When Shadow Puppets Perform Ballet

Source: China IP News

With lights dimming, the screen began to light up. With the melody of The White-Haired Girl, the shadow puppet "Xi Er" stood on tiptoes and performed ballet gracefully. The gestures had no difference with humans. Behind the screen, three young shadow players pulled the puppet's head, hands and feet, with their body swinging lightly and harmoniously with music. The scene happened in Hua Zhou District, Shaanxi province, the birthplace of shadow puppetry. Xue Hongquan, inheritor of Hua county shadow puppetry production techniques, provincial-level intangible cultural heritage of the northwestern province, were craving shadow puppets on the second floor of his shadow workshop. 

An old saying "One mouth tells the tales in ancient times and two hands fight millions of soldiers" vividly portrays the shadow play performance. Craftsmen of the shadow workshop are creative in shadow carving. On the first floor of the exhibition hall, there was full of meter-long exquisite shadow puppets. The figures of the puppets were chosen from the classics including A Dream in Red Mansions, The Eight Immortals and Romance of the Three Kingdoms, combining the features in Chinese painting and Claborate-style painting and demonstrating loyalty and duplicity. On the second floor, there was shadow carving workshop. Several young craftsmen were skillfully handling gravers and punches. Any straight lines, curves or hairs were made without interruption. "The carving skill of shadow puppets in Hua Zhou District is highly distinctive with 24 procedures including scraping, grinding, washing, carving, dying and decorating. One finished product requires to be carved three to four thousand times," Xue Hongquan said.

Xue Hongquan was dedicated to making shadow puppetry close to young people's aesthetic standard. Qian Yuting, one shadow player of the shadow puppet "Xi Er", was a girl belonging to so-called post-1990s generation, following Xue Hongquan in shadow carving and performance. "We youngsters are responsible to inherit the classics," Qian Yuting said. She and the performers of the shadow workshop catapulted the play to the stage of CCTV and Dragon TV, wining great acclaim from judges and guests.  

"Inheritance of the intangible cultural heritage requires rolling with the tides," said Xue, "Although we made numerous new attempts, we never have betrayed the essence of the shadow puppetry." With his passion and devotion, the shadow play now embraces a new life. With a history of over two thousand years, the play still remains alive in Hua Zhou District.