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Traveling Trunk

Beijing Opera Masks

Beijing opera emerged in the 18th century and remains a traditional form of Chinese theater (6). The Beijing opera mask is a well-known element of Beijing opera. Different characters can be easily distinguished by different make-up. Colors illustrate important traits of the characters (7):

• Red – devotion, courage, and loyalty
• Black – rough and fierce
• Yellow – ambition and calmness
• Purple – upright and sophisticated
• Blue – dependable and perceptive
• White – sinister, suspicious, treacherous, and crafty
• Green – violent and without self-restraint
• Gold and silver – used for gods and spirits

In ancient China, masks were used during rituals when performers attempted to frighten off ghosts. Over time, the masks were included in other performances and actors took great liberty in their choice of paint methods and colors. Later, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD), rules and standards were set as the popularity of the Beijing opera grew (8).

For lesson plan ideas, see the following website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMrC5h7lbHc (9).