Recently Brendan put up a post called Peking Opera Masks and the London Book Fair on the new “Beijing Avengers” group blog, Rectified.name. It’s an insightful take on how contemporary Chinese literature is being represented (and not represented) abroad.
I especially enjoyed the explanation toward the end of his use of “Peking Opera masks”:
A few years ago, a few other translators and I were talking with employees of a Chinese publishing house who said that they had some books that they wanted to translate into English — things that they said would show foreigners the real China. There was a brief and intense period of excitement, until the publishers said that these were coffee-table books about Peking Opera masks and different varieties of tea. Ever since then, I’ve used “Peking Opera masks” as mental shorthand for the Chinese habit of attempting to interest the world in aspects of itself that most Chinese people don’t give two-tenths of a rat’s ass about. (This same thing affects Chinese-language instruction, but I’ll save that rant for another post.)
Oh yes… you better believe that plenty of Chinese study materials out there are rife with Peking Opera maskery.
(Note: Just in case you have a burning desire to discuss Peking Opera masks in Chinese, these masks are usually referred to as 脸谱 or 京剧脸谱 in Mandarin.)