Oct 10, 2012


Known as a precursor of modern cinema, shadow play is a kind of drama in which silhouettes made of hard paper, buffalo and donkey hide are projected onto a white screen. The performer manipulates the characters behind the screen while singing the libretto to tell the story.

The artistic effect of the play is produced through light, screen, music, singing, and puppetry. The shadow play is widely referred to as “a magic, lightning-like art that can win people's high praise internationally.

The puppets in the shadow play are made of transparent leather and Chinese shadow artists first carve out the lines of the design and then dye them in bright colors. These transparent leather puppets become very lively and beautiful under the lantern light. With strong local characteristics, the shadow puppets are folk handiworks and a wisdom crystallization of Chinese shadow play artists through the ages.


Among the many types of shadow play, the silhouette show of donkey leather in Tangshan, Hebei Province and of ox leather in northwest China are renowned for their exquisite cutting and distinctive folk music.

Originating near the end of the Ming Dynasty (1386-1644 AD) and the early part of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD), Daoqing Shadow Play is softer and more melodious than other types due to its use of Tao music, characterized as peaceful and holy. Daoqing shadow play features a single performer who manipulates all of the characters and conducts the orchestra, as well. 


Chinese shadow play, which came into being during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) in northwest Shanxi Province, spread to South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia and North Africa in the 13th century. The ancient Chinese art spread to Europe in the 17th century with the famous German poet Goethe staging a European opera in the form of Chinese shadow play, and modern movies derived, in part, from the ancient art.

Shadow play, with distinctive folklore styles, had long been one of the only entertainment forms in Chinese villages till two decades ago.

But the ancient art gradually fell from the limelight due to the impact of modern audio-visual media such as television and movies. Many shadow play groups have been disbanded, and many of the most talented artists have died. In many areas, certain types of plays and the art of performance are actually nearing extinction.

Fortunately, shadow play is still alive and warmly welcomed among people in some rural areas in China.

Both Chinese artists and the Government are making great efforts to conserve and propagate the ancient art form. China is applying to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) for a certification as an intangible cultural heritage.

SOURCE : traditions.cultural-china.com

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing