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Archive for the ‘Arts and Crafts in the Field of Entertainment’ Category

Silhouette

July 20th, 2008 No comments
Silhouette in Eastern Route shadow play of Shaanxi in late-Nubg Dynasty

Silhouette in Eastern Route shadow play of Shaanxi in late-Nubg Dynasty

Shadow play is a popular folk opera belonging in the category of puppy show in which performers use leather or cardboard silhouettes to enact plays. A light is shone onto a screen, behind which performers operate the silhouettes while singing to the company of music. It is a form of art unique to China where folk arts and crafts are ingeniously combined with theatrical performance.

Silhouettes are similar to paper-cuts, but differ in that the hands and legs are joined with string so that they are movable. The silhouette figures were cut from cardboard ar first and from donkey hide or ox-hide, sheep-hide, etc. later on. Usually a piece of hide is cut, colored, ironed and joined into a figure with nimble limbs. The tools used in making silhouette figures are rather particular about, which include five categories: knives, blades, files, drills, and prods, for shaping the head, trunk, legs hands and feet respectively.

The silhouette figures, vivid in shape and rich in color, are projected onto a screen. In a performance, the operator, while singing to the accompaniment of music, manipulates the figures as the story of the play

Qing Dynasty shadow play - Prince White Dragon

Qing Dynasty shadow play – Prince White Dragon

requires. To adapt to the form of screen expression, the skill of combining abstractness and reality is applied in shadow play in which scenes are made artistic, exaggerate and dramatic. Aside from screen presentation, silhouette figures can be played on window sills as ornaments. They can be appreciated or kept as collectables.

Shadow play can be traced back to the Western Han Dynasty. Legend has it that in the region of Emperor Wen (203-157 B.C.), a court lady who was playing with the crown prince in front of the window, had human figures cut from Chinese parasol leaves, which she managed to reflect on the gauze windows for fun. That is the origin of shadow play. Actually shadow play in China started from the Northern Song Dynasty and gradually prospered. According to dream of the Eastern Capital written by Meng Yuanlao in Song Dynasty, in the capital city of Lin’an (now Hangzhou), a shadow play troupe named “Painted-Leather Society” was established. In the third year of Zhengde under the reign of Emperor Renzong in the Ming Dynasty, a hundred-drama festival was held in Beijing in which performances were also given by shadow play operators. In the Qing Dynasty, shadow play further developed and became popular, with more items on the program to choose from, more varieties of figures, and more meticulous in the carving skills. During the reign of Emperor Jiaqing (1786-1820), the shadow play troupes also gave performances for home celebration on New Year Day and other festivals. At that time, quite a few Peking opera actors joined in the performance of shadow play. Since the mid-Qing Dynasty, types of facial makeup such as sheng (male role), dan (female role), jing (painted-face role), mo (elderly male role) and chou (role of clown) appeared in shadow play, as learned from Peking Opera.
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Puppet

July 20th, 2007 No comments
Performance of marionette show at Heyang, Shaanxi

Performance of marionette show at Heyang, Shaanxi

Puppet made its appearance for the first time in the Spring and Autumn Period. In 1979, a puppet was unearthed from a Han Dynasty tomb in Laixi of Shangdong Province. The puppet, 193 centimeters in height and composed of thirteen articulated parts, can be made to sit, stand or kneel. The discovery indicates that the function of puppets at that time had shifted from being a funerary object to a thing for entertainment, which foretold the birth of puppet show.

In the classic writing Tong dian (Laws and Rules Recorded) written by Du You of the Tang Dynasty, there is a short passage which goes, “in the last years of Han Dynasty, puppets started to perform for entertainment on grand occasions. In earlier times, they were used only ar funerals.” By the Sui Dynasty, the embryonic form of puppet show had taken shape. Even scenes from traditional opera could be performed with puppets. From the Tang murals and poems of the prosperous period of Tang Dynasty stored in Cave No. 31 of Mogao Grottos in Dunhuang, Gans Province indicate that different categories of puppets including glove puppets, marionettes and rod-hand puppets had already appeared.

The puppet show came to its prime in the dynasties of Song and Yuan. Puppet show troupes mushroomed in Song Dynasty, offering performances of various subject matters. From Yuan Dynasty, puppets could be manipulated to act vividly the gamut of human emotions-happiness, anger, grief and joy.

