TITLE: Tibet Shaman Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Tibet
ETHNICITY: Tibetan
DESCRIPTION: Shaman Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Divination; Healing; Purification; Spirit Invocation
AGE: Unknown
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: pigment

Shamanic masks arise from animistic religious beliefs rather than Hindu or Buddhist influences.  The shamanic influence in Himalayan societies probably arrived from Mongolian nomadic invaders.  The aspiring shaman must depart the community and live in isolation to commune with nature spirits. If the aspirant succeeds, he or she returns to the village with supernatural powers to invoke ancestor and nature spirits that can be either malevolent or protective and turn them to the good of the community.  This gives the shaman healing and divination powers that are used in major life events, such as births, illness, marriage, or death.  Masks are worn during these ceremonies to help the shaman mediate between the material and spiritual worlds.

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TITLE: Maonan Nuo Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Guangxi
ETHNICITY: Maonan
DESCRIPTION: Nuo Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Nuo Opera
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment; Healing; Purification
AGE: 1930s
MAIN MATERIAL: poplar or willow wood
OTHER MATERIALS: oil-based paint; cotton cloth strips

The Nuo opera in China may be traced back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE), possibly much earlier (some believe the Shang and Zhou Dynasties) and was popular in large parts of the empire, but especially along the southern borders, where it was a form of entertainment for the imperial troops. It evolved from a sacrificial rite performed by shamans into a more dramatic form, with both Buddhist and Taoist overtones. Nuo opera is based on historical stories and stories based on the Taoist religion and all roles (including female roles) are performed by men. It evolved into a popular form of entertainment and was eventually accompanied by an orchestra of Chinese instruments.  The Nuo opera never quite lost its shamanic connection, however, and also was used to exorcise evil spirits at the home of sick persons. The sacred connection is evident from a religious ceremony that always precedes the opening of a Nuo opera.  In addition, a wooden statue representing the originator of the opera is present at every performance, and nobody except the opera troupe may touch props used in the performance. Although the Chinese Communist Party attempted to suppress Nuo performances and eliminated it from most of the country, the opera continues to be performed in three southern provinces of China today (Guangxi, Guizhou, and Jiangxi).

The Maonan people form a relatively small ethnic group in China, confined largely to Guangxi province, and it is one of several ethnic groups that adopted Nuo opera deeply into its culture. This mask, with a hat typical of the Maonan people, probably represents a young god, possibly Erlang Shen, judging by the spiritual third eye in the forehead.

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REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China (Hong Kong)
YEAR PRINTED: 2008
VALUE: 5 Hong Kong dollars

This stamp is one of a set of two issued in Hong Kong on November 6, 2008 to celebrate masquerade jointly with the Republic of Korea.  This one depicts the happy Buddha from the Lunar New Year celebration.  The character accompanies the Lion Dance, and the lion mask is shown in the background.

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REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China (Hong Kong)
YEAR PRINTED: 2008
VALUE: 5 Hong Kong dollars

This stamp is one of a set of two issued in Hong Kong on November 6, 2008 to celebrate masquerade jointly with the Republic of Korea.  This one depicts a Korean Talchum character known as Chwibalyi (취발이). In the background another character, possibly Nogent (노장), the Observer, is depicted.

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TITLE: Lunar New Year Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Asia
COUNTRY: China
SUBREGION: Hong Kong
ETHNICITY: Han
DESCRIPTION: Elderly Woman “Big Head” Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Lunar New Year
FUNCTION: Celebration; Entertainment
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint; dyed polyester fabric

The Chinese celebrate the lunar new year with lion dances, parades, and fireworks throughout the country.  Normally, the celebration begins on new year’s eve and lasts 15 days, and it provides an opportunity for entertainment, family reunion, honoring ancestors, and planning for the coming year. In the parade, armies of “big-headed Buddhas” clad in traditional silk costumes (or their modern polyester equivalents) follow the lion dancers.  They cavort for the entertainment of the audience and to bring good fortune in the coming year. Among these masqueraders are old man and old woman characters, such as the one represented by this mask. In modern Hong Kong, this is the largest festival of the year, and includes floats and decorations throughout the city.

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