Like Peking Opera and other traditional national arts in China, Piyingxi, or the shadow play show, known as a Chinese intangible cultural heritage, has spread to many other countries.
Shadow puppetry originated during the Han Dynasty. More than 2,000 years ago, a favorite concubine of Wu Emperor of the Han Dynasty died of illness. The emperor was devastated, and he asked his court officers to bring his beloved back to life. One day, a minister happened to see children playing with dolls and the shadows on the floor were vivid. Inspired by this scene, the smart minister hit upon an idea. He made a shape of the concubine using donkey leather. Her joints were animated using 11 separate pieces of the leather, and adorned with painted clothes. As night fell, he invited the emperor to watch the puppet show behind a curtain. Using an oil lamp they made her shadow move, which made the emperor feel like the concubine was brought back to life. The emperor was delighted and loved this play from then on.
As an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment, shadow play artists use articulated figures in front of an illuminated backdrop to create the illusion of moving images. The figures are usually moved by people behind a thin screen. The figures of the puppet play look similar to paper-cut except that their joints are connected by thread so that they can be operated freely.
The stage for shadow play is a white cloth screen on which the shadows of flat puppets are projected. The scene is simple and primitive, it is the consummate performance that attracts the audience. Vivid design and a rich variety of colors, delicate costumes, change of lighting, and unique singing, together make up the fascinating world of shadow play.
Shadow play in Shanxi Province is believed to be the most typical and this art form originates from Hua county of this province. The shadow play reveals a special world with their different figures on the screen, and is praised by Frenchmen as “forerunner of film”.