Unknown date, likely 20th century
Materials: Paper Mache and Paint
This mask represents a character named Sun Wukong (孫悟空), or the Monkey King, who appears in Chinese folklore and plays a large role in the 16th century classic Chinese novel Xiyou ji, or Journey to the West. In the mythology of Sun Wukong, he was born from a stone egg on top of the Mountain of Flower and Fruit, when the wind blew on the stone egg it turned into the monkey. The Monkey King gained immortality and supernatural powers but rebelled against heaven when the gods excluded him from a royal banquet. He stole Xi Wangmu’s peaches of immortality and Laozi’s pills of longevity, then destroyed many of heavens palaces. The Buddha captured the Monkey King and imprisoned him in a mountain for five hundred years. The Buddha released him in exchange for his aid protecting the famous monk Xuanzang in his pilgrimage to India to retrieve the Buddhist sutras.
The story of the Monkey king is an important myth in Chinese culture, and it continues to be a popular story in Chinese theater and cinema. Many Chinese operas use face paint rather than masks such as this one. In the Chinese Opera, colors have significant meanings and are used as a visual aid. Red is used to represent a positive character or to show courage, intelligence, or bravery, black is used as a neutral color, blue is used to show stubbornness and white is used as a negative color or to represent a sly or evil character. Gold and silver show characters such as gods, demons and spirits. While red is the predominant color in this specific mask, there are other depictions that have white as the main color, with red framing the eyes nose and mouth. The colors in different masks allow the viewer to better understand the character’s role in the narrative.
Many families enjoy visiting the Chinese Opera during the Chinese Lunar New Year. Each year is represented in the Chinese zodiac by an animal and last year, 2016, was the year of the monkey. To celebrate the year of the monkey many may have used a mask similar to this one in the festivities. The Chinese Lunar New Year celebration is a centuries old tradition that lands on the first new moon of the year, in 2017 that was January 28th. The celebration traditionally honors deities and ancestors and it is also a time to gather with family, cleanse homes to rid ill-will and welcome good fortune and prosperity for the rest of the year.
One of the first Asian groups that immigrated to Texas were the Chinese in 1870 who were employed to work on the Texas railroads. In the following six decades, because of the Chinese exclusion law, the only Chinese that entered Texas were called “Pershing Chinese” because of their aid to John J. Pershing‘s troops against the paramilitary forces of Mexican insurgent Francisco “Pancho” Villa. They were allowed to settle in San Antonio, where even in a hostile environment the culture remained. After the exclusion act was repealed, Chinese immigration resumed and continued through the decades allowing the Chinese population in the United States (and Texas) to grow. Every year San Antonio celebrates our Asian cultures at the annual Asian Festival, held this coming weekend. Get your tickets HERE. [Sara Countryman, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
Unknown date, likely 20th Century
Materials: Cloth, hair, Ceramic
This Japanese doll is a depiction of princess Yaegaki-Hime, the heroine of a five-act drama called Honcho Nijushiko or The 24 Models of Filial Piety. This drama was originally preformed in 1766 as a Bunraku, a Japanese puppet theater originating in Osaka, and then became a popular drama in the live acting Kabuki theater. The character of the princess Yaegaki-Hime has gained fame through the Bunraku and Kabuki plays. The Yaegaki-Hime doll presented depicts her holding the legendary helmet that had been gifted to a samurai lord named Takeda Shingen by a fox god called Suwa Myojin. The helmet is enchanted to protect the samurai who wears it so that the samurai will always win and, when in need, the helmet would summon 808 foxes to protect the owner. In the famous scene of heroinism, Yaegaki saves her lover, Katsuyori, from the wrath of her father. He had sent two men to kill Katsuyori because of a family feud, Yaegaki prayed there was something she could do and mourned for her lover. She touched the enchanted helmet and became possessed by its power, with the protection of two white foxes she ran across a frozen lake to warn Katsuyori. The climax of both Bunraku and Kabuki plays is Yaegaki’s dance as she becomes possessed by the fox spirit and saves Katsuyori. The story ends as the family feud is resolved, the lovers marry and live happily ever after.
