New Themes of Shadow Play

release time:January 15th,2018

Do you know Chinese shadow play? What comes into your mind when speaking of shadow play? The various facial makeup of Sichuan, Shaanxi, Hebei and Shandong, the lines produced by nicking tool, skilled old craftsman or the unintelligible classical tunes?

Shadow play is a traditional Chinese art performance with a history of over 2,000 years. Puppeteers use shadow puppets (flat articulated cut-out figures) made of donkey skin or cowhide between a source of light and a translucent screen to tell stories with local tunes, showing the life of folk people.

by Febe Chan 5_meitu_1.jpg

The new-style shadow play created by Wang Haofei has inherited the materials and production process of traditional shadow play, and made a breakthrough in shadow puppets. It focuses on the attractiveness of shadow play while reducing the difficulty of making shadow puppets as crafts. Although the innovation of shadow play is controversial, it brings shadow play closer to modern people and shows strong characteristics of the times.

Interesting Shadow Play 

Haofei's studio lies in the Southwest University for Nationalities. Shadow puppets materials are kept in numerous boxes, and books related to shadow play filled the bookshelf. According to Haofei, time doesn't seem to matter when he's with shadow play. 

Haofei joined the Shadow Play Club of Southwest University for Nationalities in 2008. As a freshman, he did not think of engaging in shadow play at that time. "In my opinion, Shadow Play Club is one of the ordinary clubs of the university, just like Basketball Club and Reading Club. The only difference between my club and other clubs is its name." However, Haofei gradually gained a feeling of pleasure in making shadow puppets, and he made joint efforts with other shadow play lovers to dramatize, create new characters and perform new shadow plays. He slowly realized that the innovative shadow play may help him achieve his "entrepreneur dream". "Although shadow play is famous, few people actually know it. Therefore, I can provide an opportunity for more people to learn about the interesting shadow play." 

Nevertheless, Haofei found that it was difficult to promote the development of new-style shadow play, because it has no success case or mature business mode for reference. "I have been thinking of how to facilitate the development of new-style shadow play for a long time," said Haofei. For the purpose of creating competitive new-style shadow play, he began to explore the business mode of shadow play. He has introduced new-style shadow play to customers by communicating with them actively, organized shadow play activities in schools, worked with wedding planners and tried to incorporate new-style shadow play into commercials... Finally he found two surviving business modes, namely crafts selling and business performance. Instead of relying on these two modes, Haofei prefers focusing on the "experience" of shadow play. "I intend to hold activities of workshop to provide people with an opportunity to experience the production of shadow play."

Matchmaker of the Traditional and the Modern 

Wang Haofei was impressed by the words of an elder he met in a temple fair: "Shadow play was an ordinary performance in the past, but now shadow puppets are collected and displayed in museums as precious artworks." "We need to make it closer to modern people instead of just displaying them in museums. I intend to become not only the matchmaker of the traditional and the modern, but also the bridge between shadow play and the public. That is why I engage in new-style shadow play in the name of 'Bingren', another name for matchmaker." said Haofei. 

Numerous famous puppeteers, including Ye Mutian, Zhou Wei and Zhou Jun, have given their support to Haofei and his entrepreneurship, but the new-style shadow play has also been criticized by many other puppeteers. Many skilled puppeteers think the new-style shadow play does not belong to any genre without gorgeous singing and images of opera. Wang Haofei contradicted resolutely: "The skilled puppeteers said the new-style shadow play is not a real shadow play. Since the shadow plays of Song Dynasty and Qing Dynasty are different from each other, why should traditional shadow play remain unchanged in modern time? As traditional shadow play is the reflection of ancient society, modern shadow play can also reflect our social life, such as films, animations and local stories. Shadow play is an emotional art instead of merely artwork, and it requires more people to get involved and learn about it."

by Febe Chan 3_meitu_2.jpg

Shadow Play "LEGO" 

Wang Haofei took a craft box off the bookshelf. The box contains many things about shadow play, including finished products and uncolored half-finished ones. He took out a portrait in the style of shadow play and said: "I was asked by a couple to make shadow-play-style portrait for them. I drew images on the computer based on their photos and made shadow puppets. They were satisfied with the portrait and even wanted to design and make their own work in my studio." Shadow puppets have their stories, and Haofei thinks it is these stories that make shadow puppets heart-warming. 

In response to my question of whether he has achieved his dream, Haofei shook his head. 

"Not completely. I want to create a LEGO-style shadow play, which creates stories by constantly adding images, props and scenes. It is interesting to create more images by materials and form a complete story." Haofei thinks that LEGO toys are popular due to their infinite possibilities of fun, and he hopes that shadow play can also become an interesting toy for all people in spite of the honor of intangible cultural heritage. That is the real goal of his entrepreneurship.

Excerpted from HELLO Chengdu January Issue.

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