Opera Masks — China
Originally, face painting was designed to scare the enemy when going into battle. Traditional face painting for Chinese opera combines colours, shapes, and forms to express opera characters.
The many regional Chinese operas use varied makeup and masks to portray a performer’s character or personality, intense moods, and status. Generally, these graphic colours, shapes, and patterns symbolize and express human qualities in makeup and masks.
Chinese opera mask designs mimic traditional painted face designs. These dramatic masks are used in operas, festivals, and celebrations and are popular as souvenirs.
“The many regional Chinese operas use varied makeup and masks to portray a performer’s character or personality, intense moods, and status. Generally, these graphic colours, shapes, and patterns symbolize and express human qualities in makeup and masks.”
The red bearded Sichuan opera mask is used as a wall decoration and was presented as a gift from Chinese officials attending the Vancouver International Dragon Boat Festival. A red beard represents someone with a cruel, demented, or fiery temperament and is often worn by ghosts. Opera masks, costumes, and dramatic themes vary from region to region in China.
There are 18 different kinds of beards for the many different roles in Chinese opera, and beards are generally white, black or grey. A full beard to the waist signifies old age; long or short, black, white, grey, or even red, are mostly worn by older men; black denotes over 40 years old, grey over 50, white over 60.
Nuo opera performances from Southwest China integrate religious and dramatic culture. The purpose of nuo folk opera is to drive away devils, disease, and evil influences and also to petition for blessings from the gods. Singing and dancing are included in nuo folk opera with performers wearing costumes and masks.
Fancy facemasks created with sequins and satin for masquerade balls do not follow design traditions of Chinese opera. These masks are sold as decorative souvenirs or to be enjoyed at masquerade parties.
Stylized opera masks painted in iridescent, contemporary colours are used as interior decorations.