In the Bunraku tradition, scenes are narrated by musical chanting with the accompaniment of a shamisen, which is a stringed instrument of the lute family. The narrator voices the characters using a unique emotional vocal style for each character, sometimes for important scenes there may be multiple narrators chanting together. The puppeteer, or chief handler, also plays a role in narrating the story with his own exaggerated facial expressions, he would operate the head and right hand while 2 assistants, dressed and hooded in black, control the left hand and lower body movement.
The tradition of puppet theater in Japan stems from 11th century traveling story tellers and may have been influenced by Central Asia. The style of puppets has evolved from simplistic, hand-less and leg-less puppets to intricate full bodied puppets with moveable mouths and eyes. Japanese puppet theater was considered a sophisticated, adult pastime and was immensely popular the during the Tokugwa, or Edo, Period (1600-1868). The Japanese puppet theater did not gain the name ‘Bunraku’ until the late 18th century, it derives from the troupe established by Uemura Bunrakuken in Osaka, Japan. The plays for the puppet theater were written playbooks, published in authorized editions and, at the height of the puppeteering tradition over 1,000 plays were written and performed.
A new type of Japanese entertainment emerged in the beginning of the 17th century called Kabuki, where women would play both male and female parts in storytelling with song and dance. Many of the stories in the original Kabuki tradition were those of everyday life however, many of the successful Bunraku plays were adapted for the Kabuki stage. During this period, when women played the roles, Kabuki was not deemed as sophisticated as its puppeteering counterpart. The themes of these stories were often comical, suggestive and the women were usually prostitutes. The Shogunate banned women from acting to discourage prostitution and became a tradition of performance with a completely male cast. [Sara Countryman, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
Visit the Asian Festival at the Institute of Texan Cultures on February 4th to see live performances of Asian music and dance.
Unknown date, likely 20th century
Materials: Paper Mache
This is a Chinese Opera mask depicting Jian Wei, a character who appeared in the The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This traditional Chinese drama combines historic events, and legends, from the third century AD and the civil wars after the fall of the Han Dynasty. The wars between the Shu, Wu, and Wei kingdoms spawned stories of violence, betrayal, heroism, and romance.
Jiang Wei is represented with a red, white and black three tiled face with a taijitu, or yin yang, symbol on his forehead. The colors and symbols on the face of an opera character give the audience insight to the personality of the character. Red represents loyalty and courage in Chinese culture. Because his face is mostly red, it suggests an overall positive character. The taijitu on his head tells the audience that he is a Taoist master and has an immense knowledge of the universe. Jiang Wei was a historical figure who was originally a general for the Wei kingdom but his authority was not respected so he became a general of the opposing kingdom of Shu. He later became the successor to the famed Zhang Liang, however, he betrayed the Shu kingdom by manipulating them, allowing the Wei kingdom to overthrow the Shu.
Masks such as these have several purposes, they can be used for ceremonies, protection, festivals, and theater. In this case, the mask would be worn by an opera performer, today actors typically wear face paint rather than masks. Using paint is more difficult and requires skill, but it allows the actor to better convey emotion.
In the Chinese Opera there are four different types of roles. The first is the female role or dan usually young a maiden, elderly woman, or warrior woman. Second is the male role or , which refers to a young man, elderly man, or sheng combat warrior. Then there’s the clowns or chou which can be either male or female, the clowns are comical characters that can act as the villain or simply provide comic relief. Finally there’s the painted face roles, called jing, which are powerful male roles. The painted face characters usually include generals, villains, gods, supernatural beings, or other powerful characters. The singing style is different for the painted face roles, it requires a deep nasal voice. Their costumes are big and demand attention, with large shoulder pads and heavy fabric these characters take up a lot of space.
