Chinese opera, together with the Indian Sanskrit Opera and the Greek tragic-comedy, forms part of the trinity of the oldest dramatic art forms in the world. As such, Chinese opera is an umbrella term, and covers a cast array of schools within – ranging from Kun, Peking, Shaoxing, Yue, Huangmei, Chuan, Ping, Hebei Bangzi, Henan Bangzi and Chao Operas. Each of the schools of Chinese Opera draws its roots from a particular region of China, and reflects the life and times of its peoples through a medium of dance, music and drama. While some of the schools like the Ping Opera are relatively recent agglomerations of prior schools, a few schools like the Chuan and the Kung continue age-old frameworks and survive in near original form and structure to this day (Shme).
Masks form an important part of Chinese culture. The earliest Chinese masks were created nearly 3500 years ago, and served as spiritual symbols. They have been used in Chinese rituals to propitiate the Gods and to seek blessings. Sorcerer’s masks were common in the Yunan and Guangzhou provinces to seek solace for souls, which had passed from the earth, or to seek fortune. Masks continue to be worn in China today during weddings, funerals, religious ceremonies and cultural events (Traditions). As Chinese opera is but a representation of Chinese culture, masks too became prominent leitmotifs within the overall framework of the art form.
Chinese masks in the opera are created either by painting on the face, or by wearing light cloth coverings which are painted. By accentuating the facial expressions through intricate patterns of color, texture and lines, the masks aid the performers to evoke a wide array of emotions, bringing authenticity and depth to the rol...
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...top downwards. Generally, the mask begins with a generic design on top, and gradually increases in complexity and information about the character as one gazes down the mask.
The mask plays a prominent role in Chinese opera. It bears within it an essence of Chinese tradition, history and culture, and provides a clue to the emotions and qualities the character bears in the operatic sequence. An appreciation of the subtle nuances of the mask will go a long way in appreciating Chinese Opera.
China Gaze. “The Secrets of Masks in Chinese Opera.” ChinaGaze.com. 10 Aug 2013. Web. 23 March 2014.
Shme. “Traditional Chinese Operas.” Shme.com. n.d. Web. 23 March 2014.
Traditions. “The History of the Chinese Mask.” Traditions-Cultural-China.com. n.d. Web. 23 March 2014.
Travel China Guide. “Chinese Opera.” TravelChinaGuide.com. n.d. Web. 23 March 2014.