The history of Chinese puppets dates back centuries. The images of gods and shamans in religious ceremonies were the first puppets. It is thought that puppets used to guard against evil and were used in rituals that provide spiritual guidance. One of China’s oldest puppets, a figure made of wood strips, dates back to 107 BC. Puppet shows gradually became forms of entertainment. Usually performed by groups traveling from place to place, while they take their stage and characters with them.
Different types of puppet performances are popular in China. In China, there are various forms of puppet theatre. It is not known which first formed. The Chinese puppet theaters come in four types: marionettes on strings or wires, rod puppets, shadow puppets, and glove-type puppets operated by hand.
This rich culture in China still lives today. Here are some reasons why you need to learn and know more about it. We will also discuss information about the culture to help you learn the basics.
The Puppet Culture Has Rich Stories Behind It
There are several well-known stories about Chinese puppets and their life-like nature. An Emperor was love-sick in one, thousands of years ago, over the loss of a beloved concubine. An adviser, who had watched the shadows of children shift animatedly as they played in the shade of a canopy, was given an idea.
He produced a figure of the Emperor’s lost love and gave a shadow show. The Emperor was captivated when he saw it because it helped to bring her to life again. Shadow puppetry became famous as a result.
While this legend may be a bit dramatic, it shows the connection puppets have to Chinese history and culture.
The Culture Proliferated Many Forms Of Puppetry
Shadow puppets are intricate silhouettes that are illuminated from behind against a white fabric backdrop. They became famous between the Dynasties of Tang and Song (around 618-1279). Craftsmen used different tools and techniques to carve them out of leather and then paint them in vivid colors. They can have moving parts, from a few to as many as 24, powered by sticks or thin rods.
On the other hand, glove puppets are Chinese puppets of the smallest kind, sometimes just 12-14 inches tall. They have cloth bodies with pockets, as the name suggests, into which an operator fits their hand. Sometime between the 13th and 16th centuries glove puppets developed around Fu Jian in southwestern China. Though small, each puppet was a work of art, with wooden heads, hands, and feet beautifully carved and painted. They had beautiful clothing too, mostly made from silk.
During the series, glove puppets were used in shows based on Beijing Opera stories and characters, with music and several acts. The puppets had distinct facial ornaments that would mark them as a king, warlord, queen, clown, or another character.
Chinese rod puppets are puppets that are operated by three rods. These can be small or life-sized puppets. Performers used to wear special traditional theatrical robes with full sleeves to conceal the rods. However, modern performers prefer to let their hands and rods show.
China is a vast country that consists of many cultures, and each region has its own types of puppetry. On the other hand, if you decide to go to China for a vacation, you may also want to explore their tea culture. For more information, click here.
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