Chinese Culture: Shadow Puppets
Chinese Shadow Puppets
Shadow puppet plays (piyingxi) are still popular throughout China and often take place at particular festivals, though in the face of modern entertainments shadow puppetry faces an uncertain future.
The cutting and forming of the leather puppets is a traditional and highly-skilled art involving many different procedures and thousands of individual cuts. The puppets are made of softened sheep or donkey leather and the name piying means literally "shadows of hides." The puppets are then painted to give a vivid, dramatic and often humorous effect to the faces. Each region of China had its own unique style of size, cut and coloring.
The puppets are manipulated by the puppeteer on two or three rods close to a white sheet or screen, which is back lit. The joints are held together by cotton thread which enables the puppets to move. Puppet performances are accompanied by music and song.
Shadow puppetry originates from the Han Dynasty (206 BCE220 CE) when courtiers of the Emperor Wu supposedly consoled the emperor after the death of his favorite concubine by bringing her shadow back to life in a puppet show.
Shadow puppet characters were familiar to traditional audiences. The puppets have large heads and exaggerated features with the color of the masks having a symbolic meaning as in Beijing Opera. Thus red represents moral goodness, black loyalty, and white untrustworthiness.
Beijing Puppet Theatre
China Puppet Theater
The China Puppet Theater puts on both Chinese and Western classics. The theater is located north of the Forbidden City, just south of the Third Ring Road.
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