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We had an absolutely perfect day with our tour guide - Rogin Luo - who took us for a hike along The Great Wall! Didn't know what to expect and were thrilled to have him as our guide. Very imformative, knowledgable and fun! We go to experience a part of The Great Wall that was unrestored and see all its natural beauty. Got a long history lesson along the way!

After the hike, we all went to lunch at a small place at the bottom of the hill. Located in a house, we ate lunch in the proprietors bedroom! What a hoot! Rogin is the Best of the Best! This tour company delivered for us and we are extremely grateful.

Westborough, Massachusetts
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Home  »  China Travel Guide  »  Chinese Culture  »  Chinese Arts  »  
Chinese Shadow Play

Shadow play (皮影戏), one of prevailing puppet show in Chinese Han folk, is an ancient native performance which uses silhouette figures made from animal skin or paperboard to tell stories. These silhouette figures act with isolation of bright cloth under the irradiation of candle or burning alcohol. Artists behind the white cloth sing and tell stories cooperating percussion instruments and stringed instruments as they operate these silhouette figures by hands. It isthe symbole of Chinese culture.

Based on the historical records, the shadow play has a long history which dated from Warring State, flourished in Han Dynasty and Song Dynasty, spread to West Asia and Europe in Yuan Dynasty. It is a popular recreational entertainment for both child and adults in many countries around the world. On 20th, May, shadow play was approved as the first batch of national intangible cultural heritage by the State Council. On 27th, November, 2011, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization put shadow play into Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Fabrication of shadow play
Although shadow play has its local feature, the production procedure is similar in general, which is a complex process including skin-selecting, leather, drawing, ironing, carved more than 3,000 knives. Its artifact creativity adopts the style of silk painting in Han Dynasty, stone or brick reliefs, fresco of temples built in Tang or Song Dynasties.

The working process is as follows: firstly, clean the fair or blood of sheepskin, donkey skin or any other animal skin. Secondly, make the skin thin and semitransparent with drug, then coat with tong oil. Third, paint on the skin. Forth, carve with all kind of size. Fifth, color with red, yellow, green, black and blue. The drawing pays more attention to females’ hair accessories and costumes, dressed with cloud, flower, grass, phoenix and so on; Decorated men with dragon, tiger, water, cloud, etc. The shadow play is up to 55cm high or 10 cm lower.

In order to make the performance freely, the separated legs, arms and head of a shadow play are connected by thread. When a shadow plays operate puppets with hands, he still tell and sing with mount and knock drun or gongs accompanied by feet.

History of shadow play
It is said that in Han Dynasty, about 2,000 years ago, the favorite princess of Emperor Wu of Han died of disease. Emperor Wu of Han missed her too much to manage politic affairs. One day, Minister Shaoweng Li cut silk into Mrs. Li image and performed on a screen for Emperor Wu of Han. This is regarded as the earliest record about shadow play.

During Tang Dynasty, shadow play served as a media for the preaching of Buddhist Dharma of transmigration and retribution. In temples, shadow figures were used as the supposed souls of the dead when their sin was expiated after death by monk preachers in charge of public service.

In Song Dynasty, it became a type of prosperous folk arts performing with singing and talking. During the period of Song Renzong, some people could tell story about the Romance of Three Kingdoms or make puppets for a shadow play adapted from the stories. Hence the show of images of the wars among the kingdoms of Wei, Shu, and Wu has been handed down to the present. 

From the 13th century, Chinese shadow play spread to Persia, Arab, Turkey, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Japan, England, French, Germany, Italy, Russia and so on.

In 1508, Ming Dynasty, shadow play attended the show assembly held in Beijing. Shadow play art achieved to a period of great prosperity in Qing Dynasty. Especially in the period between later Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China, large or small shadow play troupes could be seen everywhere in cities, towns, or countries. In Qing Dynasty, shadow play became popular in folk. Shadow play was performed very lively no matter what festivals, harvest celebrations, praying worship, wedding banquet and birthday congratulations 

Add On: Chinese Folk Instruments
              Chinese Opera


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