Oct 10, 2012

Like Beijing Opera and other traditional national arts in China, Piyingxi, or the shadow play show, known as a Chinese intangible cultural heritage, has spread to many countries.

Vivid design and a rich variety of colors, delicate costumes, change of lighting, and unique singing, together make up the fascinating world of shadow play.

As an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment, shadow play artists use articulated figures in front of an illuminated backdrop to create the illusion of moving images.


Piyingxi, or the shadow play show, known as a Chinese intangible cultural heritage, has spread to many countries.

Piyingxi is a shadow theatre using leather puppets. The figures are usually moved by people behind a thin screen. Shadow play is not entirely a show of shadows, but rather, a show of silhouettes.

Today I watched a shadow play show at The Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, and fascinated by the splendid performance.

Most young people have little understanding of what shadow play is, despite it's 2000 year old history. It's a pity that nowadays young people don't know how to appreciate this traditional art.

The shadow art might sink into oblivion in the near future, for not many young people are willing to inherit this art from old artists.said Lu Baogang , the leading actor in the play, also the 5th generation successor of Lu family, who has gained great reputation in China for modern shadow play art.

But how was shadow play invented? I asked Lu.

Shadow puppetry originated during the Han Dynasty, when one of the concubines of Emperor Wu of Han died. 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.

Due to institutional setbacks, Beijing Shadow Troupe does not have their own theatre to perform these plays, and they have to move their performance on spectators' call. Among the actors, I found a young boy, saying that he has been learning the art for nine years and has set his mind to pursuing shadow play as a life-long career.

Dr. Gerd Kaminski is the standing deputy chairman of Sino-Austria Friendship Association. He said he was satisfied after he saw the play. He said this is the second time he invited the councilors from Austria to watch the show and they were deeply impressed by the magic and charm of shadow plays. When talking about the fact that such fine art might sink into oblivion in the near future, he expressed pity and sympathy.
Beijing Shadow Show Troupe, widely regarded as the only professional shadow show troupe in the capital, started out of the Deshun shadow play society and was founded in 1957.

Chinese shadow puppetry is shown in the 1994 Zhang Yimou film To Live.

SOURCE : english.china.com

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