Shaanxi Leather Show
Tourist Souvenirs Being one of the cradles of ancient Chinese civilization, Shaanxi is also rich in folk art products and handicrafts. These folk art products bear a strong local flavour and have a long history. The shapes, materials, patterns and techniques of some of the products date as far back as several hundred, or even several thousand years ago. For instance, the earliest Chinese embroidery articles made in the Western Zhou dynasty were unearthed in this province. According to historical materials, Shaanxi was the place where the famous ancient Chinese lacquer was produced. The woven fabrics of the Han dynasty, the embroidery of the Tang dynasty and the famous Yao Zhou porcelain from the Northern Song dynasty are all the traditional products of which Shaanxi is proud. Nowadays, owing to the efforts of artistic workers and craftsmen, the handicrafts of Shaanxi have proved more refined and elegant, for example, the reproduction of tri-coloured glazed pottery of the Tang dynasty, Yao Zhou porcelain, the imitation of the Qin terra-cotta figures, the folk paper-cut, appliqué, puppets, leather shadows as well as the Qin embroidery produced on the basis of old tradition, all these reflect the continuation and development of the long tradition
Shaanxi Leather-silhouette Show Leather-silhouette show is one of the most popular plays with stage property among people in China. With the aid of lamp light, the silhouette of finely-cut leather figures are cast upon the screen; the figures, manipulated by actors form behind the scenes and accompanied with music and singing, perform many vivid and interesting shadow shows. The show has a long history. According to legend, it came into being in the Hand dynasty, developed in the Tang dynasty and flourished in the Song
dynasty. Shaaxi shadow show may be divided into eastern and western schools. They are not only various in tunes on music and excellent in acting, but also have a superb skill in the artistic carving of the leather-figures. With particular making of leather, the figures of Shaanxi shadow play are vividly shaped and elegantly carved. The bright colours and beautiful veins of the figures also make them very good decorations. Being simple and elegant, the leather figures of Shaanxi shadow play bear a style of their own. They are not only good for shadow show, but also regarded as interesting articles of art.
In general the shadow play needs four to six players. One is the main singer, who speaks and sings for all characters. Another operates all the puppets on and off the stage; while the rest are accompanists. The actors try to imbue their understanding of the characters’ feelings and emotions into the performance, to impress and move the audience. In this way the puppets do come alive.
Few other folk arts can compete to the shadow play that has existed and prospered for two thousand years all over China. It not only has a long history, a variety of forms, a wide popularity and a rich tradition, but also a special capacity to integrate art design, literary scripts, music, tunes and performance techniques.
Shadow Play: Precursor of Cinema
Shadow play, a traditional Chinese folk art with a history of more than 2,000 years, has embarked on a revival path after a period of marked decline, thanks to conservation efforts and lasting interest in rural areas.
Known as a precursor of modern cinema, shadow play is a kind of drama in which silhouettes made of hard paper, buffalo and donkey hide are projected onto a white screen. The performer manipulates the characters behind the screen while singing the libretto to tell the story.
The artistic effect of the play is produced through light, screen, music, singing, and puppetry. The shadow play is widely referred to as “a magic, lightning-like art" that can win people's high praise internationally.
The puppets in the shadow play are made of transparent leather and Chinese shadow artists first carve out the lines of the design and then dye them in bright colors. These transparent leather puppets become very lively and beautiful under the lantern light. With strong local characteristics, the shadow puppets are folk handiworks and a wisdom crystallization of Chinese shadow play artists through the ages.
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, which came into being during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) in northwest Shanxi 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 with the famous German poet Goethe staging a European opera in the form of Chinese shadow play, and modern movies derived, in part, from the ancient art.
Shadow play, with distinctive folklore styles, had long been one of the only entertainment forms in Chinese villages till two decades ago.
But 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 still alive and warmly welcomed among people in some rural areas in China.
Both Chinese artists and the Government are making great efforts to conserve and propagate the ancient art form. China is applying to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) for a certification as an intangible cultural heritage.
If you want to see the inconceivable puppet show, please go to the Gaojia Da Yuan (literally: the Gao Family's Big Yard). It is located in No.144, Huimin Street, Lianhu District of Xi'an and not far from the Drum Tower. Take your camera please! Don't miss the magical show, here you can take photos both in front of the screen and in behind it. And you can see how the puppeteers do behind the screen. Forget not this!
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