Beijing shadow puppetry


In 2008, Beijing shadow puppetry was included in the list of national intangible cultural heritage representative projects.


Beijing shadow puppetry has a long development history and distinctive artistic features. Its vocal style incorporates elements from Kunqu Opera and Peking Opera. The performances are exaggerated, featuring special techniques like puppets looking into mirrors, crying, or dressing up.

Ancient movies

Shadow puppetry is considered China's oldest "movie". It uses leather or cardboard to make silhouettes of characters, and performs under the light of the light with a light-blocking cloth.

A famous saying describes it: "One mouth recounts stories of ages past, two hands enact battles of millions of soldiers". With light and shadow, puppets are projected onto a screen. Actors behind the screen manipulate multiple puppets and often play several roles, switching between characters like the heroine and the hero while narrating historical stories.

Historical roots

Beijing's shadow puppetry has a long history, dating back to the Jin Dynasty. It reached its peak during the Qing Dynasty, especially in the mid-Qing period. It was extremely popular, with many noble families supporting their own troupes. Additionally, many well-known civilian troupes thrived in Beijing, with at least a dozen prominent ones.

Cultural significance

Despite the fixed expressions of the puppets, performances convey a wide range of emotions. For instance, a puppet might lower its head and cover its face to show sadness, or spread its arms and lean back to express joy. These subtle movements rely entirely on the skill of the puppeteers.

Shadow puppetry is a silent art that vividly brings folk stories to life. It remains a cherished cultural tradition, blending storytelling, craftsmanship, and performance art.