Huazhou district in northwest China’s Weinan City, Shaanxi province, is home to the traditional shadow play. Dating back over 2,000 years, it is one of China’s earliest operas. Shadow play, or shadow puppetry, is an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment in China and an indispensable part of Chinese culture.
Also known as “father of movies” that tells of heroic sagas, it employs the use of exquisitely designed paper figures behind an illuminated backdrop to create the illusion of moving images. Sophisticated control of shadow and light, dramatic storytelling skills, as well as creative use of various musical instruments also add to a good performance.
It began during the Qin and Han dynasties (221 BC-220 AD) and thrived in the Tang and Song dynasties (618-1279). It was originally a palace play enjoyed by the imperial families and became popular for the masses after the Tang Dynasty.
In modern days, shadow play has become a “national treasure” and still retains its original style in Huazhou, where a Shadow Puppetry Cultural Park resides. A group of seven puppeteers still survive and play there, all aged nearly 70.