Naxi Nakhi People

Naxi Nakhi are an ethnic group inhabit at the foothills of the Himalayas in the northwestern part of Yunnan Province, as well as the southwestern part of Sichuan Province in southwest China.

 

Origin

Dongba people

The Naxi Nakhi are believed to be the descendants of the nomadic Qiang, an ethnic group inhabiting Tibetan plateau since ancient times. During the Sui (581CE-618 CE) and Tang (618CE-907 CE) dynasties, the Naxi Nakhi were known as the Mosha-yi, or the Moxie-yi. Only after communist rule in China did they call themselves Naxi Nakhi, which means “people who worship black things “.

 

Religion

 

Dongba people

Before 1949, most Naxi Nakhi people were followers of the “Dongba” religion, which was a form of Shamanism. Sorcerers, called “Dongba,” were invited to chant scriptures at weddings, funerals, the New Year Day and other festivals. With the influence of both Han Chinese and Tibetan culture, some of the Naxi Nakhi were followers of Lamaism, Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity

 

Language

 

Dongba People

Naxi language belongs to the Chinese-Tibetan language family. More than 1,000 years ago, the Naxi people had already created pictographic characters called the “Dongba” script and a syllabic writing known as the “Geba” script. With these scripts they recorded a lot of beautiful folklore, legends, poems and religious classics. However, they were difficult to master, and in 1957 the government helped the Naxi design an alphabetic script. Over the past few hundred years, as the Naxi people have come into closer contact with the people in other parts of China politically, economically and culturally, the oral and written Chinese has become an important means of communication in Naxi society.

 

Costume

 

Dongba People

Naxi Nakhi Woman Costume in Lijiang
Dongba People

The Naxi Nakhi women wear wide-sleeved loose gowns accompanied by jackets and long trousers, tied with richly decorated belts at the waist. They often wear sheep skin slung over the shoulder, on which are seven stars exquisitely embroidered, with sun and moon symbols, one on each side. This reflects the Naxis’ admiration for diligence — “people start working early in the morning and do not stop until late in the evening.” Women in Ninglang County wear short jackets and long skirts reaching the ground, with many folds. They wrap large black cotton turbans around their heads and wear big silver earrings. Men’s garments are similar to those of the Han people.

 

Custom

 

Dongba People

The monogamous family was the main type of Naxi family. Young people’s marriages were all arranged by their parents.

Dongba People

Cremation has been a tradition since ancient times, although burial was adopted in certain Naxi Nakhi areas during the late Qing Dynasty (1644CE- 1912CE). It was common in the past to chant scriptures at the funeral ceremony to expiate the sins of the dead.

 

Music

 

 

Naxi Nakhi Dongjing Musicians in Lijiang
Dongba People Dongba People

Dongba People

Naxi Nakhi culture is largely a mixture of Tibetan and Han Chinese influences, with some indigenous elements. Especially in the case of their musical scores, it acts as the foundation of the Naxi Nakhi literature.

Naxi Nakhi music is 500 years old, and it has developed its own unique style and traits. There are three main styles: Baisha, Dongjing, and Huangjing, all using traditional Chinese instruments. The most common musical instruments are flutes, reed pipes and wind-string instruments. The Naxis are fond of singing and dancing, especially at weddings and funerals. The most popular songs are descriptive and short. They are sung at very high pitch and with strong rhythms, to the accompaniment of simple dances.

 

Art and Architecture

 

Dongba People

Naxi architecture, sculpture and painting have reached fairly high standards. Absorbing architectural styles of the Han and the Tibetan, the houses of the Naxi Nakhi are built in a unique vernacular style of one courtyard with five skylights, which have a crude and simple appearance, but with elaborate and delicate patterns on casements and doors. The ancient Naxi Nakhi town of Lijiang is now a major tourist destination.

