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Behind the Mask



Behind the mask

Mariatu Kargbo relaxes at her home in Beijing. Photos by Zou Hong / China Daily

Behind the mask

Kargbo wears her traditional Peking Opera costume.

Sierra Leone native and Miss World winner Mariatu Kargbo has captured China's heart with her devotion to its culture and people. Chen Nan reports in Beijing.

Sierra Leone native Mariatu Kargbo dazzled judges with the ancient Chinese art of bianlian, or "face changing", to win the Miss World Competition's Best Talent Award and the Best Fashion Award in 2009.

The 24-year-old, who's known as Maria in China, became the first to perform bianlian - a Sichuan Opera skill that involves changing facemasks at lightening speed - on the Miss World Stage. And she is perhaps the first African to have learned the performance art.

Maria says she brought the art to the world's attention to show her special gratitude to China. "I have two dreams: becoming Chinese and bringing Chinese culture to the world," she says.

She recalls international media besieged her with questions about bianlian after her show.

"There was a person asking me to teach him bianlian," she says.

"I said 'no' because I promised my shifu (master) that I wouldn't tell the secrets."

The trade's secrets have been passed down among generations, but women and foreigners are traditionally forbidden from studying it.

Maria has developed a large Chinese fan base and is particularly popular with middle-aged women and children.

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