You are here > Home > Quick Navigation > Performing Arts > Puppetry

The Schools of Modern Shadow Theater

In the popuiarization of shadow show through the late Qing period to the eariy stage of the Republic of China, three major and most jnnuential schools have been formed in China.

Shaanxi Shadow Theater with Various Tunes and Types

As mentioned above,ten types of Shaanxi shadow show have been formed due to their different music and chanting tunes and styles of performance. It is unique across the country They are not only different in the form of performance, music and chanting tunes, but also in manipulating skills' For instance, the "North Shaanxi wen wan tune" is mainly prevaifing in Suide and Mizhi areas. It adopted music from the Tongzhou bangh (a local opera performed in the accompaniment of wooden clappers) and Shanxi Opera to create its unique flavor and style . Its traditional programs mainly involve civic and military mythological dramas. Its serial programs, adapted from such novels as journey to the West(Fig.4-4) and Canonization of the Gods can present all such scenes as to summon wind and rain, mounting the clouds and driving the mist and the magic change of supernatural beings through the unique techniques of shadow show. It is very popular among the ordinary folks- Its melody is frisky, healthy and vivid. The shadow show prevalent in Xiaoyi and Houma in Shanxi Province is of almost the same pattern of those of Shaanxi.

Shadow Theaters in the South

The Longxi and Chaozhou Shadow Theaters are included in the category prevalent in South China.The Longxi shadow show prevails in the Longxi region of Fujian Province. It is said that it made its debut in the Ming Dynasty. Its programs are mainly based on many stories quite different from those legendary ones of the Ming and Qing periods. Its puppet physiognomies of different characters are exaggerated. The hair and helmet are delicately made. And the patterns on the garments are exquisitely carved, which are designed and produced with nearly the style of the craftsmanship of the Song Dynasty without colors. About 100 varieties of such physiognomies have been handed down to the present time and preserved. Durjng the War of Resistance Against japan, new dramas were produced in the form of shadow show to call on the broad masses of the people arising to fight against the invaders and safeguard the country. They were very popular among the people. The Chaozhou shadow show prevails in Shantou and Meizhou areas in Gunagdong Province, and also prevails in Zhao'an, Yunxiao, Pinghe and Dongshan counties in Fujian Province.This type of show can also be found in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The type of the Chaozhou shadow show can be divided into three categories. The first one is called "animated lantern", also known as something like on "merry-go-round." Within the hollow of a column, which is made with bamboo and paper, a paper-made wheel is fitted, on which cutout figures and patterns are stuck up with gelatin. When a candle is lighted inside, the wheel can revolve automatically. The programs being staged on it include Chang E Elies to thc Moon and Monkey King Make Havoc in Heaven. The second is the "white bamboo paper shadow show", or called chou pi hou (controlled by elastic strings). The manipulator, holding and playing the shadow figures behind an illuminatCd white paper screen, presents the programs of Chaozhou opera or Baizi Opera (a school derived from the former) in local dialect. The third is the open window puppet show, that is, a transition form from performing without a paper screen to a direct presentation of marionette on stage.

In the notes by some literate of the Qing Dynasty, the account of the Chaozhou shadow show can also be found. For instance, in the Notes irom the jiuan Studio, the show is described as this: "The Chaozhou shadow show is good and distinctive enough to see the figure's eyebrows and eyes." And "its singing and music is louder enough to be heard from a far distance".

Li Xun, a native of Chenghai in the Qing Dynasty, gave a lively description about Chaozhou shadow show in his book on Formuis: "The people of Chaozhou are skillful in playing shadow show.They make shadow figures with ox-hide in painted colors. The showman manipulates the figures with rods attached to them behind a paper-stretched screen illuminated by a burning light. He can control all kinds of movements of figures at will. It is a more beautiful show to see than marionette."

The Chaozhou and Shantou people are fond of shadow show. There are professional shadow show theaters, in addition to more part-time theaters, which consist of farmers who can perform the show when they are in slack farming season. During folk festivals, holidays or some auspicious occasions or religious ceremonies and special friendly contests, those theaters and show companies would be invited to come to give their performances. Almost every village and town has such practice and custom. A temple in the oucheng Township of Chenghai County even had the experience in organizing 20 show companies to present shadow show for local folks at one time.

In october 1957, the Lufeng County Shadow Theater was founded. in September 1984, the Ministry of Culture designated the theater to join the art performance in celebration of the national day in Beijing. Its programs like Flying to the Skies, Cock-fighting Dream of the Flood Dragon Weeping over a Tower and Zhubaijie(a pig, one of the chief characters in the novel journey to the West ) Is Carried by a Mamp Sedan Chair were greatly acclaimed by personalities of various communities.

In october 1957, the Lufeng County Shadow Theater was founded. in September 1984, the Ministry of Culture designated the theater to join the art performance in celebration of the national day in Beijing. Its programs like Flying to the Skies, Cock-fighting Dream of the Flood Dragon Weeping over a Tower and Zhubaijie(a pig, one of the chief characters in the novel journey to the West ) Is Carried by a Mamp Sedan Chair were greatly acclaimed by personalities of various communities.

