Pulling the strings for cultural treats

By Yang Feiyue | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-12 07:55
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Wang Lijuan (center) and her puppeteers study sculpting at her shadow puppetry museum in the capital's Haidian district. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Ancient style of puppetry enchants and educates a new audience as those behind the screen find rewarding role and sense of achievement, Yang Feiyue reports.

Behind a gray curtain in Beijing's Mentougou district at the end of January, people moved to the music as they adeptly maneuvered a cast of cowhide puppets.

The twists and turns of the plot were narrated in expressive, attention-grabbing tones as the puppets vividly reenacted scenes, featuring firefighters, village heads, volunteers and startled victims, that tugged at the heartstrings of the audience, who had filled this makeshift theater in the capital city's western suburbs to bursting.

"That was exactly how it happened," some of the villagers whispered during the show.

Fierce rain and flooding wreaked havoc on the district in late July, but local residents fought their way back to normality.

When the show ended, the puppeteers stepped out from behind the curtain to meet the audience and were greeted by thunderous applause.

"We get that a lot," says Wang Lijuan, who organized the show to commemorate the touching stories of the natural disaster.

The puppeteers, who are mostly in their 20s and generally about 1.3 meters tall, all have pituitary stalk interruption syndrome, which can inhibit growth. They have been able to find jobs that show off their talents with Wang's help.

It took three months of interviewing local residents about their flood experiences, developing the script, fashioning puppets and rehearsing, before the show was ready.

"The audience has usually expressed a strong sense of admiration mixed with a touch of curiosity," says the woman who is carrying forward puppet shows with characteristic Jingxi (western Beijing) cultural elements.

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