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Chinese Puppetry and International Exchanges

Chinese puppetry spread to the outside world during the Tang and Song dynasties and spread even wider in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Soon after the 1911 Revolution, Chinese puppeteers made a performance tour of Singapore, Penang and Luzon. In the 1920s and 1930s, Hebei shoulder-pole puppet plays made their appearances in japan,the Soviet Union and Southeast Asia.

The government began sending puppet troupes abroad in the 1950s. In 1956,the China Puppet and Shadow Play Troupe, consisting of puppeteers from Beijing Fujian and jiangri, performed in eastern Europe. Their rod, string and glove puppet shows of Mistress Cleven The Cowboy and the Countly Girl Daming Prefecture,Lei Wanchun Fights with the Tiger and Marrying by Force won acclaim from the local audiences there. in the 1960s, Chinese puppeteers took part in the Second International Puppet Festival and won gold and silver medals for five items. Since then, most performances abroad were independently organized by troupes from various provinces and municipalities.

In the early 1950s, the Ministry of Culture began preparations for the establishment of the China Puppet Troupe based on the Liaoxi Cultural Ensemble, which, thanks to the concern of the late Premier Zhou Enlai, was officially inaugUrated in Beijing in May 1955. WU Cun, one of China's Outstanding film directors in the 1930s, was named director of the troupe. Yu Suoya,a famous cartoonist and Cai Wanrong a celebrated xylographer, were invited to work as art director and puppet designer respectively.

The long-held goal of the China Puppet Troupe is to inherit and develop Chinese culture, learn from other countries and to serve the people, especially young people. It often sends people to learn from veteran puppeteers in other areas, or othetwise invites them to Beijing to pass on their skills. It broke free from the practice of performing in the style of Chinese opera and introduced modern music and dance into puppetry. It also made great efforts to collate modern plays, historical plays, fairy tales, myths, fables and folk stories and adapt them for puppet shows. over the past 40 years, the troupe has created and staged more than 200 new plays, of which The Story of the Horse-Head the, old Lin and YoungLin and Cruiser Qiqihave been made into films and Monkey King Makes Havoc in Heaven, The Little Bell and The Art of Chinese Pupetry have been adapted for telefilm.

The China Puppet Troupe is noted for its rod, glove and shoulder-pole puppet shows. The principal artists of the troupe are puppet designers Liu ji(Fig.3-10) and Suo Wanjin and puppeteers Leng Fuji, Hou Xianzheng and An Ziming. The play The Magic Suona Horn which won the First Wenhua Awards for New Plays was created and staged by the troupe. (Fig.3-11) In order to promote international exchanges in puppetry and broaden its own field of vision, the China Puppet Troupe has toured Europe, Asia, America and Africa more than 20 times. In 1978, it participated in the 11th International Puppet Festival held in Zagreb, Yugoslavia and won for its Monkey King Makes Havoc in Heaven an award for best artistic quality, an award for best plays chosen by children and an award for individual performance in Esperanto. The troupe also took part in the 12th International Dramatic Festival and won honor for China. Puppeteers of the troupe learned skills from their foreign counterparts to improve their manipulation and in recent years successfully created the mythical play Ma Liang and His Magic writing Brush jointly with Japanese puppet artists. In the play they used Japanese puppets manipulated with traditional Chinese method.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Chinese puppet troupes made frequent performance tours abroad. The QuanzhOu Puppet Troupe staged a number of string puppet shows including The Fiery Mountains, Flooding he jinshan Temple Taking Daming Prefecfor by Strategy and Qiantao Cliff in the Philippines to great acclaim. During its stay,the troupe organized a training course in manipuiation for Philippine puppet enthusiasts. The play Monkey King Makes a Third Attempt to Borrow the Palm-Leaf Fap staged by the Shaanxi Folk Art Theater at the Berlin Arts Festival in the former Democratic Republic of Germany and the rod puppet shows The Romance of Conquering the Demon and The Human World Is Good performed by the Chengdu Puppet Show and Shadow Play Troupe during its tour of Germany were praised by German experts as "wonderful and unique in manipulation."

In the late 1980s,the Nanchong Puppet Troupe toured the former Soviet Union, Finland and Singapore, where it performed rod Puppet shows The jade Lotus Flower and Red Ruby with Success. At the request of Singapore, the troupe left behind the finely crafted main puppet used in The jade Lotus Flower as a memento of Cultural exchanges between the two countries.

As Chinese puppet artists have gone to lecture and exhibit their puppets abroad, foreign experts and students have come to China to study Chinese puppetry. They learned from each other to make up for each other's deficiencies. Two international puppet festivals were held in Quanzhou, in 1986 and 1990. Participating were 12 troupes from ten countries includingJapan, the United States, Britain, Italy, Romania, Austria and Spain. The festivals which were unprecedented in the history of exchanges in puppetry between China and foreign countries were an important contribution to promoting the art of puppetry in the world.

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