Chinese New Year Masks
Today Chinese masks are most popularly featured in two main aspects of the Chinese culture; the Chinese New Year celebrations and Chinese opera performances.
Masks in Chinese culture are part and parcel of the world culture of masks....... 面具 Mianju. Masks first appeared in China during the Shang and Zhou dynasty some 3,500 years ago. The colourful and exciting celebrations for the Chinese New Year last for several days and end with the lantern [Yuanxiao] festival.
The Chinese masks that surface during the New Year season are exclusively used during that time of the year only. The general feeling generated by the Chinese masks during this festive season is that of happiness and joy. Will and Guy share with you some of the multitude of masks which abound in Chinese culture
A Chinese New Year Mask can be made of materials including cloth, paper, grass, leather, metal, shell, and carved of stone or wood. They are painted with Chinese symbolic designs and vivid colours. Some masks have realistic human or animal features like lion or dragon, while others provide a grotesque appearance. Red is considered as a lucky colour for Chinese people, therefore there are lots of red masks worn during the celebrations of New Year. Chinese New Year Masks are amongst the best creations in the art world and are highly sought after by collectors.
You can see these masks in museums and art galleries in many parts of the world. Chinese New Year is swathed in beliefs of gods, spirits of ancestors, legendary beings, good and or evil, the dead, animal spirits, and other beings believed to have supreme power over humanity. Masks featuring such supreme powers are honoured and are worn during the rituals surrounding the Chinese New Year like the Chinese new year dragon dance or lion dance. Chinese New Year Masks are also hung around the home as decoration.
Chinese New Year Masks reflect the feelings and emotions of merriment associated with this festival. Chinese people all over the world usher in the New Year by cooking special food, cleaning their homes, purchasing new clothes and buying presents for friends and family. In the midst of all these activities, various artworks like Chinese New Year Masks in rich colours display the essence of the festivity.
Chinese opera masks are painted on to the faces of the performers. The masks seek to describe the character that each performer is meant to play in the performance. Some are applied by professional make-up artists, but mostly by the actors themselves. There are all sorts of combinations of design and colour and often they are very beautiful report Will and Guy.
Here we provide a guide to the meaning and significance of the colours that can be seen on Chinese opera masks:
The colours of the masks and the type of designs used help us to comprehend and understand the characters in the Chinese opera much better. Occasionally, just by looking at the design used, it can be seen that this is the hero in the opera or the villain, whether this is a general or an ordinary soldier, whether the character is aggressive or friendly.
Masks are an age-old cultural phenomenon shared by all ethnic groups of China. In awe of the unknown world, ancient people created numerous totems and divinities, praying to them for the power to overcome disasters and protect their lives.
Traditional Chinese masks served as a carrier of such wishes. They were given the functions of communicating with gods, bringing blessings, driving away ghosts and warding off diseases and lots of sacrificial rituals involving masks were regularly held.
These Chinese exorcising masks were used to frighten away evil spirits. The masks were made to appear as grotesque as possible to scare away the evil spirits. Exorcising rituals were performed once a month but due to scientific discoveries exorcism now is used as a means of entertainment.
Tibetan masks Tibetan Masks are masks worn by monastery and folk sorcerers and those used in Tibetan operas and play a large part in Tibetan culture.
Shamanic masks are exorcising and funeral masks derived from the totem worshipping of ethnic minorities in north China and the shamanic culture.
A man ties a New Year wish to a "wishing tree" at the Taoist White Cloud Temple, Beijing, on the day of Chinese New Year
A child in traditional costume takes part in the third day of Chinese New Year celebrations at the Dongyue temple, Beijing, China. The Lunar New Year will be marked with a week-long holiday.
Today, people wear white in honour of the moon, lanterns are hung in the malls and markets, and children carry paper lanterns to school, to light their way to a bright and happy future.
The lantern displays can be found in the town centres, the squares and temples. In China there is often a lantern competition at the temple. Traditional lanterns are made of paper. They can make the lantern turn by the heat circulation from the candle inside.
Today the light of the lantern is mostly from electricity. People like to design lantern using zodiac animals, historical figures, saint and gods of Taoism or Buddhism. Certainly, the current year's animal symbol of the Chinese calendar is most popular subject. Using a computer they can now design the lantern with different movements, the different colours of light and even using the laser light with special visual and sound effects.
The Lantern Festival is also referred to as the Yuan-Xiao Festival. This is because Chinese eat Yuan-Xiao on this day. This custom originated from the Eastern Jin Dynasty in the fourth century and then became popular during the Tang and Song Dynasty.
At the Chinese New Year red is important. People wear red clothes, they write poems on red paper, and give children 'luck money' in red envelopes. The symbolism behind the red colour is fire, and fire burns off bad luck. As for fireworks one belief is that the cracker jacks and sparks frighten away evil spirits.
After the fireworks at the beginning of the celebration of the Chinese new year, comes the more tranquil Lantern Festival on the last day of the festivities. Most Lantern parades feature a dragon made of silk and bamboo. The dancers hold the monstrous dragon aloft on sticks. Their coordination skills make the dragon appear to dance.
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