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Shadow puppetry reaches modern audiences in Sichuan

By Huang Zhiling and Peng Chao in Chengdu | | Updated: 2024-05-09 15:12
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He Huaping, an inheritor of shadow puppetry, is delighted that his show, "Li Bing's Water Control", is very popular with tourists in the Dujiangyan Scenic Area. Even during the low season, there are more than 10 performances a day.

Shadow puppetry, also known as shadow play, is a traditional Chinese art form that dates back 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). During the performance, puppets made of leather or paper are manipulated by puppeteers using rods to create the illusion of moving images on a translucent cloth screen illuminated from behind. UNESCO recognizes the art form as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

He, in his 50s, is the eighth-generation inheritor of Nanbu shadow puppetry, which originated in Mawang township, Nanbu county, in Southwest China's Sichuan province over 300 years ago. In February this year, He was selected as a representative inheritor for the sixth batch of national intangible cultural heritage.

Born into a family of shadow puppeteers, He began learning the ancient art at the age of nine and first performed on stage at 14. In recent years, he has been brainstorming ways to make the traditional art form more appealing to young people.

"I believe the inheritance of intangible cultural heritage must keep up with the times. To attract the attention of more young people, innovations must be made in the script and performance based on traditional techniques. This is the only way to keep the ancient art form alive," he said.

He has been working on new scripts that fit modern styles. He has also shortened the performance time from the original three hours to about 20 or 30 minutes to accommodate modern attention spans.

He said he will also try to combine shadow puppet performances with short videos and live streaming to expand his reach.

Wang Jie, director of the intangible cultural heritage protection center at the Nanbu County Cultural Center, said the cultural center has been making efforts to improve the quality of Nanbu shadow puppetry performances and to cultivate the inheritors.

The center will support the inheritors' participation in academic exchanges, performances and exhibitions at home and abroad and integrate technological means to innovate performances.

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