History of Chinese Masks

Origin of Chinese masks is in shamanic rituals of the old. They were used for exorcisms and during the funeral rituals. Masks developed during the time and entered other parts of life and culture and today they have many uses from births to funerals. They are used in dance performances, during celebrations, there are masks for newborns, masks made for protection against evil and theatrical masks. During ceremonies that are held as welcome celebrations of gods and spirits, groups of people wear “Sorcerer’s masks”. These masks are also used in rituals that are held as prayers for better tomorrow and during funerary rites to help a soul rest peacefully. These masks originate from totemic worshiping of Yunnan and Guizhou. “Shamanic” masks are used in exorcisms and in funeral rituals of northern parts of China.

Chinese Mask

Festive masks are used during celebrations, especially during Chinese New Year. Theatrical masks are worn or even painted on faces in Chinese opera and other theatrical presentations. With masks, audience is able to read character of a role at one glance. That is possible because of strict symbolism of colors that are used for painting the masks. Red symbolizes positive values of the character such as loyalty, heroism and courage. Purple can be used instead of red but can also symbolize sophistication and justice. Black is color for characters that have integrity, that are impartial and neutral. Blue can also be a color of neutral character but can also mean wisdom, stubbornness and fierceness. Green is reserved for characters that lack self-control, that are violent and impulsive. Yellow and white paint cruel characters and characters that are hypocrites and evil.

Supernatural beings wear masks that are gold or silver be they gods, demons or spirits because these colors symbolize mystery. “Xiangdong Nuo” mask is very important part of Nuo culture and is used for religious rituals, dance and theatre. It is often made as a high quality artwork, in bright colors that show the characteristics of a god that it represents and can have more or less stylized features. These masks are still used today for its intended purposes, from ritual to celebratory.

One of the greatest celebrations in culture of China is a Chinese New Year. During Chinese New Year many masks are worn but the most famous and important of them is mask of the dragon. Dragon mask is a symbol of fortune and prosperity in Chinese culture and it is usually made to be very complex, colored red, gold and blue and decorated with feathers and fur. Some dragon masks are so big that more people must carry them.