Charm of Changsha Shadow Puppetry

Updated: 2018-03-05

Charm of Changsha Shadow Puppetry

Wan Tiejun performs Changsha Shadow Puppetry at Jinhe village in Batang town, Ningxiang. [Photo by Huang Qiqing/]

Excited children and villagers sit around a one-meter-long curtain as the stage of shadow plays, with an ensemble of gongs, drums, a Beijing opera fiddle, a suona horn and vocals in the accent of Ningxiang city come together in the small area.

This is a common scene at Jinhe village in Batang town, Ningxiang, a county-level city under the administration of Changsha city.

To many people, shadow puppetry is a hoary memory that dates back to childhood. But to Wan Tiejun and his theatrical troupe members, it is their career and spiritual ballast.

Charm of Changsha Shadow Puppetry

Books concerning performing and making shadow puppetry are on the workbench of Wan Tiejun. [Photo by Huang Qiqing/]

Wan, 56, started to learn performing and making shadow puppetry when he was about 10 years old. He has collected many scripts and facial mask patterns over the years to develop old shows and create new ones.

Charm of Changsha Shadow Puppetry

Wan Tiejun draws a new puppet figure. [Photo by Huang Qiqing/]

The most important procedure before staging new shadow puppetry shows is to make new puppets. After drawing them on kraft paper, a knife is used to hollow out useless parts. Then the paper is torn from the middle to clip in a piece of thin paper and colors are added carefully afterwards. This step is to make puppets livelier in performance with lights able to pass through them so a variety of colors can be seen.

Charm of Changsha Shadow Puppetry

Colors are added to a body part of a new puppet. [Photo by Huang Qiqing/]

To prevent damp and damage, puppets also need to be painted with varnish. Three to four days later when they dry out, different body parts are strung together with thread. After one more layer of kraft paper is added to heads and necks, and thin bamboo poles are added as arms and legs, the puppets are finally finished.

According to Peng Zeke, expert of Hunan Puppet and Shadow Art Protection and Inheritance Center, shadow puppetry spread to Changsha in the Ming Dynasty (AD1368-1644), mainly performed at temple fairs, wish redeeming gatherings, wedding ceremonies and funerals. It gradually integrated with Hunan Opera and Flower Drum Opera and had been well received in urban and rural Changsha.

In 2016, Changsha Shadow Puppetry, encompassing those in Ningxiang, Wangcheng and Liuyang, was selected into the extended list of the fourth batch of provincial-level intangible cultural heritage representative project directory. All levels of cultural departments have paid increasing attention to the art form offering funding support and school classes to facilitate its development.

Charm of Changsha Shadow Puppetry

Some of Wan Tiejun's shadow puppets [Photo by Huang Qiqing/]

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