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.