Puppets are seen on a shadow theatre stage during a performance by the Beijing Shadow Show Troupe at a school in Beijing.(AFP)
Puppets are seen on a shadow theatre stage during a performance by the Beijing Shadow Show Troupe at a school in Beijing.(AFP)

Chinese shadow theatre fights against dying of the light

Shadow puppets flitting across screens and reliving age old stories have fascinated Chinese people for some 2,000 years, but falling audiences mean troupes are having to be creative to stay on the stage.
By Agence France-Presse | Agence France-Presse, Beijing
UPDATED ON JUL 08, 2019 12:14 PM IST

Shadow puppets flitting across screens and reliving age old stories have fascinated Chinese people for some 2,000 years, but falling audiences mean troupes are having to be creative to stay on the stage.

On a translucent screen in a Beijing classroom, a child with a cosmic ring takes on the son of the dragon king, attacking him with huge thrusts of his lance.

Behind the screen, puppeteers use rods to move the figures, to the joy of the schoolchildren watching.

The legends of the past are the bedrock of shadow theatre -- a tradition still popular in the countryside, though it has lost much ground in large cities over the last few decades.

Shadow theatre was celebrated up until the 1960s when it was targeted as part of the Cultural Revolution. It had something of a renaissance in the 1980s and in 2011 was included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

For the Chinese, the show is the forerunner of cinema -- in the Chinese language the word “cinema” literally means “electric shadow”.

Beijing Shadow Show Troupe puppeteers conduct a performance for schoolchildren in Beijing. (AFP)
Beijing Shadow Show Troupe puppeteers conduct a performance for schoolchildren in Beijing. (AFP)

With video games, film and TV now vying for viewers glued to their smartphones, shadow theatre is slowly losing its audience, and performers are struggling to keep their heads above water.

Wiping his forehead after his furious on-stage battle, Lu Baobang -- one of the last puppeteers of the old generation -- is worried there is no one to replace him when he retires.

“We can’t offer reasonable living standards to young apprentices,” said Lu, who descends from a large family that developed one of the main schools of shadow theatre in Beijing.

Like my babies

While the theatre struggles to attract young peoples’ interest, a troupe in a Beijing suburb -- whose performers have an average age of 22 -- has managed to survive.

It is made up of 60 or so puppeteers with dwarfism, who present themselves as having an average height of 1.26 metres.

Jin Xinchun is one of them. He was struggling to find work several years ago, before he discovered the troupe online and moved to Beijing to join it where he was employed as a puppet maker.

“I am always happy to cut old leather to make beautiful puppets. They are my babies!”, Jin told AFP.

Wang Xi, a puppeteer founded the troupe with her husband in 2008 after meeting with the national association of dwarves.

“They had trouble finding work. And it was hard for us to find successors. Our collaboration is like two drawbacks that turned out to a be a plus!”

The puppeteers now perform regularly in schools.

But Wang Xi said she is nervous about the future: “Our masters are all older than 80 and they obviously won’t be able to go on stage in 10 years.”

State support is key to keeping shadow theatre alive, Lu said.

“The government is aware of the importance of traditional culture, what we need now are concrete measures,” he said.

“This art will have no future if we don’t give young people hope.”

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

Follow more stories on Facebook and Twitter

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
It was an event that could set a precedent in a world longing for a return to normal - a music concert attended by scores of Israelis vaccinated against Covid-19.(Reuters)
It was an event that could set a precedent in a world longing for a return to normal - a music concert attended by scores of Israelis vaccinated against Covid-19.(Reuters)

New normal? 'Green Pass' opens music concert to vaccinated Israelis

Reuters, Tel Aviv
PUBLISHED ON FEB 25, 2021 12:51 PM IST
The open-air concert in Tel Aviv on Wednesday was one of the first in a programme to restart cultural events by restricting attendance to people who have been vaccinated or those with immunity after contracting the disease.
Close
Parineeti Chopra surprised as mother dedicates artwork on The Girl on The Train(Instagram/parineetichopra)
Parineeti Chopra surprised as mother dedicates artwork on The Girl on The Train(Instagram/parineetichopra)

