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Shadow Theater

As a folk art with a long history and unique form, Chinese shadow theater is also known as "the hand-operating shadow show. "In its long-time development, like many other types of deep-rooted and popular art in society, the shadow show has always been a favorite of the broad masses of the people though it had its own rises and falls. Its characteristics may be summarized as follows:

A Long History of Almost a Thousand Years

According to a survey made by the late writer Mr.Sun Kaidi, Chinese shadow show dated back to the mid-or late Tang Dynasty, or the later Five Dynasties (from the 7th to the 8th century). During that period, it 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.

During the Song Dynasty, it became one type of the prosperous folk arts, combined with the genre of popular entertainment mainly consisting of talking and singing. According to the Records of the Origins of Events by Gao Cheng of the Song Dynasty, During the reign of Emperor Renzong,there were some people who could tell stories about the romance of the 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, which has been handed down to the present." In An Account of the Capital's Wonders published in the Song period, a general description can be found of the materials to be used to make shadow puppets and the development of their variations as well as the contents of performance. It says "the shadow show is piayed by people in the capital with figures and patterns carved and cut out from white paper in the initial stage and later on from painted sheep's skin. And its text of dialogue is quite like a narrative textbook of history." The capital referred to here means the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty, Bianliang, now Kaifeng of Henan Province. In the painting entitled The Festival of Pure Brightness on the River produced by Zhang Zeduan, a well known Song Dynasty genre artist, puppet show and the like can be seen as an entertainment activity enjoyed by the folks in the capital of Bianliang. During the Song period, evidence for the prosperous shadow theatre can also be obtained from the record of a newly emerging trade of professional craftsmen who carved and made shadow puppets. This professional trade was recorded in the Former Events in Wulin. Wulin was the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty, or known as Lin'an, now HangZhou in Zhejiang Province. This testifies that shadow theater was further developed in the period from the Northern Dynasty to the Southern Dynasty. As the demand was growing, craftsmen gradually formed a professional trade. At then, there were different types of shadow theater In the chapter of the "Capital's Entertainment Center and the Industry of Arts and Handicrafts" in the book The Eastern Capital A Drean of Splendors Past, the record says, "Dingyi and Shouji play a kind of 'qiaoying show'." In the book An Account of the Capital's Wonders under the entry of "Miscellaneous Handicrafts," a few words say, "there is a kind of hand-operating shadow play." According to Former Events in Wulin, "a sort of show staged in a small theater, and played by artists, is known as 'the great shadow show,' which is usuatly welcomed by children and its performance continues without stop in the whole evening. "In the musical score of the southern type of quyi(a type of verse for singing), there was also a melody to accompany the performance of "great shadow show." The Chinese character "qiao" means "disguise" at the time. Various art performances in the then entertainment centers included a sort of qiaoxiangpu, or a comic wrestling. The qiaoying show may be staged by actors imitating some movements of figures in shadow show to perform a burlesque to raise a laugh among the audience. If shadow theater at the time had not been so popular in society, the qaioying showwould have never emeopd. "Hand shadow show," taken literally, probably means to use hands to make various silhouette shapes on a screen, just like a game played by people of today using their hands to make various animal shapes before a source of light to form silhouettes on the white wall. Or maybe it is just a small pattern shadow show with both hands.

"Great shadow show" has been specified as a show played by artists. In the light of the historical records, we may guess and imagine the situation of how some types of dramas in the Song and Yuan dynasties took in nourishment from the movements and music of puppet and shadow show.

The rulers of the Yuan Dynasty took shadow show as a pastime in their imperial court and military barracks. The army of Genghis Khan made an expedition far to the vast area of the Euro-Asian continent. Along with the expedition, Chinese shadow show was also brought to many Arabic countries in the Persian Gulf area. And later it was brought into Turkey as well as many other countries in the Southeast Asia. In the early 14th century, the Persian historian Rashideg, telling an interesting episode in the history of exchange of shadow show between China and Persia said, "When the son of Genghis Khan came to the throne, he dispatched actors and artists to Persia to teach them a kind of drama played behind a screen(shadow show)."

During the Ming Dynasty,shadow show continued to be staged in cities and villages. It was not only a favorite of the broad people of the lower class, but also welcomed by educated people as well. People may get a glance at its popularity at the time through an eulogistic poem written by Qu You of the Ming period, a novelist who was well known for his classical Chinese novel New Tales Under Lamplight. In the poem, we can see that historical stories remained the contents of the show in the Ming period as a tradition passed down from the Song Dynasty. And the story referred to in the poem was about the war staged between Liu Bang and Xiang Yu scrambling for the Supreme power in the country in the third century BC-the history of the war between Chu and Han Kingdoms. The poem reads like this: A new shadow theater was recently opened At the entertainment center in the south of the town. The theater, through illuminating candles and lights, Shows the rise and fall of the kingdoms past. Though he lost in the war, retreating to a ferry By the Wujiang River, The Conqueror of Chu remains to be honored As a hero even doomed to flight. During the Qing Dynasty, especially in the period between the late Qing and the early Republic of China, shadow show was prevailing across the whole country and various local styles were also being established. (Fig.4-1)

Prevailing Across the Country and in Various Unique Styles

Shadow show has been widely spread over a vast region in the country,from Heilongjiang Province in the extreme north to Guangdong Province in the south,and to Qinghai Province in the western part of the country. In Shaanxi Province in the central part of the country,it is known as ox-skin shadow show for children, and as sheep-skin shadow show in Zhejiang Province and the shadow show on window in Shanxi Province.