Dongba People

The temples, though looking very staid and ordinary from the outside, are decorated on the interior with carvings on poles, arches and idols of gods. The decorations include depictions of episodes from epics, dancers, warriors, animals and birds, and flowers. The mural paintings depict Dongba gods, and are derived from Tibetan styles.

 

Festivals

 

Dongba People Dongba People

The traditional festivals include the “Farm-Tool Fair” in January, “God of the Rain Festival” in March, and “Mule and Horse Fair” in July. There are also the Lunar New Year, the Pure Brightness Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Torch Festival — all being the same as those of the Hans.

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Chinese Shadow Puppet Play

Chinese shadow puppet play wins the heart of an audience by its lingering music, exquisite sculpture, brisk color and lively performance and gets a name as “a magic, lighting-like art”.

 

Music

Music accompaniments are four string and south string instrument, bowed instrument, four-string moon-shaped instrument, drum, gong, flute, hand allegro and horn.

Nicknamed the business of the five, a shadow puppet troupe is made up of five people. One operates the puppets, one plays a horn, a suo-na horn, and a yu-kin (a kind of Chinese folk musical instrument), one plays banhu fiddle (a kind of Chinese folk musical instrument), one is in charge of percussion instruments, and one sings. This singer assumes all the roles in the puppet show, which of course is very difficult. That is not all; the singer also plays several of the over 20 kinds of musical instruments in a puppet show. These ancient musical instruments enhance this ancient folk art.

As shadow puppet plays are popular all over China and in the long-time evolving process in different areas, the styles and rhythms of the singing tunes absorbed the essence of operas, folk art forms, ballads and music. Therefore, various schools of shadow puppet plays have been formed.

 

Lively Performance

 

shadow puppet

A balladry from Shaan Xi Province described how the shadow puppeteer works.

Folk Shadow Play
Speaking behind paper partition screen,
Expressing variable feelings by shadows,
One shadow play actor can tell thousand years stories,
Both hands can operate millions of soldiers.

shadow puppet

The stage for shadow puppet is a white cloth screen on which the shadows of flat puppets are projected. Shadow puppet looks similar to paper-cut except that their joints are connected by thread so that they can be operated freely. The scene is simple and primitive; it is the consummate performance that attracts the audience. For example, a puppet can smoke and breathe out a smoke ring with operator help. In one drama, as a maid sits in front of a mirror, her reflection matches her actions.

 

Roles of Shadow Play

 

shadow puppet

Roles in shadow plays are the same with the Peking opera. Sheng, Dan, Jing, Mo, Chou all can be found in shadow play. The difference is that every ‘player’ consists of 11 parts including head, two body parts, two legs, two upper arms and lower arms as well as two hands. Drawn by the performers through controlling bars and threads, ‘players’ can do various kinds of vivid movements. Shadow play demands for high performing skills. The operator plays five puppets at the same time, each of which has three threads. Ten fingers handle 15 threads. No wonder the operator is compared to the 1000-hand Kwan-yin. Besides control three or four ‘players’ at a time, performers have to catch up with the tempo and musical accompany as well as pay attention to dialogue and singing. Hence, it is not an easy job to train a mature shadow play performer.

 

Popular Plays

 

The wonder of the shadow puppet play based on Chinese History and culture. If one is unfamiliar with the customs of northwest China, the value of the art is abated.

shadow puppet shadow puppet

In terms of the content, shadow puppet plays feature historical novels, folk legends, legal cases involving swordsmen, love stories, mythological stories, fables and modern costume plays. In terms of the length, there are highlights of plays, single-section plays and series, etc. Popular traditional plays include the Tale of the White Snake, the Cowherd and the Weaving Girl, Outlaws of the Marsh, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West and The Creation of the Gods, etc. Modern costume plays and fairy tale or fable plays created between the revolutionary wartime and 1949 include the White-Haired Girl, Liu Hulan, Sea of Forest and Land of Snow, The Red Lantern and Mr. Gongguo, etc.