Mushroom of the Tanqshan Shadow Theater

The Tangshan Shadow Show, also known as Leting or Luanzhou Shadow Show, was greatly developed during the late period of the Qing Dynasty and the early stage of the Republic of China. Leting County, covering an area of less than 50 square km, had more than 30 shadow show theater companies at its prime of development. Attracted by this booming theater with its unique modeling art and music as well as its far reaching influence, various foreign gramophone record companies at the time flocked to the theater company to produce records of the show, a spectacular never seen in other places. In the 1920s, England's Century Record Company invited the best known artist Li Zilan at the time to produce his record. In 1932, Zhang Shengnu leading his theater company came to Shanghai to play the show in the Industrial Marketplace and the Kunlun Records Company recorded its performance, and the records became a bestseller across the country Later, various record companies also came to Tangshan to produce their records. Li Xiu (1904-1983), a Tangshan artist, well known for the development of the show of his own school, made more than 40 gramophone records during the 1930s. Every record proved a success. They include Double Pendent Seals, recorded in cooperation with Wang Ruiting, in two copies, and An attempt to Recover jingzhou also produced together with Wang, Buddhist Convent of Lily Lotus in two copies together with Zhou Rongsheng and Wang Ruiting, A Double Shany in two copies, together with Kang Yating, All the Members of the Happy Family together with Kang Yating and Qi Huai Revenging and Ascending to the sky Fourth Son Comes Home to See His Mother in six copies, Condemning wang Chao, Reproaching at the imperial court Butterfly Cup, A Sesh of Heaven and Earth and A Lyric for Pipa Instrument All these records, except for A Sash of Hdeven and Earth produced by a japanese record company, were made by American Victor Record Company. Through gramophone records, the music and performing art of the Tangshan shadow show have produced a far-fetching influence in the world. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Tangshan shadow show has made much headway in its development with many art companies established at various levels. It has become a typical of the local art performance and produced a number of talented shadow show artists and craftsmen. The physiognomies and images designed by them are very beautiful and graceful.(Fig.4-5)

Excellent Programs of Shadow Theater

After the establishment of New China,the central government has always encouraged the creation and development of the traditional folk art form of all types. In April 1955, the national marionette and shadow show festival opened. All the skillful artists and craftsmen of all parts of the country came to Beijing to learn and emulate the art from each other This was the first grand festival that had never appeared before in the millenium since shadow show first came into being.

In the performance of the play Double Pendent Seals, Li Xiu and Wang Shuling displayed their best virtuosity of the veteran shadow showmen. In the performance of Shao Yulan Saves Her husband Gao Rongjie used the traditional melody. on the basis of the huammelody and the luthei melody, he created a new drawling and quivering melody called the drawling tune to appropriately express the feelings of Shao Yulan at the moment when she was totally exhausted after she had saved her husband.

During the festival, all the manipulators from various parts of the country exercised all their might to demonstrate the skills of their own theaters. Qi Yongheng, a young artist, played his puppets dexterously and decidedly in a composing manner His marvelous performance, especially when he maneuvered a figure holding a long lance to pierce into a horse or fighting his opponent with hands face to face, or turning somersaults,or doing a big split of legs and kicking the sash of robe, won all the experts' and veteran showmen's admiration and acclaim.

Of all the programs staged during the festival, the most novel ones were The Tortoise and the Crane and Tap Fdends produced by the Hunan Provincial Marionette and Shadow Theater Company. After the festival ended, the company was sent to the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries to make itinerary performances, where it was accorded a hearty welcome by local audiences. The play the Tortoise and the Crane has become a repertory of various theater companies. The play Three Rats produced by the Hunan theater company won the "Wenhua Award for new plays" at the seventh national festival.

From January 22 through February in 1960 when the second national marionette and shadow show inspection and emulation festival took place, the Hunan theater company once again staged its Two Friends expressive of the friendship between animal beings and The Tortoise and the Crane, with the theme of criticizing arrogance and complacency The Zhejiang Shadow Theater presented its Killing a Wicked Dragon with a Sense of justice and Cock-Fighting The latter has become one of the repertories of many companies. The Tangshan Shadow Theater Company, on behalf of its fellow shadow showmen in Hebei Province, presented the large mythological play Fiery Mo ntaifls, which has also become a repertory of the theater.

In November 1981, the national marionette and shadow show inspection and emulation festival was open in Beijing. During the festival, the most appealing and welcomed program was the play Monkey King Subdues the White Bone Demon Three Thaes staged by The Tangshan Shadow Theater Company and the well-known operating artist Qi Yongheng was acclaimed by audiences for his high virtuosity He made a break-through in the maneuvering of puppets and figures in the show with bold inventive creations. In performing the movement of a white horse entering the stage together with the monk Tangsheng and his party, he maneuvered the horse, shaking its head and going on at a slack, slow or quick pace, or galloping, amid a storm of dust passing across the stage three times, so vividly and lively that it brought down the house. When the White Bone Demon first appeared on the stage, and when she was dressing and decking herself up, all these movements were executed so expressively and dexterously by the controller that it became an enchanted stunt never seen before. In the last scene of the play, either a fighting between two opponents, or a tange fighting, he performed in an entirely new way with unconventional and dazzling skills, making the audience's eyes unable to take them all at one moment A French specialist who made a special visit to the festival was totally fascinated by the show. He particularly invited Mr.Qi Yongheng to give lectures in the French International Shadow Theater and Marionette Institute. In August 1982, Qi went to the institute to give his lecture and performance, which received a warm welcome and high appraisal from the students from nine countries. In 1984, he went to the United States to play The Tortoise and the Crane, A Disguised Girl Demon and Welcome Monkey King Back Home to the Mountains of Flowers and Fruits, in which he combined perfectly the traditional unique technique of operation and his new creations in modern time. The Chinese shadow theater,as an age-old art with its unique characteristics, has become very popular among our foreign friends all over the world.

Quick Navigation

New Article