Ground opera or Dixi drama mask is also called ‘Lianzi’ (meaning face in Chinese) by local people. It is a typical folk arts of Guizhou province. They are very refined and full of likeness and have high aesthetic value.
The number of masks used in one drama ranges from several dozen to two hundred.
As the topic of the drama is always about wars, the masks generally can be divided into the masks for the positive characters and the masks for the negative characters. Dixi drama is a part of Han ethnic culture, therefore the positive characters are usually Han ethnic people and the negative characters are minority people. And the masks vary from age, gender and social rankings. Among them, the military officers’ masks are the most complicated, which can be divided to civilian general, military general, old general, young general and woman general. Besides the chief commander, there are also auxiliary generals, Taoists, clowns and animals.
The masks consist of three parts, namely, face, helmet and ear, which is carved into various kinds of heroic figures in exaggerative style. The faces can be classified to five kinds: men, warrior men, old men, young men, and women, and they are called “five kinds of people”.
There are some modalities which can be followed in carving the five sense organs, for example, when making the eyebrow, the principle of “The young general’s eyebrow is like an arrow, the female general’s eyebrow is like a line and the warrior’s eyebrow is like a flame of fire” must be followed; there are two methods of carving mouths–“the earth wraps the heaven” and “the heaven wraps the earth”; when carving the eyes, “the men open their eyes widely, and the women nearly close their eyes.” The changes of facial expressions and decorations show the character of the figures in a Dixi Drama. They may be brave, ferocious, powerful, composed, arrogant, sly, tender, or amiable. Decorations include butterflies, grass and flowers.
Colors and Technique
Most of the masks are made of clove or poplar, and carved by the technique combining the bass-relief with hollowed carving, which is delicate without overloading details. Gold-overlay and silver-blush can both be used to highlight the color, and any color such as red, green, blue, white, yellow and black can be used. Glass sheets are needed to be inlayed in some masks to make them magnificent and imposing! The colors of the masks usually indicate the characteristics of the characters. Generally speaking, red represents brave, black is the symbol of firm and upright, blue means courageous and resolute, green indicates self-possessed and white represents the character is of soldierly bearing.
The masks of Dixi have the godhood and personality at the same time. The new masks purchased can be placed anywhere, but they will be treated as sacred once they are sealed in the case by naming them for a perspective role. “Unveiling ceremony” is a ritual of sublimating masks to Gods and it is presided by carving craftsmen. Firstly the masks are displayed in the shrine in solemnity and then a rooster is killed, the blood of which is dotted on the mask faces, meanwhile the unveiling words are recited, so the masks are endued with life.
Concerning the development of mask, it already has a history of thousands of years and it is one of the elements of Chinese culture which cannot be ignored. It strengthened the deterrent force of common people, which had significant function in social life during ancient China when the power of nature was unknown. Mask was used by ancient people to express their hope for living and their fear for death.
by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com
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