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Chinese Peasant Painting

Just as the name implies, Chinese peasant paintings are decorative paintings and printed pictures created by peasants in China. These simple aesthetic works are much loved by rural and urban people, as well as attracting attention from abroad. Dongba people

 

Origin

Chinese Peasant Painting is both ancient and young. It is ancient because it originates from the thousand year traditions of embroidering, batik, paper cutting and wall painting. It is young because as a genre of painting it has emerged within the last thirty years. It appeared in the late 1950s partly as a result of political encouragement, took shape in the 1970s, but to the 1980s, it had demonstrated its vitality with unique charm.

 

What to Appreciate in Peasant Paintings

 

Dongba people

Chinese peasants paint their works by using bright colors in a simple and authentic style to express their good wishes, record their everyday lifestyle, and illustrate festivities. Some paintings are bold and unconstrained, some are strong and impassioned, while yet others are ornate and elegant. All of them have a naive charm, clear and full of the feeling of folk life. By appreciating these art works, you get a full picture of how these Chinese peasants live, how they think, and what they love.

Dongba people

Looking at those works at the first sight, impressionism may be the first thing to come to your mind. The similarities between the two are obvious: both have intense colors, simple and clear lines, and detail the feelings and understandings of the world except for the fact that these are not done by a Chinese Monet, but, surprisingly, Chinese peasants.

Dongba people

Dongba people

More than three quarters of the population in China are peasants, creators of this unique genre of fine arts in China. Without professional training in art academies, the peasants make these paintings to express their own joys, upsets, and ponderings. As a matter of fact, a lot of the painters are illiterate. When they cannot express themselves with written, they take painting brushes instead.

If you are becoming weary of watching the classic canvas and abstract modern paintings, these works provide you an alternative that strikes you with its extreme liveliness, vivaciously rural style, and bold imaginations.

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Chinese Martial Arts

Chinese martial arts, referred by Mandarin Chinese as Wu Shu and also popularly known as Kung Fu, are a number of fighting styles that have developed over the centuries in China.

Kungfu Clothing

 

Terminology

Kung Fu and Wu Shu are terms that have been borrowed into English to refer to Chinese martial arts. However, the Chinese terms Kung Fu and Wu Shu have distinct meanings.

Dongba Culture

Wu Shu literally means “martial art”. It is formed from the two words “wǔ”, meaning “martial” or “military” and “shù”, meaning “discipline”, “skill” or “method.”

Kung Fu is a Chinese term often used in the West to refer to Chinese martial arts. Its original meaning is somewhat different, referring to one’s expertise in any skill achieved through hard work and practice, not necessarily martial. Wu Shu is a more precise term for general martial activities.

 

Origin

According to legend, Chinese martial arts originated during the semi-mythical Xia Dynasty more than 4,000 years ago. The genesis of Chinese martial arts has been attributed to the need for self-defense, hunting techniques and military training in ancient China. Hand-to-hand combat and weapons practice were important in training ancient Chinese soldiers.

Ancient depiction of fighting monks practicing the art of self-defense
Kungfu Clothing

 

Styles

Kungfu Clothing Kungfu Clothing

China has a long history of martial traditions that includes hundreds of different styles. Over the past two thousand years many distinctive styles have been developed, each with its own set of techniques and ideas. There are also common themes to the different styles, which are often classified by “families”, “sects” or “schools”. There are styles that mimic movements from animals and others that gather inspiration from various Chinese philosophies, myths and legends. Styles which focus on “qi” (energy flow) manipulation are labeled as internal, while others concentrate on improving muscle and cardiovascular fitness and are labeled external. Geographical association, as in northern and southern, is another popular method of categorization.

 

Training

Kungfu Clothing

Chinese martial arts training consist of the following components: basics, forms, applications and weapons. Different styles place varying emphasis on each component. In addition, philosophy, ethics and even medical practice are highly regarded by most Chinese martial arts. A complete training system should also provide insight into Chinese attitudes and culture.

