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Art of Chinese Puppetry


Performers-Human and puppet-do the Umbrella Dance

As one of China's performing art contributions to world heritage treasures, Chinese puppetry has a long history. It is noted for its many types of puppets and superb manipulative skill.


As to when puppets were first used in theatrical performances, experts agree that the art "arose in Han and became popular in the Tang Dynasty (618-907)." According to the History of the Later Han Dynasty, puppets already existed during the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD). During the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), a person named Ma Jun used flowing water to manipulate wooden figures to do variety acts mimicking human performance.

Puppetry enjoyed great prosperity during the Song period. Puppet troupes could be found everywhere in the empire. Chinese puppetry further developed during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, with a number of schools spreading across the country. They are Fujian glove puppets, Rod puppets Guangdong, Fujian, and Guizhou provinces, String puppets Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Henan provinces, Wire puppets in eastern Guangdong and western Fujian.


Puppet shows from various places had their own unique characteristics with strong local color in terms of figure modeling. The development of Chinese puppet modeling can be divided into three stages:

In the first stage, puppets are comprised of 70 percent painted decoration and 30 percent carved. Puppet heads were carved in a simple fashion and their faces were painted in accordance with the characters they represented.

The second stage stressed both carving and painting. Puppet makers began to attach great importance to creativity and carving techniques and professional puppet makers and puppet-making workshops appeared. The first and second stages covered the time before the Ming-Qing period.

The third stage witnessed the development of plastic arts and freedom in creation. Modern puppet makers make full use of new materials according to the needs of plays and the requirements of modern aesthetics. Their puppets, characteristic of artistic exaggeration, fully exhibit the unique quality of puppetry and have broken free from the conventions of Chinese opera in terms of the delineation of characters. This stage marks a prosperous era unknown in the history of Chinese puppet modeling.

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