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Beijing Municipal Commission of Tourism Development

Origin of Chinese Shadow Play


Chinese shadow play has a recorded history that's over 2,000 years old. A love story from "Hanshu (History of Han)" reveals the origin of the art.

When Lady Li, a beloved concubine of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, died from illness, the emperor was so sad and in no mood for anything. One of his ministers, Li Shaoweng, once saw a child playing with a doll and he noticed that the shadow of the doll reflected on the ground seemed lifelike.

Inspired, Li went back home and made a figure of Lady Li using cotton and silk, and placed sticks on the figure's hands and feet to make it easy to manipulate.

When night came, he put up a curtain, lit a candle, and invited the emperor to sit before the curtain. Li manipulated the figure from behind the curtain. The emperor felt like he was seeing Lady Li again and was very happy. The shadow puppet play became the emperor's favorite pastime.

China Daily

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