 

Basics

Kungfu Clothing

The Basics are a vital part of any martial training, as a student cannot progress to the more advanced stages without them; Basics are usually made up of rudimentary techniques, conditioning exercises, including stances. Basic training may involve simple movements that are performed repeatedly; other examples of basic training are stretching, meditation, striking, throwing, or jumping. Without strong and flexible muscles, management of Qi (energy flow) or breath, and proper body mechanics, it is impossible for a student to progress in the Chinese martial arts. A common saying concerning basic training in Chinese martial arts is as “Train both Internal and External”. External training includes the hands, the eyes, the body and stances. Internal training includes the heart, the spirit, the mind, breathing and strength.

 

Martial Morality

Kungfu Clothing

Traditional Chinese schools of martial arts, such as the famed Shaolin monks, often dealt with the study of martial arts not just as a means of self-defense or mental training, but as a system of ethics. “Wude” translated as “martial morality” is from the words “wu”, which means martial, and “de”, which means morality. “Wude” refer to two aspects, “morality of deed” and “morality of mind”. Morality of deed is about social relations. Morality of mind is meant to cultivate the inner harmony between the emotional mind and the wisdom mind. The ultimate goal is to reach “no extremity” (closely related to the Taoist concept of “wu wei”), where both wisdom and emotions are in harmony with each other.

 

Kungfu Clothing

References to the concepts and use of Chinese martial arts can be found in popular culture. Historically, the influence of Chinese martial arts can be found in books and in the performance arts specific to Asia. Recently, those influences have extended to the movies and television that targets a much wider audience. As a result, Chinese martial arts have spread beyond its ethnic roots and have a global appeal.

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Chinese Ethnic Costume

Costumes of Chinese ethnic minorities are flowery, colorful, extremely exquisite, and highly distinctive. They play an important role of the rich history and culture of the ethnic groups.

 

Material

Chinese Traditional Clothing Chinese Traditional Clothing

Every aspect of their garments, such as raw materials, textile technology, fashion and decoration, retains a distinct characteristic of the ethnic group and the locality. The Hezhen ethnic minority people, who mainly make a living on fishing, used to make clothes with fish-skin. The hunting ethnic groups, such as Oroqen and Ewenki, used roe skin and animal tendon to stitch up their clothes. The Mongolians, Tibetans, Kazakstans, Khalkhases, Uygurs, etc., who are mainly engaged in stockbreeding, make their apparel mostly from animal skin and hair. And, farming ethnic minorities usually take the locally produced cotton or hemp thread as raw materials to spin cloth and silk and make clothes.

Chinese Traditional Clothing

The spinning and weaving, tanning and felting techniques of Chinese ethnic people boast a long history. For example, bombax, cloth of the Li ethnic minority, woolen fabric of the Tibetan, Adelis, silk of the Uygur, fur products of the Oroqen have enjoyed a worldwide reputation all along.

 

Style

 

Chinese Traditional Clothing

There are numerous clothing designs and forms in Chinese ethnic minorities. Generally speaking, they can be classified into two types: long gowns and short clothes. People usually wear a hat and boots to match long gowns, and headcloth and shoes to match short clothes. The gowns take various forms. The high-collar and big-front type is worn by the Mongolian, the Manchu and the Tu. The collarless tilted-front type is worn by the Tibetan and the Moinba. The tilted-front type is worn by the Uygur and other ethnic minorities. As for short clothes, they fall into two types: trousers and skirts.

Chinese Traditional Clothing

In terms of skirts, there are pleated skirts, tube skirts, short skirts and one-piece dress. In any kind of clothes, no matter it is a gown, a coat, a skirt, or trousers, different ethnic minority groups employ different structures, techniques and styles. Women of the Li, Dai, Jingpo and De’ang ethnic minorities all wear tube skirts, but those tube skirts worn by the Li are brocade skirts made of cotton, those worn by the Jingpo are woolen multicolored skirts, those worn by the De’ang are skirts with horizontal stripes, and those worn by the Dai are usually skirts made of ordinary cloth.