Parineeti Chopra surprised as mother dedicates artwork on The Girl on The Train

By Zarafshan Shiraz
UPDATED ON FEB 25, 2021 10:34 AM IST
  • ‘I am your biggest fan’: Noted artist Reena Chopra surprises daughter Parineeti Chopra with an incredible artwork to commemorate the actor’s upcoming film, The Girl on The Train and our day is made with their awwdorable camaraderie
Close
Jobs in arts, entertainment and recreation fell by 66% in 2020 from a year ago, the largest decline among the city’s economic sectors, erasing a decade of gains in what was one of New York’s most vibrant industries. (Pixabay)
Jobs in arts, entertainment and recreation fell by 66% in 2020 from a year ago, the largest decline among the city’s economic sectors, erasing a decade of gains in what was one of New York’s most vibrant industries. (Pixabay)

Two-thirds of New York City’s arts and culture jobs are gone

Bloomberg
PUBLISHED ON FEB 25, 2021 10:23 AM IST
New York City’s museums, sports arenas and entertainment venues are slowing coming back to life. But the sector has contracted dramatically under the pressure of the global pandemic.
Close
Van Gogh's 1887 Paris street painting to be shown in public for first time(Twitter/Cdesarts)
Van Gogh's 1887 Paris street painting to be shown in public for first time(Twitter/Cdesarts)

Van Gogh's 1887 Paris street painting to be shown in public for first time

Reuters
UPDATED ON FEB 25, 2021 09:56 AM IST
Sotheby's auction house in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, and Paris to put on display for the first time, a Paris street scene painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1887 while he was lodging with his brother Theo in the French capital.
Close
Texas ranch heiress' art collection, worth about $150 million, up for auction(Twitter/artnet)
Texas ranch heiress' art collection, worth about $150 million, up for auction(Twitter/artnet)

Texas ranch heiress' art collection, worth about $150 million, up for auction

AP
UPDATED ON FEB 25, 2021 09:36 AM IST
  • Including works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Franz Kline, the art collection of Texas oil and ranching heiress Anne Marion will be up for auction this spring in New York. Sotheby's said three masterworks at the heart of the collection are expected to each sell for over $20 million.
Close
With Kashmir receiving heavy snowfall combined with the threat of the spread of Covid, cultural activities including theatres have been at a standstill.(ANI)
With Kashmir receiving heavy snowfall combined with the threat of the spread of Covid, cultural activities including theatres have been at a standstill.(ANI)

Plays resume in Kashmir Valley, offer relief to actors, theatre lovers

ANI, Srinagar (jammu And Kashmir) [india]
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 07:54 PM IST
Theatre plays have resumed in Kashmir providing entertainment to art lovers in the state, after months of pandemic-induced shutdown.
Close
Madhavi Mahadevan's new book focuses on Mahabharata character, Yayati's daughter(Twitter/madhavism)
Madhavi Mahadevan's new book focuses on Mahabharata character, Yayati's daughter(Twitter/madhavism)

Madhavi Mahadevan's new book focuses on Mahabharata character, Yayati's daughter

PTI
UPDATED ON FEB 24, 2021 05:02 PM IST
Madhavi S Mahadevan's latest #novel 'Bride of the Forest: the Untold Story of Yayati's Daughter' traces feminist lineage by telling the lesser known story of a delicately poised figure in Mahabharata, Yayati's daughter
Close
This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows Olivia Colman, left, and Anthony Hopkins in a scene from "The Father."(AP)
This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows Olivia Colman, left, and Anthony Hopkins in a scene from "The Father."(AP)

The Father: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman dissect dementia's disorientation

