Inheritor casting light on shadow play

By Zhang Yu in Shijiazhuang | China Daily | Updated: 2023-06-06 09:22
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Zhang Xiangdong practices shadow puppetry movements at home in Changli county in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province. CHINA DAILY

Zhang Xiangdong aims to pass on popular puppetry art form to future generations

Holding a rod to control the movements of the horse puppet's head, Zhang Xiangdong teaches two students how to perform a shadow play.

Two girls are holding five rods, which are used to control the movements of the puppet's tail and hoofs.

Working together from behind a cloth screen, they make it appear to those watching like a horse is running across the screen.

The 76-year-old shadow puppeteer from Changli county in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province, has been performing shadow plays for over six decades.

As a form of traditional theater, Chinese shadow puppetry involves manipulating colorful silhouette figures made from leather or paper behind a translucent cloth screen, to the accompaniment of music and singing.

Controlled by puppeteers holding rods, the figures make moving images on the screen, which is illuminated from behind.

In 2011, Chinese shadow puppetry was added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. "While enjoying the show, audiences are able to learn about puppetry and cultural values," Zhang said.

As a representative inheritor of Changli-style shadow puppetry, which is a national intangible cultural heritage, Zhang is not only skilled in the art, but also knows how to dub background opera music and play musical instruments. He is also skilled at carving the puppets.

"My shows are usually presented for entertainment, as part of religious rituals and for special occasions such as rural weddings and funerals," he said.

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