Chinese Traditional Clothing

Costumes of ethnic minorities vary greatly not only with different nationalities, but also with different branches and different regions within the same ethnic group. Difference can be seen from province to province, from county to county, and even from village to village. Costume is the most obvious symbol of an ethnic group, and in the history, many ethnic groups were named just by their garments.

Chinese Traditional Clothing

In a vast country like China, with so many ethnic groups and an unbalanced social development, styles of clothes vary a lot due to different economic lives, cultural levels, natural environments and geographical conditions and climatic conditions. This is one of the characteristics of folk garments.

 

Technique

 

Chinese Traditional Clothing

Techniques such as embroidery and batik are much developed, and are widely used in making clothing adornments. This is another feature of their costumes.

Chinese Traditional Clothing

Embroidery is a technique generally favored by all ethnic groups, and it is usually used in the headband, the waistband, the apron, and some rapid-wearing parts such as the border of the front, the round shoulder, the lower hem, the wristband, the bottom of trouser legs, the edge of the skirt, etc., being both decorative and practical. Embroidery techniques include cross-stitch work and appliqué. Embroidery methods include surface, twine, chain, net, stab and stack embroidery. Motifs are natural scenes, auspicious patterns and geometric patterns.

Chinese Traditional Clothing

 

Culture

 

Chinese ethnic costumes are often thought to provide a record of the history and folklore and bear the totems of the minorities’ beliefs, as the weaving together of every yarn also bears the marks of the delicate craftsmanship and wisdom of people.

Chinese Traditional Clothing

Chinese Traditional Clothing

These costumes bear a wide range of symbols, many of which are motifs drawn from their daily life but with hidden meanings. For example, in Miao minority, birds and butterfly motifs are found, indicating that these people have once worshipped them as totems.

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Naxi Nakhi Dongba Culture

The term Dongba, Tomba or Tompa , which is from Naxi Nakhi language, means “the wise” and refers to the religious priests, the culture, and script of the Naxi Nakhi people, who are found in southwestern China. Dongba Culture consists of its writings, scriptures, paintings, dance and music.

 

Dongba Religion

Dongba culture can’t separate from Dongba religion. The Dongba religion was developed at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618-907CE) on the basis of Naxis’ primitive shamanism and it absorbed the Bon religion culture of the Tibetans.

Dongba Culture

Dongba religion is mainly passed on by Dongbas. The Dongba, also known as wise men, are believed to be the priests of the Bön religion. They play a major role in the Naxi culture, and preach harmony between man and nature. Their costumes show strong Tibetan influence, and pictures of Bön gods can be seen on their headgear. Tibetan prayer flags and Taoist offerings can be seen in their rituals.

Dongba Culture

Religious rituals are also conducted by the priests to propitiate the spirits, as they were believed to be living in every part of the natural world.

This can be evidenced from the fact that the core of the Dongba religion is based on the belief that both man and nature are two brothers born of two mothers and the same father.

 

Dongba Script

 

Dongba script, possessing more than 1400 characters, is a pictographic writing system used by the Bon priests of the Naxi people and believed to be the only well preserved living pictographic langrage in the world. Together with the geba syllabary and the Latin alphabet, it is one of the three Naxi scripts. Dongba is perhaps a thousand years old. The glyphs may be used as rebuses for abstract words which do not have glyphs. It is largely a mnemonic system, and cannot by itself represent the Naxi language. Different authors may use the same glyphs with different meanings, and it may be supplemented with the syllabic geba script for clarification.

