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.



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.




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.




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 @

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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 @

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