Chinese shadow play, also called ‘Piyingxi’, is one of the oldest drama forms in China. Its name means “lamp shadow play”, and it also can be seen as a special kind of puppet show. Chinese shadow play has a history of about 2,000 years. Because of the way it works, it has been called ‘the ancestor of movies’, while for people today the shadow play was performed and developed more as a kind of cultural heritage. Puppets and figures from shadow plays have been collected by museums in many foreign countries. The Chinese government also likes to give it to foreign leaders as a special gift from the Chinese people.
The shadow puppets are made of clear plastic or buffalo and donkey’s leather, and the figures of the shadow puppet show are from the Chinese myths, legends, stories and even classical books. People can tell a figure’s character by their mask. For example, a red mask represents uprightness, a black mask, fidelity, and a white one, treachery. The protagonist has long narrow eyes, a small mouth and a straight bridge of nose, while the antagonist has small eyes, a protruding forehead and sagging mouth. A clown has a circle around his eyes, projecting a humorous and frivolous air. These puppets are painted using bright colors, making them become very lively and beautiful. In shadow play, the puppets are usually moved by artists’ hands behind a thin screen with some music and singing which tells the story to the audience.
Chinese Shadow Play Puppets