Dongba Culture

About 40,000 volumes of Dongba scriptures have been found today, all written in Dongba pictographic characters. These scriptures are kept in the libraries or museums of many countries other than China, such as the United States, Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany and Austria. The Dongba scriptures have covered a wide range of knowledge. They are precious references for the study of the ancient philosophy, religion, folklore, history, art and literature of the Naxi nationality.

 

Dongba painting

 

Dongba Culture Dongba Culture

Dongba painting includes board painting, bamboo pen painting, card painting, rod painting, and huge cloth scroll painting. The painting skills are distinctive: some have rough lines and primitive & crude patterns and some are colorful and bright with delicate technique of writing. The Painting “God’s road” is over 10 meters long and is a rare treasure of painting art.

 

Dongba dance

 

Dongba Culture Dongba Culture

The Naxi Dongba priests use dance as an integral part of their rituals. When they are called upon to help send a recently deceased soul on its long, arduous path to the afterlife, or exorcise a ghost, or indeed perform sacrifices to the Gods; ritual dance is invariably involved, alongside recitation of the relevant scriptures.

The tools used by the Dongba in the dance can be narrowed down to the following three: a bell that represents the sun, a hand drum that represents the moon, and the knife. The dances themselves often enact legendary stories told in the scriptures, and the dongba must play the roles of the people and Gods involved, and more frequently the animals – tigers, horses, birds etc, reflecting a form of shamanist animism.

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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.

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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.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Hmong Miao Embroidered Mei Tai Baby Carrier – Art? Yes, but Love is More

Because of the elaborate design and incredible embroidery techniques, baby carriers of Hmong Miao ethnic people are now prized by primitive artists and tribal arts textile enthusiasts.

Hmong Miao women living in Southwest China are exquisite creators of textiles. From the age of 5 or 6, they begin to learn needlework, continuing through to their teens. At that time, they make their wedding dresses, baby carriers, and baby clothes. When they reach middle age, they continue to make clothes for their descendants, and they never stop sewing and embroidering.

 

Expression of Love through Baby Carrier

Embroidery was a symbol of femininity and feminine accomplishment in Hmong Miao ethnic tribes. Every stitch and thread of a mother’s embroidery work on children’s hats, bibs, shoes, clothes, and baby carriers is the deepest expression of a mother’s affectionate embrace to her child.

Baby Carrier Baby Carrier

A Miao/Hmong friend once told me that the most touching scene he had ever observed was that of his mother sewing and mending for her children under the pale glow of a lamp. This memory echoes a well-known poem by Meng Jiao, the great poet in Tang Dynasty (AD 751- AD 814).

Thread in the hands of a loving mother

Turns to clothes on the traveling son

Baby Carrier

With a unique emotional message, the baby carrier expresses the love of a mother for her child and her hopes for the future. It is a symbolic extension of the umbilical cord. A line from a poem states parents willingly work as hard as oxen for their children. Baby carrier is a testament to the dedication of the mother to the child.

 

Always Ready to Be a Good Mother

 

Hmong Miao women lavish particular attention on their baby carriers. But many carriers are not created after they get married or have a baby. Prior to getting married, a Miao/Hmong girl begins designing and making a baby carrier, baby clothes and wedding clothes. The entire process of raising silkworms, producing silk, embroidering, doing patchwork, dyeing, and designing are very refined.

It is said that, Women learn to make batik and embroidery from an early age, and they achieve their social status in this fashion. The girl who can weave and embroider special patterns is seen to be hardworking and extraordinary intelligent, and she will become the most sought after bride in the community. Therefore, in some villages, a girl may wear her baby carrier to market events, showing off her work to potential suitors. Her handiwork is an artistic representation of her individuality and creativity.

Hmong Miao Antique Mei Tai Baby Carrier
 Baby Carrier  Baby Carrier  Baby Carrier

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

P.S. We need people with similar passion to join or partner with us in promoting ethnic handicrafts! Please contact us at interact@interactchina.com to make any suggestions that you may have in co-operating with us, or join as Affiliate.