Big-Mouthed Celestial Animal

Travellers to Yunnan and Sichuan in southwest China are impressed by the colourfully painted wood ladles in the shape of a strange animal hanging on the front doors of the dwellings of local Miao, Yi and Han residents. The animal looks grotesque with a wide-open mouth as if ready anytime to swallow the demons and goblins that dare to invade. Obviously the wood ladle is a talisman designed to ward the dwellings of evil and disaster.

A variation of masks worn by exorcising dancers in south China, this image of big-mouthed animal was born of totemism and primitive culture. It is found in different place--glazed on eaves tiles for decorating a temple, or carved on a stone pillar that stands by the road to guarantee good luck and rich harvest for local people.

Maling, a remote mountainous county of Sichuan, is best known for its renditions of this legendary animal, which features a bizarre look and a striking contrast between bright red and green colours that is somewhat neutralized with black and white. The Eight Diagrams is painted on its forehead to render a mysterious Taoist touch to the animal. The Maling style of big-mouthed animal is one of the major rural handicrafts of Sichuan.

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