Chinese String Puppets: More than Child's Play

Chinese String Puppets: More than Child's Play
 
Dating back as early as the Song Dynasty (960AD-1279AD), Chinese puppetry boasts a fine repertoire of styles and has entertained both the royal family and common public. String puppets in China are known as kuileixi and are manipulated by puppeteers concealed behind a curtain. The art is very popular in eastern Guangdong and western Fujian. String puppets are about two and a half feet long. Generally, 16 strings are used for each figure. However, this can be extended to more than 30 if special movements of the puppet are required. All strings are attached to a control board. The reasonable and strict positioning of the strings leads to nimble and lifelike movements by the puppets.
 
In the past, string puppet shows were presented on a plain raised platform, with just enough room for four puppeteers to stand behind the screen to perform the following four roles: the sheng (men), dan (women), beior jing (painted faces), and za (clowns, supernatural beings, animals, or other minor characters). However, stages are now constructed in two main units -- the bridge and the platform. The innovation has provided substantially more stage area. String puppet shows are all based on the written script, known popularly as kudeibu. The Simei String Puppet Troupe of Quanzhou has a rich repertoire of more than 500 plays including The Story of Yue Fei, Outlaws of the Marsh, Journey to the West, and the rare plays of Zhang Fei Makes His Escape, Han Xiangzi, and Creation of the Gods. Puppetry is an art form that stresses the performance of the puppeteers. Throughout the history of puppetry, a number of gifted puppeteers have made a name for themselves.
 
In the last years of the Qing Dynasty, Lin Chengchi and others from Quanzhou's Longban String Puppet Troupe were able to make their puppets do stunts such as sheathing and drawing a sword and opening an umbrella. Meanwhile, He Zhan of Quanzhou's Huban Puppet Troupe could make his character do four movements simultaneously: kicking a leg, pointing a finger, holding a scabbard, and rolling the eyeballs. In modern times, a number of puppeteers have distinguished themselves with their superb art of manipulation and the design of movements of their puppets. Zhang Xiuyin was famous for his character Lady White in The White Snake, Xie Zhenxiang for his Wu Yuan in A Contest at Tongguan Pass, and Huang Yique for his young Buddhist novice in Flooding the Jinshan Temple.
 
Source: http://city.chinaassistor.com, www.chinaculture.org,