The History of Chinese Masks and Types
These celebratory masks represent some of the finest craftsmanship in the world and are greatly desired by artists.
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.
Various examples of Chinese masks are the Tibetan masks, opera masks, as well as the lion head and dragon masks used during the Chinese New Year. Wedding masks have been donned to bring good luck in a marriage, as well as swallowing animal masks that are believed to swallow disaster. In the following sections, we tell you about the different masks that give a brief insight into Chinese traditions and culture.
Types of Chinese Masks:
There are several types of Chinese masks: dancer’s masks, masks for festive occasions, masks for newborns, masks designed to keep homes safe and theatrical masks. When used on the stage, masks help viewers determine, at a glance, the attributes of a theatrical character. Masks are usually made from wood. However, Chinese opera masks, possibly the style that is best known in the west, are actually painted on actors’ faces.
Lion Head Mask
The Chinese lion mask is used in the lion dance, a ritual performed at the end of the Chinese New Year. The lion dance is inspired by a mythical monster named Nian, that was driven away from Guangdong. The masks are usually constructed on a wooden frame with a papier-mâché design.
Tibetan masks were painted on the faces of the inhabitants with blood to scare off their enemies. Their face-painting technique seems to have been around since the Neolithic times. Tibetans used white masks till the sixth century, while the blue masks came into existence from the fifteenth century onwards. Buddhism played a major role in the cultivation of Tibetan opera and the survival of this art form. They worshiped deities, and the masks were made in their image from gum, flour, and cloth. Clay casts are used to create hard-shaped masks. The teeth are made from pearls and shells, while designs are painted directly on the masks. Tibetan masks are usually made in animal, demon, or human forms.
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.
Dragon Head Mask
Dragons have always been a symbol of prosperity and fortune in China. They are worshiped by performing a dance done by 6 – 8 people, since the costume is very large. The movement is manipulated by poles which are situated at appropriate places along the length of the dragon. The dragon mask is usually decorated in gold and silver colors, depicting prosperity. The typical mask usually has a wide mouth or a gaping jaw, and is covered with feathers and fur. While green color depicts a better harvest, red color symbolizes excitement, while yellow depicts a solemn empire.
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. The cultures, located in the southern portions of the Yangtze River, 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.
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.