T conventions of the Chinese theatre are more or less known to many foreigners, and if not, can be easily read about. One way or another, such conventions as stooping, to show that you pass through a door, the property men who are to move things about and to be regarded meanwhile as themselves invisible, the whip to represent a horse, are fairly common knowledge. There are numberless others, from such simple representations as the duster of horsehair that denotes divine or eminent persons, or walking on the knees to denote trembling with fear, to the more elaborate conventions in the dancing, the music and musical instruments, the usage of the sleeves, the diverse modes for entrances and exits, the costumes, the masks of the faces, painted-by formulas, for the most part ancient-with a predominant red to signify the heroic, with blue for cruelty, and so on. These conventions are sometimes distant and elusive; in their simpler forms they are innocently smiled at among foreigners, in much the same way as the tilt of the head and arrangement of the limbs in Byzantine painting or in Botticelli or the archaic smile and eyes of early Greek sculpture, are smiled at; and are naively taken to imply that the artist did not know how things actually look and had stumbled but blindly toward the light. It is of course easier to dwell thus on any
departure from reality than it is to learn the alphabet of an art and to read its language. But to dwell very much on these conventions in Mei Lan-fang’s art is a mistake.