妆, fēi xiá zhuāng), which has a white touched with red feel; the lightest is the more girly Peach-blossom makeup, light and bright as a peach blossom.
| Tear Makeup |
Tear makeup is a type of white make-up, with plain powder applied to the cheeks to show the effect of tear stains. It’s said that this makeup style was invented by Madam Guoguo (虢国夫人), the sister of Yang Guifei. Madam Guoguo once went to the palace, and regarded the color of rouge as too strong, so she put plain powder on the cheeks, without rouge, and it looked like tears running down her cheeks. Since then, tear makeup has also become popular in the Tang Palace and Tang makeup culture.
| Ti Makeup |
Ti Makeup first originated in the Eastern Han Dynasty and became popular again at the height of the Tang Dynasty. In Ti Makeup, a woman would apply rouge under her eyes, and then draw eyebrows in the shape of the Chinese character "eight (八)", and then blend the Xiehong with her face. This shows the shallow marginal line between the red powder on the side of the face, such as tears dyed out of the traces of the general, have a pitiful, soft beauty.
During the later end of the Tang Dynasty, women's makeup went through a peaceful transition period for decades, during which there were not many new styles. Makeup became lighter and softer.
| Shishi Makeup |
In the mid to late Tang Dynasty, due to the impact of national and social unrest, women's lives were no longer as unrestrained as they were during the peak of the Tang Dynasty, so their makeup also gradually changed.
Red makeup was still prominent, but there were women who liked to be different and more daring in the field of fashion and innovative makeup. They experimented with more exotic elements, giving life to the fantastical presentation makeup could offer. The most prominent of the late Tang dynasty’s various distinctive makeup styles was Shishi makeup (时世妆, shí shì zhuāng).
It is a further exaggerated version of Ti makeup, where the cheeks are painted redder, lips are painted black or a darker red, and eyebrows are painted sharp. The overall image is black eyebrows, face ochre, black lips a dark contrast to the pure lighter makeup years before.
| Xie Yun Makeup |
Once Shishi makeup was out of fashion, Xie Yun makeup (血晕妆,xiě yùn zhuāng) began to prevail. A simple way to describe the Xueyun Makeup is that the woman shaves off all of her eyebrows and then draws three or four red or purple lines above and below her eyes to imitate the effect of being scratched, giving the impression of a bloodied wound.
The practice of makeup and the expression of art through makeup really flourished during the Tang Dynasty because of the social and economic, political and cultural prosperity, and open atmosphere. Women were given unprecedented tolerance shown in their expression of makeup, from subtle grace to graceful and elegant to bold and meaningful.
Song Dynasty (960 to 1279 CE)
In contrast to the Tang Dynasty, the Song dynasty women’s makeup tended to be simple and natural. Although there were many changes in facial makeup, it was not as rich and gorgeous as the Tang Dynasty. White and red were still the basic colors of makeup, but this time, women preferred to use ink instead of Dai to draw their eyebrows.
The women of the Song Dynasty were more aesthetically inclined to light, elegant, and thin makeup, so the makeup of the Song Dynasty was generally more plain compared to their predecessor.
Eyebrows still inherited the legacy of the Tang Dynasty, “Yuanshan eyebrows” were the preferred eyebrow shape of the Song daughters; but compared to the Tang girls on the bold use of rouge, they appear more conservative, rarely thick makeup.
The Song Dynasty was an era of literature. Literary and classical systems were more revered, therefore, Song Dynasty women’s makeup went back to a light and delicate makeup style.
At this time, "San Bai makeup (三白妆)" began to appear. Women would put white powder on their foreheads, noses, and chins, which was equivalent to modern day’s practice of highlighting.
Even with light makeup, the makeup of the daughters of the Song Dynasty still revealed a sense of sophistication. The noblewomen of the court were the first to use pearls as an embellishment to their makeup, and they used pearls to embellish Mianye.
Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644 CE)
The aesthetics of the Ming makeup style were similar to the Song Dynasty, still with light makeup, but their makeup was characterized by being more natural and not deliberately creating a feminine and feminine presentation. The Ming women’s makeup was brighter in complexion overall compared to the white makeup of past dynasties, with appropriate amounts of rouge to add a healthier look.
Ming girls also liked to “highlight”, they would put more obvious white powder on the forehead, nose, and jaw. You could even say that the Ming Dynasty makeup is getting closer to modern makeup practices.
Ming face makeup pursues the effect of light makeup without makeup (aka the natural no-makeup makeup look). The biggest difference from past dynasties being the shape of the eyebrows is more natural, but it is still thin and long. The lip makeup of the Ming Dynasty is closer to nude lip color (aka imitating natural lip color).
The “peach blossom makeup” and the Jiuyun makeup style that emerged during the Tang Dynasty was very prominent in the Ming Dynasty. Rouge was very abundant in the Ming Dynasty and at this point resembles the modern day blush.
Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912 CE)
Makeup of the Qing Dynasty may be the most familiar to us now, after all, the camera was already in use at the end of the Qing Dynasty.
Women at the start of the Qing Dynasty advocated curving eyebrows, thin eyes, and thin lips. At the end of the Qing Dynasty, women changed the convention of wearing heavy makeup and put an end to the red makeup custom that had prevailed for more than two thousand years. The makeup of the Qing Dynasty basically followed the style of the Ming Dynasty, simple and natural, with thin powder on the face.
The most distinctive of the two major factions of the Qing Dynasty is the style of lip makeup. One is where the upper lip is painted and the lower lip is only dotted with some rouge in the middle. This was more popular in the court at that time. The other style was adding rouge directly in the middle of the upper and lower lips, painted like petals.
It’s interesting to see the different makeup practices and styles that came about during each ancient Chinese dynasty. Something big to note was that culture and politics actually had profound effects on the makeup styles and the expression of makeup during each dynasty.
By the early Republic of China, women continued to follow the makeup aesthetic of the late Qing Dynasty (aka a delicate and pretty face, slender eyes and eyebrows, and thin lips), but with the influence of western cultures, women considered makeup from a new perspective from then on.
Now the more representative Chinese makeup is actually from the Hong Kong style, but it has been fine-tuned according to multiple cultural influences and adherence to natural facial features. Additionally, trends taken from other Asian cultures and even Western culture. The overall basic characteristics of beauty are still reflective of ancient practices like light and white base makeup with long and curved eyebrows, with soft and light highlighting of the natural beauty of the face, but the most important finishing touch is the application of full and stylish red lips.
You can find many Euphoric Sun products to create many of these features and to encourage you to always play around with makeup and find a style that fits you best, we recommend trying out our products from our “Makeup for Beginners” Collection to start off your makeup journey! https://euphoricsun.com/collections/makeup-for-beginners
Hope you enjoyed learning with us!
Zhou Picture 2: https://ancientchinafashion.weebly.com/make-up.html
Han Picture: https://www.newhanfu.com/21745.html
Tang Dynasty pictures: https://www.newhanfu.com/7611.html
The last Tang Dynasty picture: https://www.newhanfu.com/22946.html
Song Dynasty picture: https://www.newhanfu.com/22946.html
Last Song Dynasty picture: https://fouryearsofshades.tumblr.com/post/662786900845805569
Ming picture 1: https://www.newhanfu.com/21745.html
Qing Dynasty picture: https://www.newsnpr.org/are-women-in-the-qing-dynasty-really-as-beautiful-as-rumored-the-following-pictures-will-make-many-people-think-again/