Tales like these have been an important part of Chinese literature for centuries with the opera being a form of historical education for many common, or even illiterate, Chinese peoples. However exaggerated and whimsical the operas appear, many of the stories contain historical fact in the events and characters. The legends told in the Chinese Opera have influenced the identity of the Chinese culture and people. During the mid-nineteenth century, China was in increasing contact with Europe though many western explorers. Europeans journeyed to China to learn about and study the Chinese culture, spread religion, or secure trade routes. The Chinese identity was challenged by the sudden and immense exposure to western society. The traditional tales performed in the opera encouraged and reinforced the Chinese identity. On an international level Chinese Americans brought the Peking Opera to America when there was an increase in immigration in due to the 1849 gold rush. The Chinese have used opera to continue and spread their legends and history. Today the Chinese Opera can be found in countries across the world and has influenced modern media. Chinese themes, stories, and characters play parts in video games like Dynasty Warriors, novels like Journey to the West, comic books, and some have been adapted into full-length feature films. [Sara Countryman, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
Park and ride service will be offered to Asian Festival from the Crossroads Park and Ride, and service will begin at 9:15 a.m. and will run until 5:30 p.m.
Uber is also offering a special promotion for the festival. Sign up for Uber and insert the promo code TXASIAN to receive up to $20 off your trip! This promotion is for first time riders only and you can get started here! If you’ve already taken your first Uber trip, share this promotion with friends and family so that they can enjoy their first ride. This promo doesn’t expire until 2/29/16.
Materials: cloth, thread
In Japan the word for doll is ningyō (人形), which translates to ‘human shaped’. Japanese dolls have been, and still are, immensely popular in the western world and while Western society sees dolls as children’s playthings the Japanese doll holds a much more complex standing in Japanese society.
To understand the significance of ningyō it is important to know the history. Ningyō were made before the Heian era (794 – 1185) and originally started out as talismans given to children when they were born. The ningyō were shaped to look like the child it was being given to, in order to confuse any evil spirits. It was believed that these spirits would attack the ningyō instead of the child. Once the child became of age these ningyō dolls were usually destroyed. There were a number of different talismans and ritual uses for ningyō including one used for paper dolls, called nademono. These simple dolls were rubbed all over the body with the intent to draw out any sickness or misfortune before being destroyed or thrown into a running river. This particular ritual continued on into the Edo period and became closely linked to the Hina-matsuri festival, or Girl’s Day Doll Festival. During this festival, dolls styled after the imperial court are displayed on a tiered platform where they are ceremonially served cake and teas. These doll are used as a way to magically keep away illness and bad luck from children, typically girls.
There are many different types of ningyō from Japan, the one from our collection is an oyama doll. Oyama refers to the male actors who dress in women’s clothes in the Kabuki Theater. Many oyama ningyō are made to represent actors, or actresses, from the Kabuki Theater. Kabuki, which means “to slant” or “to sway,” got its start in the 17th century (1601-1700) by the miko, a Shinto priestess, Izumono Okuni. She started an all-female dance group and her troupe were the first entertainers to cater to the taste of Japan’s common people. However, in 1652 the Japanese Tokugawa shogunat banned women and children from performing. This lead to older men taking over the female roles in Kabuki plays. The trend for an all-male cast has stayed mostly true even in modern day performances. By the 18th century Kabuki had grown into a more sophisticated and established art form. This was, in large part, due to the ability of commoners in Japan being able to improve their social stations. Kabuki remained the people’s theater and provided plays that reflected historical events and as a commentary on contemporary society.
This particular oyama ningyō, from our collection, is a character from the classical Kabuki theater play, Fuji Musume, or the Wisteria Maiden. The play begins with a young man walking down a street and admiring some paintings. He stops and stares at the painting of the Wisteria Maiden; who is depicted in a painting holding a wisteria branch. The maiden in the picture becomes smitten with the man and steps out of the painting in an effort to capture his attention. She performs several dances in order to get the man to notice her but unfortunately, her attempts are ignored by the man. Her love goes unrequited, and she sorrowfully steps back into the two-dimensional world of her painting still holding her weeping wisteria. The oyama ningyō, in our collection, wearing the costume of the Wisteria Maiden during the last act of the play.
