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Shadow puppeteers preserve old folk art

By WANG QIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-11 07:01
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A shadow puppetry troupe performs at an exhibition at Prince Kung's Palace Museum in Beijing. [Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]

As the familiar melodies that once echoed through his childhood fill the air at Prince Kung's Palace Museum in downtown Beijing, 53-year-old Liang Rongshan is transported back in time.

These tunes, once played by his father and grandfather, now resonate through the hands of his fellow troupe members during a puppet show-themed exhibition. Liang feels a wave of nostalgia. With a deft hand, he begins to demonstrate his craft, cutting intricate puppet silhouettes from cow leather for an eager audience.

As a third-generation shadow puppet performer and sculptor in Zhushan county, Shiyan, Hubei province, Liang brings the ancient art alive in the Exhibition of Shadow Puppets From the Collection of Prince Kung's Palace Museum and hopes more people will appreciate its beauty.

"As an art form embodying shadow and light, the craft of shadow puppetry has been passed down through many generations and should be preserved and seen by more," Liang says, adding that due to the popularity of television and smartphones, the art is under threat of extinction.

Running until Aug 15, the exhibition showcases more than 200 exquisite shadow puppets selected from the museum's collection, which boasts over 9,000 pieces. These shadow puppets represent diverse styles from across the country.

Highlighting the flourishing development of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) shadow puppetry in Beijing, the exhibition recollects the customs of patronizing shadow puppetry troupes in the Qing Dynasty's princely residences, illustrating the historical connection between Prince Kung's Palace and Jizhou shadow puppets from what is now Jizhou district of Tianjin municipality. The palace, a public museum today, was the 18th-century residence of Yixin, Prince Kung (1833-98), a statesman and member of the Qing imperial family. According to historical records, the residence, and those of many other imperial families, used to raise or hire shadow puppet troupes who lived and rehearsed in their rented places in Jizhou area, which is near Beijing.

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