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Shadow play preservation in China

12-06-2011 10:36 BJT

The animated movie of ancient times is the shadow play. The theatrical art form has been around for thousands years telling stories that are vividly performed by puppets behind a thin screen, all accompanied by live music.

As with many ancient arts, practitioners of shadow play are making great effort to preserve the traditional art, and their focus now is on innovation.

In a small village of Shaanxi Province, shadow play is warmly welcomed by the local people. But just a few years ago, it had almost disappeared from this area because the performers could not support themselves. Before it was too late, a big fan of shadow play, Lei Wendong, decided to do something about it.

Lei Wendong said, "I am always excited to see the artists performing shadow play. So I contacted the troupe and ask them to return to the stage. I said I would pay wages for them."

In 2007, Lei launched a shadow play company and operated a modern shadow play troupe. He contracted about two thousand locals from 17 villages to carve and supply the company with shadow puppets. Through this arrangement, these people profit from their work, the once-endangered shadow play industry is prosperous again, and Lei gets to enjoy more performances.

Lei said, "If the shadow play industry continues to operate in the traditional way, it is doomed. So I packaged and industrialized it. And I hope the artists will benefit from it."

The one absorbed in performing the classic program "the battle between Monkey King and Ox Devil" is Ma Fei. He is the third generation of a famous shadow play family from Anhui Province. He organized a community of shadow play fans in Hefei, the capital city of Anhui Province, to promote the art. Besides playing classic programs, he also innovates by adding some modern cartoon figures into his shadow play.

Mafei, shaow play artist, said, "By coming in contact with shadow play, I hope the younger generation will love it."

Communication with artists from different places is also a useful way to improve the local shadow plays. The Xiangdong Shadow Play Troupe from Hebei Province recently benefited from participating in a cultural festival and learned from others.

Zhang Xiangdong, Xiangdong Shadow Play Troupe, said, "We learned a lot through by communicating with experts, scholars and other artists. We watched many programs from different areas and studied how their puppets are carved."

To maintain the positive momentum, the local government built a training institute in 2010 to cultivate successors for the art of shadow play.

 

Editor:Liu Fang |Source: CNTV.CN

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