Traditional Chinese Masks and Culture
Even in this day and age Chinese Masks are used within two main elements of Chinese culture. The New Year masks which are worn by Chinese people to welcome the New Year throughout the world. And the Opera masks which are painted and drawn on the faces of the actors and singers and are used to depict the traits and characteristics of the role each actor is playing.
Chinese New Year’s masks are not seen at any other time of the year. The exciting and extravagant Chinese New Year can last for a week or longer and ends with the Yuanxiao which is a lantern festival. The masks used depict the moods and emotion of enjoyment and happiness which tie in with the ceremonies and festival. Chinese people typically will buy presents, buy new clothes and cook expensive meals for the New Year period. Throughout this period many works of art and crafts like the Chinese masks in their rich and vivid colors are worn and displayed to show the nature of the festivity.
Chinese Masks are made up of numerous materials like stones and metals, leather and cloth, paper and grass and more. They are then painted in different color themes and designs. Some masks may represent animal or human characteristics like the lion or the dragon. Red is also a popular color, thought to bring prosperity and many red masks will be seen during the celebrations.
Chinese New Year is based in lore of deities, spirits, good and evil beings and animal ancestors. Masks commonly depict these characteristics and powers and are held in high esteem during the ceremonies and dances involved in the Chinese New Year.
The dragon holds special significance at new years and is a bringer of good luck and fortune, especially for farming and harvesting and is also the bringer of rain. The New Year’s celebrations mark the beginning of the planting and farming seasons in China, and so the two tie closely together.
The dragon mask is a key symbol of fortune and prosperity for the New Year. The dragon mask is an important part of Chinese heritage and specifically New Year parades. While the dragon mask may not hold the same importance that it did during ancient times, no present day New Year’s parade is without it.
The dragon mask began as this kind of symbol, but through the centuries the role of the mask in Chinese society has changed. The mask is no longer seen as such an important part of agricultural prosperity today, but it is still a very important symbol to the Chinese people.
The dragon masks used during parades are commonly very complex and elaborate with vivid colors, usually in gold, red and blue with fur and feathers headed by the large dragon mask which usually features bright red. A traditional dragon mask will typically have either a wide rounded mouth or a yawning jaw. The person at the head of the dragon dance procession will wear the mask or hold it above his or her head as the dragon dances and snakes along through the streets.
The other type of masks in Chinese culture is the modern Chinese Opera masks which are either painted on or are worn as thin cloth masks. The tradition of facial make up started from totems created centuries ago times which later became facial paintings. Basic depictions of painted faces were discovered in tomb murals during the Song dynasty. Later this evolved and as the paints improved, along with the skills of the painters and crafters and the tools they used the masks evolved to don full color themes and designs and came to depict different artistic roles, different emotions and different moods.
Frequently used facial make ups include yellow which represents cruelty, Silver and Gold which are typically used to represent gods and demons and for spirits and ghosts, blue which is vigor and valor and green which depicts justice and chivalry. These color themes have remained the same for ages and were handed down and refined throughout the ages of Chinese art, culture and history.