This wooden Nuo mask is the mask of Mu Guiying, one of the few female military officials in Chinese history. As a female character in Nuo drama, the mask has been given feminine touches such as the long eyelashes, red facial makeup, and the two phoenixes on the headdress instead of two dragons.
Because Mu gave birth during one of her famous victories in Guizhou province, couples hoping to conceive stage the opera performance in front of their house to pray for offspring. During the performance, the actress "gives birth" to a wooden baby, which is then handed to the hopeful mother. Later on, Mu became a fertility symbol for women who want to have children to worship.
Mu Guiying lived during the warring period of the Northern Song Dynasty (960~1127). Her father, originally an imperial official, was falsely accused by corrupt officials and forced to flee to a mountain. There he established his own Robin Hood-style band of outlaws that robbed the rich to give to the poor. Having grown up in her fathers mountain fortress, Mu Guiying mastered military skills and became a resolute and courageous character.
One year, the Liao regime to the north of the Northern Song invaded its frontier area. The Liao army effectively deployed the Heavenly Gate battle array, which Song troops were unable to penetrate despite several charges. The Song army needed a special kind of wood to make the weapons capable of defeating this battle stance. The Song general sent his son Yang Zongbao and two other officers to the Mu Mountain Fortress in search of this timber. Mu Guiying defeated and captured them. Captured and capturer, however, discovered that they had much in common: both their fathers had been honest officials of good reputation among the people but that had failed to win imperial favor. They also admired each others heroism and competence, not to mention good looks. They consequently fell in love and married in the fortress and Mu Guiying became a member of the Yang Family generals that safeguarded the country by protecting the frontier, earning fame as national heroes.
Mu Guiying helped defeat the invading Liao army, and also triumphed in several military expeditions against them. On one occasion she led her army in pursuit of the fleeing enemy, but had to stop in order to give birth. Upon getting wind of this, the enemy stopped its retreat and prepared for a counter-attack. On the third day after giving birth, Mu Guiying faced the Liao army in her military uniform. Upon seeing her, the Liao general thought the rumor he had heard was part of Mu Guiyings strategy to decoy him, and retreated.
The Nuo Dance was initially a mystic ritual used to eliminate evil spirits. Its name comes from one of these rituals, where the participants would recite the word "nuo" in order to rid themselves of evil influence. First originating between the 11th and 16th century BC, Nuo has many similarities to early pagan and shamanistic practices; performers would train in ritual procedures and Nuo opera to greet and rid themselves of the evil spirits in question. It has since evolved into a more elaborate drama with masked performers. Although the dance declined after the Song dynasty, it is still performed by Chinese ethnic minorities in remote regions of the Guizhou, Hunan, Sichuan, and Anhui provinces.
The Mask is the soul of Nuo Drama. The wooden mask also has religious implications; as the symbol and medium of a spirit, masks are governed by strict rules. Our masks are made by the best artists and carved to the highest standards.