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Chinese Shadow Puppetry

Shadow Puppetry is a miraculous art form of moving images dated long before the invention of firm.Chinese Shadow Puppetry show is an antique and traditional art in China dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC ~ 220 AD) and flourished during the Sui, Tang and Shong Dynasty.

Chinese Shadow Puppet

Shadow Puppet in China came to existence when the wife of Wu Emperor of the Han Dynasty died of illness, the empeor was sad so much that his desire to reign. A day came when a minster who works for the Emperor saw childern playing with dolls where the shadows on the floor were vivid. Motivated by this scene, he came up with an idea which he used cotton puppet for the wife and painted it. As night fell, he invited the emperor to watch a rear-illuminated puppet show behind a curtain. The emperor was delighted and took to it from then on. This story recorded in the official history book is believed to be the origin of shadow puppetry.

The Chinese shadow puppets where first made from paper sculpture and later hides of donkeys or oxen which are decorated with cut-out designs and translucent dyes making it rather different from their Indonesian and Turkish relatives.

Forms Puppet Shows

Traditionally, Puppet Show comes in three forms;

Rod-top puppet 

The marionette or string puppet

The glove or hand puppet 

In China, the rod-top puppet is the most popular show.

Shadow Puppet as an Art

Episodes like Journey to the West, include heroes from folklore and history, such as the four ancient beauties, Xi Shi, Wang Zhaojun, Diao Chan, and Yang Guifei ; or the Monkey King, Emperor Qin Shi Huang are all performed by shadow puppeteers’ who gives more insights into Chinese Culture, Customs and Values, Arts and Crafts and Language.

In China the most typical place for shadow puppetry is the Ancient Cultural Street of Shuyuanmen, Shaanxi province where one can choose from hundreds of figures in differents sizes and poses.

Making Chinese Shadow Puppet And Theatre

Firstly, get rid of the fur and blood from sheep skin, donkey or any other animal skin.

Secondly, apply chemical treatments to the skin, to make it thinner and semitransparent, and then apply Tung oil which is also known as China wood oil.

Thirdly, cut the skin into desired images such as the head, torso, knees or the upper arms which are separated from one another and joined by placed on the back of the puppets with threads. Various colours are used to embody good and evil of characters. The hair and dresses of female figures are usually adorned with patterns like flowers, grass, clouds and phoenixes and patterns like dragons, tigers, water and clouds are usually used on male figures. The height of finished puppets can be as tall as 55 centimetres and as short as around 10 centimetres.   

Hang the white sheet and just make sure it is sturdy enough to last through the puppet performance! And put a bright light behind the sheet. Note that the light does not need to be right behind the sheet, it can be behind the puppeteers

Stick the Velcro ends of several dowel rods onto various points on the back of puppet and hold the puppets right up to the back of the sheet and use the rods to control the puppets' movements.

Where to See Shadow Puppet Show in Beijing ?

Beijing shadow puppet drama troupe

Address: No. 29, Liulichang East Street, Xuanwu District, Beijing
Bus Route: Bus 355, Bus 973, Bus 996 to Dawang Road Station.


China Puppet Theatre

Add: A1, Area 1, Anhua Xili, Chaoyang District, Beijing
Telephone: 6425 4847, 6424 3698
Bus Route: No.300, 302, 367, 387, 801, get off at Anzhenli.  

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