The History of Chinese Mask
China has a rich and colorful cultural history, and masks have played a major role in Chinese tradition for thousands of years. Chinese masks, depending on their function, are divided into several different categories, such as sorcerers' masks, Tibetan masks, shaman masks and theatrical masks. Today, masks continue to be of great artistic and entertainment value. Also, Chinese masks have become highly desired items by collectors worldwide.
The first Chinese masks were made about 3,500 years ago as part of shamanism, or religious healing. Masks have played an integral role in many rituals, such as worshiping the god that destroys pestilence and grants blessings. They also have a long history in the arts, particularly dance and opera. Today, masks continue to be worn for religious ceremonies, life events such as weddings and funerals, and world renowned cultural events.
Chinese masks, which are either made of wood or painted on faces, are donned either on a person's head or face. Sorcerers' masks from the Yunnan and Guizhou provinces were worn to welcome the god of fortune or to soothe the soul when someone had died. A number of different ethnic groups come from Yunnan and Guizhou. Their cultures incorporated totem worship and sorcerer rituals. Some of these societies are the Jingpo, Wa, Zhuang, Jinuo, Bai, and Dai.
About a thousand years ago in the central plains of China, cultures used masks for exorcising, or driving away evil spirits. The masks were also worn to celebrate births and to keep homes safe by scaring evil ghosts. This culture, located in the southern portions of the Yangtze River, was combined exorcism along with totem worship. This tradition much later evolved into operatic productions that were very popular with the army, because they praised the military.
Masks are frequently worn or painted on faces in Chinese operas and other theater productions. The facial makeup dates back to the Song (960 to1279 A.D.) or Yuan (1271 to1368 A.D.) dynasties, or earlier. Murals in tombs from this period of time have similar-looking made-up faces. The face painting was perfected during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to1644 A.D.), when colors began to portray varying personality traits that are still seen in present day "Jingju," or Beijing operas. Red stands for being devoted, brave, upright and loyal. Guan Yu, general of the Three Kingdoms in 220 to 280 A.D., is depicted with a red face because of his steadfastness on behalf of Emperor Liu Bei. Black paint depicts a fierce and bold character. This color is exemplified by Bao Gong, also called Bao Zheng, who was a fearless though fair judge during the Song Dynasty.
Xiangdong Nuo Mask
The Xiangdong Nuo Mask first appeared in the Hunan province and spread to the Xiangdong region of the Jiangxi province. This mask is an essential part of the Nuo culture, used specifically for rituals, dance and opera. The masks represent the high-quality Chinese artwork, with ornate painting and bright colors that define characteristics of the gods. Depending on the craftsman, the masks can have exaggerated lines or a more true-to-life appearance. They can depict a variety of masculine traits, such as savagery, power, arrogance, commitment, calm and friendliness.
Many traditional Chinese masks are displayed in museums or valued by collectors. Chinese New Year masks, which can be made from a variety of materials such as cloth, leather, metal, shell or wood, are very collectible. These celebratory masks represent some of the finest craftsmanship in the world and are greatly desired by artists.