The Delights of Peking Opera Masks

Many foreign friends first learn about Chinese culture through the numerous Chinese restaurants found all over the world. The second impression of Chinese culture is often Peking Opera, whose mask is now almost the symbol of China.

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China’s Peking Opera radiates with the beauty of resplendent color: vivid, intense and glamorous. This artistic beauty comes not only from the costume but also from the masks of exaggerated and dazzling designs, gleaming with reds, purples, whites, yellows, blacks, blues, greens, etc.

Masks, applied to the two roles of the “Jing” or “male character” and the “chou” or “clown”, serve two purposes. One is to indicate the identity and character of the role. For example, a “red face” means the person is loyal and brave. A “black face” signifies the person is straightforward. When you see a “white face” the person may be crafty and evil. The other purpose is to express people’s appraisal of the roles from a moral and aesthetic point of view, such as respectable, hateful, noble, or ridiculous, etc.

Besides adding to the attractive spectacle onstage, Peking Opera masks are in and of themselves an art of beautiful colors and designs for aesthetic appreciation. Many Chinese folk handicrafts (e.g., kites, dough and clay figurines, carpets, tapestries), posters, advertisements, and fashions adopt Peking Opera masks as a source element in their designs.

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