We have told stories since our species could walk and talk. Passing along history, personal or tribal exploits, cautionary tales to our young, the art and performance of the story is a bulging lobe of human racial memory.
Some of the earliest performances were pretty much debriefings from successful hunts and ceremonies honoring gods or scaring away spirits. Props in the form of totems and masks were often fairly specific in who or what they represented and, over time, were refined and stylized as the ritual and story spread through a culture.
And this is where our story begins…
The red mask is Zhao Kuangyin. I haven't been able to positively identify the other three.
Ancient China’s way of scaring off evil spirits, warding off disease, and petitioning for godly blessings involved a patterned step called Nuo that developed sometime between the 1000 and 200 BCE. Over centuries Nuo evolved into a dance and eventually reached the stage. Camphor and Willow wood masks were an integral part of Nuo ritual. Read more of this post
The perception of ancient China and Chinese art is inexorably entwined with the Ming dynasty. While Ming rule was only a fraction of Chinese history, in the western mind it’s been given free run in film and literature.
Ming Dragon Vase Yung-lo period 1403-1424
In the 13th century Kublai Khan let the Song dynasty know, rather rudely, that the Great Wall just wasn’t doing its job, which was, of course, to keep Mongols like himself out. Unfortunately for the Khan clan, this was about the same time as the Mongol empire was starting to fracture and, for a variety of reasons, was only able to rule China for less than 100 years until a Han peasant monk decided he’d had enough and led an overthrow and established the Ming dynasty.
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