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Showcase of Cultural Creativity | Asian Games: Sports merge with shadow puppets

By By Ma Zhenhuan and Fang Xiaoying in Hangzhou| chinadaily.com.cn| Updated: June 20, 2023 L M S


Artists combine shadow puppets in Haining with archery, a traditional Chinese sports event. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Shadow puppets will add a special flavor to the 19th Asian Games, which kicks off in September in Zhejiang province.

A professional shadow puppet production group — the Huige Society in Haining, Zhejiang province — has crafted several artistic works to preserve this cultural treasure, which is on the verge of extinction.

The works combine elements of the Asian Games, such as mascots with ancient sports, such as Cuju — a ball-kicking game — and archery.

There are currently 23 members of the Huige Society, which is devoted to training people in the skills of shadow puppetry. The society is located in Zhouwangmiao, an important place for the spread of this intangible cultural heritage.

With a history of nearly a thousand years, shadow puppetry in Haining has retained its traditional style and performance essence, including vocals, shapes and stage design.

The shadow puppet style in Haining developed during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) and is the only shadow puppets art left in Jiangnan, the region south of the Yangtze River.

The puppets are made of cowhide that's carved and dyed.

A shadow puppet play is a form of folk opera that involves cutting animal skin or hard paper into silhouettes and moving them in front of an illuminated backdrop.

The plays are accompanied by live music, and performers behind the screen manipulate the figures while narrating a story to a local tune.

The folk art first emerged during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) over 2,000 years ago and was popularized as far back as the Tang and Song dynasties from the early 600s to late 1,200s. It then spread to West Asia and Europe during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

Chinese shadow puppets were included on the first national intangible cultural heritage lists in 2006 and then were selected as the representative list of human intangible cultural heritage in 2011.


Shadow puppets with the three mascots of the Asian Games are on display in Haining, Zhejiang province. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]


Shadow puppets are merged with a set of sports events. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]


Shadow puppets present images of Yang Qian and Yang Haoran, who won the 10-meter air rifle mixed team gold at the Tokyo Olympics. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]