Though ningyō today are often seen as playthings, they are still often considered ceremonial devices and are highly prized gifts. This can be seen today during political gift giving between Japan and other countries; where Japan often gives ningyō as gifts to heads of state. Japanese dolls are still closely intertwined with ceremonial rituals associated with fertility, death, health and purification. [Carlise Ferguson, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Dragon dance prop
Materials: cloth, paint
In western society the thought of dragons conjures up fearful images of large lizards that can fly and breathe fire. Often dragons are perceived as evil and a menace upon the land. Knights of legend would ride out and dual with dragons in the hopes of freeing the land and saving a beautiful princess. This image of the evil dragon has gone back for millennia in Greek, Norse, English and German culture and legends. However, the legend of the dragon in Chinese culture is very different.
China and its connection to dragons
The Chinese Dragon, sometimes called the Oriental dragon, is a benevolent creature with the ability to fly and live in the ocean. Dragons in China are often thought to control rain, rivers and other forms of water. The earliest known depictions of dragons in China date back thousands of years, and can be seen in art, jewelry and pottery. Even though dragons have been a part of Chinese culture for a long time, there is still much debate on when and where they originated. The Totem-Worship Theory states that sometime around 2697 BC, China was made up of a number of different tribes who each had a totem depicting an animal or plant. The tribes believed they were blood related to these totems. One of the tribes, was ruled by the first legendary Emperor Huang Di. Huang Di fought against the Yandi tribe for the throne.
Emperor Huang Di’s tribe won and it is thought that his tribe adopted a coat of arms which depicted a snake. Emperor Huang Di soon started waging wars with other tribes in the area. It is believed that every time they conquered one of these tribes they took that tribes totem animal and incorporated it with their own. Many scholars believe that this is why the oriental dragon looks like it is made up from nine different animals, possessing the antlers of a deer; the head of a camel; the neck of a snake; a hawk’s claws; the palms of a tiger; an ox’s ears; a rabbit’s eyes; a frog’s belly, and a carp’s scales. Under Emperor Huang Di’s rule the central plains of China were unified and the symbol of the dragon has remained popular even today.
Two other popular theories are that the dragon is a stylized depiction of an animal, such as a fish, snake or crocodile or that the Chinese dragon represents lightning. Some evidence to support this is the fact that the Chinese pronunciation for the word dragon, lung or long, resembles the onomatopoeia of the sound of lightning in Chinese culture.
Symbolism of the Chinese Dragon
Today dragons are still highly respected in China and many Chinese consider themselves decedents of dragons. Legends say that after Emperor Huang Di died the gods in heaven granted him rebirth as a dragon. This falls in line with the Chinese belief that the dragon is the symbol of the emperor and all emperors of China were believed to be direct descendants of celestial dragons. Ancient emperors called their robes “dragon robes,” their palace a “dragon palace” and their throne “The Dragon Throne.” The close association with dragons in Chinese culture has made it a well known symbol of China.
Where did the Dragon Dance come from?
The dragon dance originated during the Han Dynasty (180-230 AD). While it is usually performed at festivals, like the New Year’s Festival and Lantern Festival, it originally started out as a folk dance. Because dragons are believed to be the bringers of rain, many farmers started to perform this dance in order to honor the dragon. The farmers would hoped that the dragon would be pleased by the dance and in return bring rain to the crops. By the time the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD), the dragon dance had become very popular and being performed almost exclusively for festival events.
Though the dance may look simple from an outsider’s point of view, it takes many hours of practice for the performers to get and keep the movements of the dragon flowing. If one performer messes up, it can spoil the entire performance. The dragon dance is carried out by a team of performers who carry the dragon on poles. The dragon’s body is made up of a series of hoops with a head attachment on one end and a tail attachment on the other. These dragon props can range from 25 to 70 meters long, with the shorter dragons used for more acrobatic dances while the longer ones are for ceremonial use. The color of the dragon is also symbolic. Most dragons are green, which symbolize the harvest. Gold represents the empire, and red represents excitement and good fortune.
Today, if you want to see a dragon dance without visiting China you need look no further than within your own local community. Here in Texas there are multiple festivals held throughout the year that feature dragon dances. At these festivals one can see a dragon dance and celebrate Chinese culture. In San Antonio, the Institute of Texan Cultures holds the Asian Festival every year. This year it will be held on February 13, 2016. [Carlise Ferguson, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]