Chinese Opera Masks and Makeup

There is a certain art to creating Chinese opera masks and makeup. In the Sichuan opera, there is a talent of switching masks – this can be done up to several times in a minute and even 50 times in one show. The different masks introduce characteristics, indicate personalities, tell good and evil and distinguishes beauty and ugliness. The “masks come from an ancient tradition of face-painting among warriors and, as with war paint, the colors and patterns bear symbolic meanings” (ferrebeekeeper). These are more often than not elaborate designs, especially when partnered up with the costumes. The costumes with bright colours and soft, wavy arms, gives the actors moments to be able to change their masks.

The colours and what they represent throughout Chinese opera include:

  • White: sinister, evil, crafty, treacherous, and suspicious. Anyone wearing a white mask is usually the villain
  • Green: impulsive, violent, no self restraint or self control
  • Red: brave, loyal, positive, prosperity, courage, heroism, intelligence
  • Purple: used as substitute for red, justice, sophistication
  • Black: valour, rough, fierce, or impartial, neutral, integral
  • Yellow: duplicity, ambitious, fierce and cool-headed, cruel, evil, hypocritical, ambitious, sly
  • Blue: steadfast, someone who is loyal and sticks to one side no matter what, stubbornness, astuteness, fierceness and can be an indication of neutrality
  • Golden and silver: mystery, aloofness, also shown to be a demon, ghost or spirit
  • Lines: the larger the white area painted, the more viperous the role

2 thoughts on “Chinese Opera Masks and Makeup

  1. Pingback: Chinese Opera | Charlotte Abraham Art

  2. Pingback: Red Angel Chinese Opera – Planning | Charlotte Abraham Art

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