From the Ming down to the Qing Dynasty, diversified schools of puppet show spread all over the country, each with local flavor of its own. Take the marionette show in Quanzhou of Fujian Province for an example. Not only was the music accompaniment excellent, but also were the puppets exquisitely made and manipulated with superb skills. A single puppet figure could be controlled by as many as twenty up to thirty strings. In Qing Dynasty, rod puppet show prevailed among which the Beijing rod puppet show was played in the royal court as a special-form Peking opera.
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Toy

February 9th, 2007 No comments
Han Dynasty red pottery acrobat figurines

Han Dynasty red pottery acrobat figurines

Since ancient times to this day, toys have always accompanied human life. Early in the Neolithic Age, primitive toys already emerged. Folk toys in China have existed for a long time, spread to a wide area, with diversified types and styles made from numerous raw materials. In terms of functions they fall into seasonal toys, intelligence improving toys, acoustic toys, intelligence improving toys, acoustic toys, keeping-fit toys, toys for viewing and enjoying, and practical toys. In terms of materials used, they can be divided into clay toys, cloth toys, bamboo and wooden toys, paper toys, etc.

Seasonal toys are closely connected with folkways, subject to a certain season or festival time. Firecrackers and fireworks are special for Spring Festival time. Firecrackers and fireworks are special for Spring Festival; running horse lantern and auspicious image lanterns for Lantern Festival; lotus lantern for Spirit Festival; sachet, cloth tiger, moxa-filled figure, five-filamet whistle for Dragon-boat Festival; grandpa rabbit for Mid-Autumn Festival; kite for Pure Brightness; etc. Educational toys can arouse people’s curiosity and encourage creativity such as tangram, informative map, playing card, small game “puzzle,” nine-circle puzzle, Lubanga lock, problem palace rearrangement. Acoustic toys such as earthen whistle, china whistle, diabolo, wheels (wooden shaft at either end of a disk), rattle-drum, tiny gong and drum, glass trumpet, etc., can send out sounds, suitable for babies. Toys for viewing and enjoying are mainly for decoration, such as wood carvings, stone carving, front-stone carvings, clay figures, was figures, dough figurines, etc. Keeping-fit toys are mostly for outdoor activities such as Cuju (ancient game similar football), rope skipping, shuttlecock, swing, pot vote (a throwing game). Practical toys can also be used as dress, bedding, food, such as tiger-head shoes, tiger-head cap, sugar figuring, flower face (a kind of bun), etc. Details are given to some of the above-mentioned toys as below.
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Kite

July 20th, 2006 No comments
Flower-basket kite made from juan-silk and bamboo in Weifang, Shangdong

Flower-basket kite made from juan-silk and bamboo in Weifang, Shangdong

Kite is one of the most typical Chinese folk toys. It incorporates into a whole appreciation, entertainment, competition, exercise, and is closely connected with folkways, festivals, science and technology, history, etc., fully revealing the rich content of folk toys. Flying kites often occurs on the occasion when people go for an outing around the Pure Brightness Day. In the past people used to write their own names on the kite when they were in distress of fell ill. As the kite was flying high above, they cut the string and let the kite fly away with the wind. In so doing they believed that their bad luck had gone with the kite.

The name of kite varied in different period of times. Some ancient book written in the pre-Qin period records that the thinker Mo-tzu and the master craftsman Gongshu Ban had both made something called “wooden hawk.” Later on it was said that the distinguished general Han Xin (?-196 B.C.) ever made “paper hawks” in the first years of Han Dynasty. According to more reliable source, the kite originated in the Northern and Southern Dynasties. It was named “paper crow” or “paper owl” at that time. The kite was not used as a toy but used in military affairs, correspondence, measurement, publicity, etc. It was after the Five Dynasties that the kite became popular and turned to be a means of entertainment. During the mid-Tang Dynasty, paper started to be more widely used in everyday life and gradually replaced other more expensive materials in making kite thanks to its low cost and easy working process.

By the Song Dynasty, kite-flying was popularized; kite-making became an occupation. Gradually the custom of flying kites at the Pure Brightness Festival was established. Scenes of flying-kite can be seen in both the famous painting Pure Brightness Day on the River by Zhang Zeduan, eminent artist of the Northern Song Dynasty and the picture One Hundred Sub-graphs by Su Hanchen.
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