In some provinces and regions, different types of shadow show are also found, such as the Western and Eastern schools in Hebei Province; the Western School is also known as the Beijing Shadow Show, or "cattail hassock" shadow show. The Eastern School is also known as Luanzhou Shadow Show,or Leting Shadow Show or Tangshan Shadow Show. In some provinces and regions, apart from the common experience in the modeling of shadow puppets and figures, shadow show may be divided into different schools according to different areas with particular singing tunes, music, and methods of manipulation. In Shaanxi Province shadow show can be classified into various schools according to their melodies, such as ahgong tune, wanwen tune, string and clapper tune, clapper and accented beat tune, and many others in the form of "chanting of folk tales" in different areas. For instance, the claper and accented beat tune prevalent mainly in Tongguan and Huaying areas in Shaanxi Province,is also known as an ancient tune, which began prevailing during the Ming Dynasty It features that the melody is determined by the tones of the characters used in the music, being played in a boid, uninhibited and loud and clear style. When the show is performed in the accompaniments of singing and chanting, the operators behind the screen will sing for different characters respectively in the play while the principal manipulator who controls the movements of the puppets will play the principal part in the singing, with others chiming in. The musical instruments used in the show include han, a two-stringed (made of cattle's tendon) plucked instrument and erhu, a two-stringed bowed instrument. When the singing reaches a pitching note of excitement, one of the operators beats the time with bamboo percussion plates forcibly to create a unique style. Hence the name of thc Shadow show in claper and accented beat tune. Most programs of its repertories are based on historical stories such as the romances of the Spring and Autumn and the warring States Periods and the Three kingdons, and stories of "gifted scholars and beautiful ladies" are merely excluded.

The shadow show played in the string and clapper tune is found most popular in such places as Xianyang, Qianxian, Lixian, and Liquan, Xingping Baoji, Fengxiang, as well as the eastern part of Gansu Province. It is said that the tune began prevailing in the 18th year of the reign of EmperorJiaqing of the Qing Dynasty (1831). its singing tunes are occasioned by a great variety of accented beat such as slow beat, urgent beat, rolling beat and others. There are about 500 programs in its repertory, 350 of which now have been edited and revised including more plays on war stories than those on civil events. Apart from those serial scripts about the stories of "the Three Kingdoms" and "Various States,"also included are romance of gifted scholars and beautiful ladies Such as the Greenjade Hairpin.

The Wanwan tune is also known as Hua Opera, mainly Prevailing in Huaxian and Huaying to the northern side of Mount Huashan in Shaanxi Province and the Dali region. Its melody and chanting are sweet and soft. Its musical instruments include erxian, yueqin(a four-stringed pluck instrument with a full-moon-shaped sound box), huqin,(a general term for a two-stringed bowed instrument), wanwan (in the shape of a small brass bell), biangu (drum on wooden tripod and made of hard wood), yungu (big barrel-shaped drum), shouluo (hand gong of brass), daluo (big gong of brass), maluo(medium sized gong of brass), hangh (wooden clappers with bars of unequal length),suona(a woodwind instrument), and dahao (a trumpet). Wanwan as a clapper instrument plays the important part in the chime for the most time, hence the name. The puppet manipulator is in charge of the performance of figures, but not singing and speaking. The yueqin player is at the same time in charge of playing biangu, anggu, and shouluo, and is the singer and speaker behind the screen.So he is called Qianshou, or the "head on the Proscenium". The erxian player is also in charge of playing naobo (cymbals),suona and dahao. The wen wen player also plays bangzi, daluo, and jiaozi(a pair of bells of brass).It only needs five operators to perform the whole play. The manipulator controls all the movements of human figures and animal beings like horses. In a civic play, the movements are just like that of a human being.In a military play, all such movements as fighting, slaughter, horse riding, falling off the horseback are vividly and lively performed. There are about 250 kinds of traditional plays in its repertory. From the summary of the show aforesaid, we can see that in Shaanxi Province alone there are various types and schools of shadow show with diverse chants and melodies. Their music has absorbed some melodies from quyi,(the folk art forms including ballad singing, story-telling, comic dialogues, clapper talks, cross talks, etc), operas and dramas, and in return, they enrich and supplement the deficiency of such operas and music. And they are widely spread over the country. Various local shadow shows have their own unique style. They also represent the unique character of Chinese shadow show, and even in the world, they are unique and incomparable. For example, in the "small ox-hide shadow show" of Chaoyi area during the Qing Dynasty, its cut-out figures like sheng (the male roles), dan (the female roles),jing(military or civil officials, or Supernatural beings), Chou (the comedians) and monks and Taoist priests are very vividly and beautifully executed. (Fig. 4-2)

The Earliest Performing Art Being Introduced into the West

The Persian historian Rashideg only gave an account of the Chinese shadow show being played in Persia by the military men of Genghis Khan. In 1767, a French missionary introduced all the types and the making skills of the Chinese shadow theater into his country as an up-dated art at the time. And on this basis he created the French shadow theater In 1776, it was passed over indirectly to Britain.

In 1774, the great German poetJohann Wolfgang von Goethe(1749-1832) made an introduction of the Chinese shadow show at an exhibition to German visitors. He was very fond of this age-old Oriental art. On August 28, 1781 when his 32nd birthday anniversary came, he organized a special presentation of the Chinese shadow show to celebrate it and entertain the honorable elite from the imperial palace.

During the 18th century, foreign missionaries, when they returned home from China, brought with them the ox-hide shadow theater of Tangshan and Peking to their homeland. At first, they were very interested in the puppet cutting and carving art and skills, then became more interested in the unique form of its operation after they had seen pertormances. As a result, they introduced the whole method of execution into their countries.

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