Chinese Shadow Puppetry:Small Shadow Reflects A Big World


Chinese Shadow Play is an art form integrating light and shadow, art, sculpture, music, singing and performance. Shadow puppeteers, behind a white curtain illuminated by lights, perform with figures or animals carved from animal skins, cardboard, plastic plates, etc., accompanied by music, singing, and storylines. The repertory and singing of shadow puppetry influence local operas.

In the long history of more than one thousand years, shadow puppetry has gradually grown in popularity in China, characterized by different regions and categories. Chinese shadow puppetry was introduced to Japan, Arabia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and other countries along the Silk Road. It is said that in the 18th century, a great German poet, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, played Chinese shadow puppetry to celebrate his birthday.

The light source of shadow puppetry originally was oil lamp, gas lamp, and later turned into electric lamp. Since then, the props and performance forms of shadow puppet show have also developed into different forms, such as the imitation of cooking fire fireworks rising, the performance of looking into the mirror, etc. The screen curtain of the show has also grown from a small six feet into ten meters. The performers has grown from one or two people to about a dozen, and the light has also developed from few lamps into rows of lights.

Rodin, a French artist, once said: "The source of art lies in the inner truth. The form, color are all that will convey emotions." As a photographer born in a dramatic arts family, it is my great responsibility to protect and promote the Chinese shadow puppetry, which is listed in the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. I have been paying attention to and taking pictures of Chinese shadow puppets for more than 20 years. I went to theaters, mines and rural areas to visit carvers, old shadow puppets artists and collectors all over the country and I’ve taken tens of thousands of photos.

Through the contributions of generations of shadow puppetry artists, shadow puppetry has become a form of art performance with Chinese national and local characteristics. Conforming to the aesthetic taste of the Chinese people, it is deeply loved by the public. Chinese shadow play often shows culture, history, folk customs and other content, telling Chinese stories, displaying Chinese wisdom, carrying forward Chinese spirit, highlighting Chinese strength, and making great contributions to the promotion and dissemination of Chinese culture and international cultural exchanges.