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Shadow Play in Shanxi

Shadow Play in Shanxi

Shadow play, an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment using opaque, often shows figures in front of an illuminated backdrop to create the illusion of moving images. It is widespread in most regions in China and the different tunes are linked to different places, including, the Huaxian shadow play, Huayinlaoqiang shadow play, Egong-qiang shadow play, xianbanqiang shadow play of Shannxi Province, Huanxian daoqing shadow play of Gansu Province, Wanwanqiang Shadow play of Xiaoyi City in Shanxi Province, Tangshan shadow play and Jinan shadow play of Hebei Provicne, Haining shadow play of Zhejiang Province, Jianghanpingyuan shadow play of Hubei Province, Lufeng shadow play of Guangdong Province, Fuzhou shadow play and Lingyuan shadow play of Liaoning Province.

There is no proven record of the exact time it formed, but according to DongJingMengHuaLu, the reminiscences of Dongjing (capital of Song dynasty (960-1279), at what is Kaifeng today), it matured and popular in Song dynasty. In the Bianliangwashe (place for performance) in Dongjing, there are some famous artists are Dong Shiwu, Zhao Qi and Cao Baoyi.On the murals from Jin dynasty (1115-1234) in Palace for Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of keen awareness of Yanshan Temple in Fanzhi City of Shanxi Province, a mural named Shadow play records the scene of the ancient play vividly. Passing through dynasties of Song, Jing, Yuan (1279-1368) and Ming (1368-1644), the shadow play entered its prime in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

The diversified shadow play reflect in the tunes and themes, and in the shadow-play puppet making and performance skills are largely identical with minor differences. Generally, the process of making specialized puppets for shadow puppetry is complex. Dried and cleaned sheep, donkey or cattle are treated with a chemical process until it becomes thin enough to be translucent. The skin is coated with oil and cut into the necessary patterns, required the crafts man a superb engraving skills. The head, trunk, and limbs of the puppets are carved in profiles. Equipped with helmet for the head, clothes for the limbs, the puppet is dried and flattened by fireclay bricks after coating with greasepaint. When performing; the puppet head will be inserted into the trunk which connects the limbs. Three bamboo spikes are installed in the trunk and the two hands of the puppet to control. In addition, some other shapes such as stage props, tables and chairs and scene are carved to go align with the previous carvings.

The stage prop is called Yingchuang (usually a white curtain) and has a height of 3 Chinese foot (five Chinese foot is the maximum) width of 5 Chinese foot (six Chinese foot is the maximum), with white paper as the screen to allow one person to operate it easily. Moreover, an oil lamp is also used to shine upon the puppet and its movements.

The shadow play is important Chinese folk arts; however, due to the impact of modern films and television, it is gradually losing its audience and target market.