The ancient art of shadow puppetry originated in China during the Han dynasty when a wise adviser conjured the likeness of the heartsick Emperor’s late wife with a crude shadow puppet on a garden wall. The Emperor was cured of his heartache and shadow puppetry was born. Despite such noble beginnings, shadow puppetry quickly became the people’s art. The portability and simplicity of shadow puppetry lent itself to traveling troupes that grew out of nearly every village in the country. For two thousand years, the art form survived everything from war and famine, to regime changes and the Cultural Revolution.

Sadly, only now in the 21st century, traditional shadow puppetry in China is on a steep and fast decline. This ancient art form has steadily been losing the battle with television, video games and other forms of entertainment in China’s swiftly urbanizing republic. The China Cultural Center presentation will profile four artists and companies currently practicing shadow puppetry. Their situations illustrate the current state of shadow puppetry in China.

Annie is currently halfway through her Fulbright Fellowship researching the current state of traditional Chinese Shadow Puppetry. The aim of the fellowship is split between documenting and apprenticing with the declining number of traditional shadow puppetry troupes in rural regions and comparing them with the newly formed commercial ‘folk art’ companies based in large urban centers.

Venue: China Culture Center, Beijing, China.
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