Shadow play is a kind of drama in which silhouettes made of hard paper and hide are projected onto a white screen. The performer manipulates the characters behind the screen while singing the libretto to tell the story. The story-telling is accompanied by music.
Chinese shadow play, which came into being during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, spread to South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia and North Africa in the 13th century. The ancient Chinese art spread to Europe in the 17th century. The famous German poet Goethe staged European opera in the form of Chinese shadow play, and modern movies derived, in part, from the ancient art.
The ancient art gradually fell from the limelight due to the impact of modern audio-visual media such as television and movies. Many shadow play groups have been disbanded, and many of the most talented artists have died. In many areas, certain types of plays and the art of performance are actually nearing extinction.
Fortunately, shadow play is alive and well in Huanxian County in northwest China's Gansu Province, where outside cultural influence is limited due to its remoteness.
Huanxian County now has more than 90 shadow play groups, all of which are made up of farmers. This county, the birthplace of Daoqing shadow play, is currently hosting the first Daoqing shadow play festival.
Originating near the end of the Ming Dynasty (1386-1644 AD) and the early part of the Qing Dynasty(1644-1911 AD), Daoqing Shadow Play is softer and more melodious than other types due to its use of Tao music, characterized as peaceful and holy.
Daoqing shadow play features a single performer who manipulates all of the characters and conducts the orchestra, as well.
Chinese shadow play has been staged in Europe and the United States in recent years.