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Tradition Chinese Art: Chinese Shadow Play

2016-07-15 13:35:57Share:

  Shadow play which is also known as shadow puppetry is an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment which uses flat articulated figures (shadow puppets) to create cut-out figures which are held between a source of light and a translucent screen or scrim.

Chinese Shadow Play

 

  The cut-out shapes of the puppets sometimes include translucent color or other types of detailing. Various effects can be achieved by moving both the puppets and the light source. A talented puppeteer can make the figures appear to walk, dance, fight, nod and laugh.

 

  As a form of Chinese folk art, shadow play was a very popular folk entertaining activity when there was neither movie nor TV.

 

  Legend has it that Chinese shadow puppetry originated during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.) when one of the concubines of Emperor Wu of Han died from an illness. The emperor was devastated, and he summoned his court officers to bring his beloved back to life.

 

  The officers made a shape of the concubine using donkey leather. Her joints were animated using 11 separate pieces of the leather, and adorned with painted clothes. Using an oil lamp they made her shadow move, bringing her back to life.

 

  Shadow theatre became quite popular as early as the Song Dynasty when holidays were marked by the presentation of many shadow plays. During the Ming Dynasty there were 40 to 50 shadow show troupes in the city of Beijing alone.

 

  In the 13th century, the shadow show became a regular recreation in the barracks of the Mongolian troops. It was spread by the conquering Mongols to distant countries like Persia, Arabia, and Turkey. Later, it was introduced to other Southeastern Asian countries.

Chinese Shadow Play

 

  The earliest shadow theatre screens were made of mulberry paper. The storytellers generally used the art to tell events between various war kingdoms or stories of Buddhist sources.

 

  Today, puppets made of leather and moved on sticks are used to tell dramatic versions of traditional fairy tales and myths. In Gansu province, it is accompanied by Daoqing music, while in Jilin, accompanying Huanglong music forms some of the basis of modern opera.

 

  Shadow play is the first Chinese drama art to go abroad. Since the 13th century, the Chinese shadow play has been successively spread into Persia (now Iran), Arab and Turkey in Asia and England, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia in Europe as a result of military expedition and communication across lands and seas.

 

  German writer Goethe and British performing artist Chaplin both spoke highly of Chinese shadow plays.