Posted by: travelrat | February 7, 2016

Travel Theme: Mask

If you needed to hide your identity for some reason; usually an unsavoury and probably illegal one, chances are, you’d use a mask to hide your face. But, the ‘good guys’ used masks, too. Think of Zorro, Batman, the Lone Ranger and many more.

Think, also, of Arlecchino, or, as we know him, Harlequin. He was a character in the Commedia dell’Arte, which had its beginnings in Venice in the 16th Century. They still wear masks in Venice at Carnival time … and, even if you don’t visit then, it seems every shop window has a display of these masks all year round.


We found another use for masks when we attended a performance of ‘face changing’ by the Sichuan Opera at Chengdu. According to the notes we’d been given, an opera student named Sanquin fell in love with a girl named Huanhua. However, she was kidnapped by a jealous rival, who ordered his henchmen to burn Sanquin’s face, so she wouldn’t want him any more.

But, with the encouragement of the Master of the Opera and the faithful Huanhua, he hid his ruined face behind a mask, and practised changing these masks so diligently that the eye couldn’t detect the instant of changing. He eventually became ‘King of the Face Changers’, and those who re-enact his role can change six masks as adroitly and skilfully as he could.

Sichuan Opera 2

(And, if you think this sounds vaguely like the plot of The Phantom of the Opera … I wonder if the story was based upon this tale?)

This week’s contribution to the ‘Travel Theme’. To read more contributions, visit


  1. […] mention of the ornate masks found in Venice, especially around Carnival time. You can read it at  It’s sometimes thought that these masks had their origin in the Commedia del’Arte, a form […]

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