Ancient Voices: Classic Characters from Chinese Opera


Select one of the characters below and on the back of this handout draw your design for a mask, incorporating into the mask design a few of the symbols and emblems relating to your chosen character.


Name Symbols, Emblems, Identifying Characteristics
Lao Sheng:
Senior Male Role
Usually a dignified, well-mannered government official, scholar or high-ranking military man, either middle-aged or elderly. He has a black or white beard and wears a black hat with two fins on either side that vary in shape and size according to his status.
Xiao Sheng:
Junior Male Role
Usually small and slight of stature, an elaborately dressed member of high society or a young warrior, sometimes an impoverished scholar. A smooth-shaven face, elaborate helmets, headdresses and hats are common. Pheasant feathers denote military status.
Wu Sheng:
Acrobatic Male Role
Usually a military man highly skilled in acrobatics; bright-colored costume; military headgear and related symbols.
Hua Dan:
Young Girl Role
Coquettish character known for her flirtatious, mischievous eye movements. Vivid, colorful costume includes jacket and trousers; also red handkerchief that she flutters in front of her face.
Dao Ma Dan:
Female Warrior Role
Often portrays heroines in Chinese history famed for military prowess. Wears the Kao or traditional armor, feathered helmet.
Lao Dan:
Old Woman Role
Often carries a staff; wrinkled face, white hair, subdued costume and headdress denoting extreme age.

Painted Face
Male Role
Swaggering, assertive character, usually a warrior, government official or high-ranking military general. Ornate headdress or helmet; face elaborately painted to match personality:
Red - intelligent, loyal, brave; also prosperous;
Blue - fierce, wild, stubborn, steadfast;
Green - violent, impulsive, lacks self-restraint;
Yellow - ambitious, sly, deceitful;
White - cruel, sinister; Black-brusque, rough, impartial;
Gold and Silver - symbols of mystery reserved for supernatural characters such as gods, demons or ghosts.
Comedy Role
Male clown has distinctive white patch around nose and eyes; female has reddened face with expressive, black eyebrows.

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