Written by Juliette Qi
Peoples around the world use puppets in their shows. Puppets have often been used in dramas and comedies, adding of course music and sound effects to make the show more attractive. Puppet shows are very famous in China and many characters (Chinese) are as famous as Pinocchio is for Westerners.
The History of Shadow Play
It is said that the Mongols who participated in the conquest of China in the 13th century enjoyed being entertained by watching shadows in their camps. They took their own entertainment with them, and it became a popular form of recreation in the Ottoman Empire that later spread to the western parts of the territory.
Shadow plays were introduced in France when French missionaries returned from China in 1767 and gave performances in Paris and Marseille. Isst is in this way that the shadow play entered European territories. The performances of shadow plays were very successful in China and we began to call them the ” Ombres chinois “, which is the French equivalent of the shadow plays coming from China. This artform had its glory days in Paris during the 19th century. The cabaret ” Chat Noir ” (Black Cat) of Montmartre (Paris) also produced a large number of shows in the 80s.
The Popular Theatrical Show
It was usually the leader of the temple community who invited the troupe and decided on the show on the occasion of the birthday of the deity. The shows were presented in front of the temples on a stage set up for the occasion, in camphor wood sheds richly carved and covered with gold foil.As a reflection of the architecture of the temples, the shed has colonnades of dragons and the sculptures of characters or animals as symbols of good auguries.
Like the classical spectacles intended for the deities, the audience, if there was one, did not pay to watch the puppet shows. Sometimes in the countryside, the presentation had only the god of the soil as a spectator. His altar was built in the middle of a rice field and no human spectator came to attend the performance.
Nowadays technical devices have appeared, computers control lighting, machines, modern paintings and dyes allow artists to create shadows and colorful figures. It is very difficult for some shadow show artists to cope with new technology, but some of them take advantage of these new technologies and use them wisely for the development of their performances in China.
The Relationship to Belief: Ceremony for the Deities
Even though the puppet performances were intended for the entertainment of the deities, the show itself was purely profane. In addition, the performance master always had some magic skills, mainly in exorcism. For example they used a wire puppet representing Zhong Kui for the purification of places infested by ghosts.
Other ceremonies could involve puppets with sheaths; they took place in the open air and usually at the event site. The ceremony was intended to pacify some wandering souls deemed responsible for disasters such as fires, floods and diseases.
After these ceremonies, the show was played normally in the sheds. People prepare suggestively their show about water if there was a fire, about healing if someone was ill etc … but without referring directly to the reason for the ceremony during the show.
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