Hidden heritage behind Nuo show masks

By Jia Tingting in Guiyang, Guizhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-10-06 08:26:39

 Hidden heritage behind Nuo show masks

Nuo masks are among the favorite toys of local Tujia children in Ganxi town in rural Guizhou.  Photos Provided to China Daily

Dedicated engraver hopes to pass old craft on for future generations to enjoy

In the deep valleys of southwest China's Guizhou province the sounds of drums and gongs signal Nuo performances, which are held about 10 times a month to drive away evil spirits and pray for good.

Hidden heritage behind Nuo show masks

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Nuo, which means to exorcise bad, was a popular type of sorcery that can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty (16th century - 11th century BC) or even earlier.

A vital part of Nuo performances is masks that feature protruding eyes and jutting chins.

At first glance, the exaggerated and deformed facial features on the masks look scary, but for Yang Yunxia, a Tujia engraver from Tongren, Guizhou province, the masks represent an inherited folk craft.

Carving masks for Nuo performances was traditionally seen as a man's job because it involves heavy manual labor.

However, Yang learnt the craft and took over to become her family's seventh generation of engravers.

Yang's father said he picked her from his six children as his successor due to her natural carving talent. "She is a quick learner with perseverance," he said.

Yang carved her first mask and sold it for 120 yuan ($19.5) in 2005 after being trained by her father. It took her four days to complete the mask after her first attempt failed.

To date, the 37-year-old has produced hundreds of masks, which are usually the size of a human's face. She sometimes varies the size to cater to market demands, and can make them between one cubic centimeter to one cubic meter.

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