Shadow Play | Ancient Chinese Culture

Shadow Play


Shadow play, also called shadow puppetry, is an ancient drama which has its root in China. It uses light to cast the shadow of leather-cut figures on a white curtain and create the illusion of moving images.

Shadow play has a long history in China. There are various versions about its origin. The most popular one concerns with a beautiful love story. It goes that Emperor Wudi of Han Dynasty (202BC-220AD) was depressed with the death of Lady Li, his favorite concubine. In order to help him get over the sadness, an officer made a figure in the likeness of the concubine. Then he projected the figure’s shadow on a curtain for the emperor to see. Seeing the shadow, the emperor felt better as he believed that the shadow was her spirit and she was still there on his side.

During the performance, the figures are held close to a white curtain with their colored shadows cast on it by a strong light from behind. The operators will operate them while singing. As the repertoire and tunes are interrelated with local operas, the shadow plays in different regions are quite different.


Today, you may still get the chance to see the performance in many provinces of China, such as the provinces of Shaanxi, Gansu, Hebei, etc.

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