Masks have been worn in China since primitive times and have slowly developed into high art. To the Chinese, a mask is not to simply cover a face, it is a palette on which to paint what is hidden within your spirit and soul and allow others to see you entirely. They portray your inner self through means of specific colour links each, of which stands for a human characteristic.
Original masks were made of wood, and sometimes hair. Colour started to be added very early on, starting with three basic colours that were easy to find in nature. was one of three -
RED, found in clay or by crushing berries, means the character beneath the mask is brave and trustworthy.
BLACK, found after a fire in a hearth, means the character could be dark and strong, but maybe a bit rough around the edges.
WHITE, most often accomplished by leaving the mask unpainted, is a warning sign, the degree of whiteness depicting how villainous the character is. It also has the symbolism that little of what they say can be trusted. I'm not sure there isn't a heavy reference here to military and political invasions and interferences by peoples from the Western World.
As the years went by other colours were added to the palette.
BLUE was for trustworthiness, and wiseness, as well as perseverance, qualities valued in a loyal friend or a military ally. You will find even today a lot of Chinese military uniforms are blue in colour
PURPLE was for honesty, calmness and level-headedness, which were qualities seen in good leaders. Often if you spot purple on the mask of a lesser character it means they are one to watch as their part will evolve significantly as the opera continues.
GREEN showed that the character only cares for their own cause or interests, and is not above violence to get their own way. If they want what someone else has, they will stop at nothing to take it over and may even end up stealing it. This may well be where our saying "green for envy" actually came from.
YELLOW shows intelligence and strategy, and is often seen on warriors. In fact it was a colour often found on Samurai armour.
GOLD and SILVER are much scarcer and are usually only seen on gods and immortals. If someone suddenly appears on the stage and has a lot of gold or silver markings they may be a spirit or a messenger sent by the immortals, or perhaps a demon.
Some people still believe that these masks are simply face coverings. Or that they allow for the substitution of different, not so famous players without the audience being aware of the fact.
However by thinking these things we are doing these masks a great dis-service. If we compared them to a special effect of the Western World, the one they would most closely resemble is make up. In fact players often change their masks on or off stage.
Sometimes the new mask looks identical to a novice opera-goer, but keen students of the opera will immediately spot a different colour has been added, like a tiny square of white, and instantly know that the character is about to make a strategic move towards their future, for good or bad.
In our current state, we often view wearing a mask in a bad light. While there is no denying it has changed our lives, (and even the make up industry reports that companies now sell far less lipstick and far more eyeshadow) there is no reason we should not be able to copy the Chinese and convert just wearing a mask into a reflection of what we are like on the inside. Many high street stores and online retailers sell colourful printed masks one of which must reflect your personality, just make sure they have five layers for protection, or wear it over another proper authorised mask.
The other morning I was most delighted to see a man in a lion mask, with a black nose and pipe cleaner whiskers. It really cheered up my day.
So if you are reluctant to mask up because they are boring, you have just not found the right mask yet ....