AP
UPDATED ON FEB 24, 2021 04:15 PM IST
“The Father,” which opens in theaters Friday, is Florian Zeller’s directorial debut but he’s a well-known French playwright and author who’s here adapting his own play, one that’s been put on around the world.
Close
Beat poet and City Lights Bookstore founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti dies at 101(Twitter/CityLightsBooks/Sequimmarian)
Beat poet and City Lights Bookstore founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti dies at 101(Twitter/CityLightsBooks/Sequimmarian)

Beat poet and City Lights Bookstore founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti dies at 101

Reuters
UPDATED ON FEB 24, 2021 08:13 AM IST
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet, publisher and City Lights Bookstore founder who helped launch the Beat movement and played a key role in a free-speech battle after he published Ginsberg's poem 'Howl" in 1956', passed away on Monday evening aged 101
Close
"The essence of 'Arth' is to inspire people to rediscover the diversity and richness of Indian art and culture with carefully-curated discussions.(Pixabay)
"The essence of 'Arth' is to inspire people to rediscover the diversity and richness of Indian art and culture with carefully-curated discussions.(Pixabay)

Culture festival 'Arth' to be held virtually

PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 23, 2021 03:41 PM IST
Arth', a multi-regional festival known for celebrating the true essence of "indic thought and philosophy", will be held virtually this year, the organisers of the event announced on Tuesday.
Close
Saran Sasikumar, a class IX student in Dubai, created a six-layered stencil portrait of Modi, to mark Republic Day on January 26.(Twitter)
Saran Sasikumar, a class IX student in Dubai, created a six-layered stencil portrait of Modi, to mark Republic Day on January 26.(Twitter)

Indian boy receives 'heartfelt' from PM Modi for stencil portrait

PTI, Dubai
PUBLISHED ON FEB 23, 2021 01:27 PM IST
A 14-year-old Indian body in the UAE is over the moon after Prime Minister Narendra wrote him a 'heartfelt' letter of thanks for a painting of himself by the teenager.
Close
John Travolta(Instagram)
John Travolta(Instagram)

John Travolta selling $5m oceanic mansion he shared with late wife Kelly Preston

By hindustantimes.com | Edited by Alfea Jamal, Hindustan Times, Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 23, 2021 01:44 PM IST
John Travolta, the 67-year-old star of Grease and Saturday Night Fever recently listed the home on Islesboro, that he shared with late wife, actor Kelly Preston for $5 million.
Close
An art handler poses with "Girl With a Balloon" by Banksy, in front of "Alphabet" by Sir Peter Blake, as preparations take place at Bonhams auction house ahead of their British Cool art sale, in London, Britain, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/John Sibley NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY(REUTERS)
An art handler poses with "Girl With a Balloon" by Banksy, in front of "Alphabet" by Sir Peter Blake, as preparations take place at Bonhams auction house ahead of their British Cool art sale, in London, Britain, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/John Sibley NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY(REUTERS)

Banksy's balloon girl and Kate Moss photo top bill at London art sale

Reuters, London
PUBLISHED ON FEB 23, 2021 12:23 PM IST
A print of "Girl With Balloon" by Banksy and a photograph of supermodel Kate Moss are among top attractions in a sale this week celebrating 70 years of British art.
Close
National Spelling Bee to go virtual, finalists will gather at Walt Disney World(Twitter/HuberSPSD)
National Spelling Bee to go virtual, finalists will gather at Walt Disney World(Twitter/HuberSPSD)

National Spelling Bee to go virtual, finalists will gather at Walt Disney World

AP
UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2021 06:53 PM IST
  • Though last year's competition was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Scripps National Spelling Bee will return this year but virtually with preliminary rounds in mid-June, the semifinals on June 27 and finalists to gather at Walt Disney World in Florida
Close
Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero Waste Life(Instagram)
Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero Waste Life(Instagram)

Bare Necessities: Book shows how to lead sustainable lifestyle in India

PTI, Delhi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 22, 2021 06:46 PM IST
A "one-stop guide" on how to move towards a more sustainable lifestyle in India, "Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero Waste Life", published by Penguin, is written by environmentalist Sahar Mansoor and sustainability consultant Tim De Ridder.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP