Chinese Horse Ladle Mask

The Horse ladle mask is a folk art form mainly prevailing in the Central Shaanxi Plain. It is also locally called horse ladle facial make-ups. The horse ladle facial make-ups used in Shehuo are a precious art form, demonstrating the unique artistic glamour of West China.

Shehuo

Horse Ladle Mask

With a history more than 5000 years, Shehuo, originally a ceremony to honor gods and spirits from heaven and earth, gradually developed to a festive occasion to celebrate and pray for harvest. They prayed for harvest and affluence with their songs and dances from “She”, originally meaning the God of Earth, and “Huo”, literally meaning fire which ancient people believed to have the magic power of driving away the evil spirit.

Horse Ladle Mask

Horse Ladle Mask

Shehuo is now a mass entertainment activity for rural people of northern west of China to celebrate Chinese New Year. Besides, it is also the natural outpouring of enthusiasm and love for life as well as a demonstration of talents and vitality.

Horse Ladle Mask

The players made up like wearing a mask on the face. Afterward, people used the woody ladle painted with Shehuo Mask, which is believed to have magic power in it, to feed horses and cattle to prevent murrain, or hung the ladle-shape mask on the wall in their house to impetrate safety, harmony, and happiness.

Horse Ladle Mask

Just as the name suggests, horse ladles are used to feed horses in these areas. The round ladles are used to hold water, while the rectangular ones are to hold grain.

Horse Ladle Mask

By using various color, different style of masks exemplify different characters in an exaggerated way. Vivid mythic animal, monster, human and God characters emerge in manifold meticulous painted masks. The patterns painted on the ladles are ways of praying for the livestock’s safety and health, thus ensuring people a happy and harmonious life. People in the past used to hang the painted ladles in their houses to drive away the evil spirits, and to avoid sterility and other accidents. The tradition and influence left over from the Shang and Zhou dynasties (About 1600-221BC) can still be perceived from these painted ladles.

Horse Ladle Mask

According to experts’ research, the colored drawings are similar to those on the bronze vessels of the Shang and Zhou times, and the image characterized by flowers, fish, insects, lucky birds and beasts is a trace of the totems, reproduction worship and gods adoration of ancient China, reflecting the cultural specificity of the totem epoch. People at the time believed that the wizards with painted faces were endowed with the magic power to talk to God. The tattoo and face painting traditions are the predecessors of facial make-ups.

Horse Ladle Mask

Therefore, the horse ladle facial make-ups used in Shehuo in some way passed on the 5,000-year Chinese civilization by recording the ancient folk customs.

Besides its original purpose of warding off evil, the horse ladle masks hold high aesthetic values and are regarded as refined handicrafts favored by collectors.

Horse Ladle Mask

Fine wood from phoenix tree, Chinese toon or peach tree is usually chosen as the material, from which horse ladles are delicately carved. Multi-layer patterns and the unique West China feature of using bright colors usually characterize the artworks. The steady style, uncouth sculpt, intense colors, simple yet delicate paintings, and bold, pure, fresh, free and exaggerated style can be found from all the original works, demonstrating the rich imagination and wisdom of the working people.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Chinese Ground Opera Mask

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.

Types

Ground Opera

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.

Composition

Ground Opera

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

Ground Opera

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.

Significance

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.

Ground Opera

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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Chinese Ground Opera – Anshun Dixi Drama

Dixi drama, literally Ground Opera in Chinese, is considered the forebear of many other forms of Chinese opera. It can be traced back to the 14th century during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when the armed forces of North China entered Guizhou. Originally it is a sacrificial ceremony performed by the soldiers in Tunpu area of Anshun, Guizhou, to entertain the gods and ask for victory in battle. With its spreading among the populace, Dixi drama has becomes a form of popular entertainment among dwellers around Anshun town, Guizhou.

Origin

Ground Opera

Ground Opera The birth of Dixi drama is closely related to the station troops in Anshun who came from Anhui Province, Jiangsu Province, Jiangxi Province, Zhejiang Province, Henan Province, etc. The Ming troop set up 24 Military Stations (wei,卫) and 26 Thousand-household Garrisons (suo,所) in Guizhou, among which 3 stations and 2 garrisons were in Anshun, and the soliders in these military administrative communities were called “tun-pu ren”(station people) in the historical materials, and it was due to the tun-pu station people that the Dixi drama appeared accordingly.

Dixi drama was a particular kind of folk drama played by the station people, in which wood carving masks were used. The birth of Dixi drama was related with the station people’s living situation. The main body of Nuo Culture was originally Central Plains Culture. The military Nuo which integrated offering sacrifice, exercising drills and recreation had existed in the troops for a long time. The military Nuo and the folk Nuo popular in the common people in Central Plains were brought to Guizhou after the troops entered this area, and they combined with the local conditions and customs to become Guizhou Dixi Drama centering on Anshun.

Performance

The performers are wielding wood swords and singing the ancient stories to village folks.
 Ground Opera
The unique masks carved from wood would make valuable collected items.
 Ground Opera

In Tunpu around Anshun, Dixi drama is the primary entertainment activity. It is generally staged twice in a year, during the spring festival and the mid-July harvest season. The religious meaning is obvious. People hope the drama can drive away bad luck and bring good harvest. Year after year, numerous locals are attracted to this performance. Sometimes a drama can last a dozen days.

Ground Opera

Musical instruments for Dixi drama include one gong and one drum. The drummer is very important during a performance. The stage may be a village square or a vacant ground on the roadside, and the audience usually stands around on the high land for a better view of the performance.

Most of the popular operas are based on historical battle stories, such as Wars between Chu and Han, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the History of the Sui and Tang Dynasties, and Generals of the Yang Family. These stories have been told for hundreds of years but still remain fresh.

The warriors usually wear chicken feather on the head and small flags on the back.
 Ground Opera
The exquisite masks are lifelike in design.
 Ground Opera

The local farmers are the players. They wear fancy wooden masks carved of wood, and dress in cloth shoes, unadorned robes, with banners on their backs and weapons in their hands. Around 40 to more than 100 different masks will be used in each opera. When performing, the players cover their faces with black gauze before placing the masks on their forehead. To the tempos of gongs and drums, the performers wielding wood swords and folding fans, sing the ancient folk stories. Their performance is full of enthusiasm and vibrates with long, loud, resonant voices.

The performance procedure of Anshun Dixi consists of the following parts: “opening the case”, “welcoming the Gods”, “the ritual before the start of the drama”, “sorcerer’s dance in a trance”, “the ritual after the end of the drama” and “closing the case” and so on. “Sorcerer’s dance in a trance ” is the formal performance, and it consists of “the King holds a court”, “send out the declaration of war”, “dispatch troops” and “return the court”. The other parts are activities related with the dispelling evils and bringing in auspiciousness. The station people’s ideology of Gods and spirits endue the Dixi drama with the property of “nuoyuan”. When building houses, praying for blessings and asking for sons, the villagers will also ask the Gods in Dixi performing team (such as Guan Yu and She Taijun) to perform the activity of “opening the gate of fortune” and “Sending princes”.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Chinese Opera Mask

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 life.

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.

Chinese Mask

Ground Opera

China is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country with a time-honored history and masks are popular among all ethnic groups as a time-honored cultural phenomenon, forming many unique customs. According to their functions, Chinese masks can be divided into exorcising masks, Tibetan masks, sorcerers’ masks in Yunnan and Guizhou, Shamanic masks and dramatic masks etc.

Along with the development of the society, the ghost and god worshiping nature of the masks have been watered down and stress has been put on their artistic and entertainment qualities. A mask makes a collector’s item with high aesthetic values.

Nuo Drama Mask

In Nuo sacrifices, masks play a very important role. During the Shang and Zhou dynasties, when sacrifices were common, the leader of the ritual wore a golden mask with four eyes, to frighten away ghosts and devils. In Nuo drama performances, masks are the most important prop and are a major characteristic, distinguishing this drama from others.

Ground Opera

Masks carved out of quality camphor or poplar or willow wood are the soul of Nuo Drama. These two kinds of wood are durable and easy to carve. Furthermore, folklore holds that they contain spirits. A mask also has religious implications; as the symbol and medium of a spirit, masks are governed by strict rules. The moment a dancer puts on his mask, he will not speak or act casually since putting on a mask means the spirit is on him already. People believe that after performance of a certain ceremony upon its completion, a mask becomes a living god. Nuo drama is the privilege of men, women are not allowed to touch a mask, much less put one on.

Nuo masks are the result of primitive religion and totem worship. From sun, to earth, to deity worship, nuo performances reveal the secrets of the evolution of ancient societies. Each nuo mask has a fixed name, represents a certain role, and has legendary stories to tell about its origins. In Guizhou, a province with the largest number of nuo drama repertoires, at least 24 masks are required to perform an entire nuo drama piece.

The masks can appear valiant and martial, stern and tough, or gentle and kind, and they come in various styles to represent different figures. For instance, since the responsibility of valiant gods is to emit awe, and to dispel ghosts and devils, their masks usually have horns and buckteeth, with a very ferocious countenance. Ground Opera

Nuo mask has shifted from primitive totem worship to aspiration for kindness and justice, vividly interpreting history. The mask has gradually come down from the high shrines, and entered the hearts of the people. It is not only the incarnation and a carrier of gods, but also a mirror that reflects the lives of Chinese ancestors. Thus, Nuo masks become popular. Studies show that the influence of the Nuo Drama mask extends to the facial painting of Beijing Opera and the face changes of Sichuan Opera.

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Nuo Drama the Living fossil of Chinese Drama (II)

At one time, Nuo drama was very popular in every part of China. With social development, however, it faded out in most parts, remaining popular only in southwest China, in areas such as Guizhou, in eastern Yunnan, southern Sichuan and Chongqing, in southwestern Hubei and western Hunan, and in northern Guangxi.

Nuo Dramas vary considerably, from one area to another.

Guizhou Nuo Drama

Ground Opera

Guizhou is the center of Nuo Drama in southwestern China, while Dejiang in northeast and Anshun in southwest Guizhou province are centers for Nuo Drama.

In Tunbu around Anshun, Nuo Drama is the primary entertainment activity. Nuo Drama here is a branch of the ancient Military Nuo. Musical instruments include one gong and one drum. The drummer is very important during a performance. A patch of land serves as a stage. As a result, Nuo Drama is also called Dixi, meaning ground drama in Chinese.

Yunnan Nuo Drama

Ground Opera

Leopard Nuo Drama in Chuxiong, Yunnan province, differentiates itself by the fact that all dancers are painted with a leopard pattern on their nude bodies.

The ferocious and agile leopard is regarded as the most qualified to drive away devils. Leopards are played by twelve boys about 10 years old with the leopard pattern painted on their backs, hands, feet, and belly in black, white, red, and yellow colors. At the climax of the dance, leopards run after young girls watching the show until the girls take them home where snacks have been prepared. This devil-dispelling activity is performed in the rooms, kitchens and stalls of one family after another; the leopards dispel devils for all the villagers.

Nuo Drama in Other Places

Ground Opera

Nuo Drama is popular among many ethnic groups in Hunan where both facial painting and masks are used.

Ground Opera

Guichi Nuo Drama from Anhui province, is special because it is performed on a clan basis not by a troupe as in other places.

Ground Opera

“Seizing the Yellow Devil” is a Nuo dance drama from Wu’an County in Handan, Hebei Province. The people of Guyi village in Wu’an perform the dance drama during the Lantern Festival (the 15th day of the first lunar month each year).

Ground Opera Ground Opera

In addition, Nanpu Nuo Drama from Zhangzhou, Fujian province, and Nanfeng Nuo Drama from Nanfeng, Jiangxi province, are representative of local dramas.

Though much like the Japanese classical drama Noh, not enough importance is attached to Nuo Drama in China. It is still a folk art with a strong religious color. This, on one hand, preserves the authentic flavor of Nuo Drama, but on the other hand, Nuo Drama faces great difficulties in developing successors and in financing. Making Nuo Drama masks provides more income than does performing. Young people are no longer interested in the art; the youngest actors of Nuo Drama in many places are at least 40 years old.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Nuo Drama the Living fossil of Chinese Drama (I)

Nuo, also called the Nuo sacrifice, or Nuo ceremony, was originally a type of sacrificial and magic ritual, which was held to expel evil spirits and pestilence during the last month of the Chinese lunar year. Later, Nuo evolved into a dance drama.

Origin

Ground Opera

Its name is derived from one such ritual, where people shouted “Nuo!, Nuo!”, to drive away the devil. The nuo ritual procedure includes inviting, welcoming, and thanking spirits. Following the solemn ritual, nuo drama is performed to entertain the spirits. Masked performers, with whips, dance to the sound of different, mysterious tunes — some wearing black, white, or red masks, each with expressions varying from the amiable, to the frightening, and ferocious. Ground Opera However, with the passing of time and increasing popularization of science, the primitive, superstitious ritual has now been transformed into a theatrical performance for entertainment purposes.

History

The Nuo ritual has been practiced in China for thousands of years, starting from primitive society, when early men performed sacrifices and conducted ceremonial services to pay tribute to ancestors, gods, and goddesses, while exorcising demons.

During ancient times, the nuo dance was originally performed to drive away evil spirits at sacrificial rituals. The ceremony was first recorded on bones and tortoise shells during the Shang Dynasty (16th-17th century BC), and flourished in the Zhou Dynasty (11th century-256BC). As the number of its participants increased from 100 to 1,000, the ceremony became more and more magnificent. At the same time as the grand nuo ceremony began to be held by the royal court, the folk nuo ceremony also began to appear in the countryside.

With the development of science and technology, the dance gradually declined, and in the Central Plains in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, it disappeared completely after the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Today, the dance can only be seen during the Spring Festival in remote mountainous areas, such as Guizhou, Hunan, Yunnan, Sichuan and Anhui provinces, inhabited mostly by minority ethnic groups.

The nuo dance gradually developed into a dance drama and became more of a recreation than a ritual during and after the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It is a masked drama enacted by a priest performing an exorcism, also known as “theater with a presentational aspect, a festival, and the idea of gatherings to establish ties and norms”. The rituals have been incorporated into people’s lives and are seen as commentaries on Chinese life.

Living Fossil of Chinese Drama

Nuo drama is the most direct and important expressive form of nuo culture. It covers primitive religion, folklore and art, and integrates literature, music, dance, drama, painting, calligraphy, sculpture, and paper-cut. The nuo drama has great artistic value and is called a living fossil of drama.

Nuo cultural studies have become a hot topic for academics. But experts say there is still much work to be done.

Qu Liuyi, director of the China Nuo Drama Research Association, said that the crux of the issue is how to protect the original state of the opera, including its costumes, masks, and, more importantly, the cultural environment where the opera developed.

Professor Koichiro Inahata from the prestigious Waseda University in Japan, acknowledged that some old nuo ritual masks have been lost or have sunk into oblivion over the long history.

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