Known as the forerunner to modern movies, the term shadow play might bring to mind some kind of an intriguing ritual practiced by overzealous goths or some pre-teen wiccans, well, of course, there’s no such thing. Instead Shadow Play, also known as Shadow Puppetry, is a kind of Chinese ancient opera, which uses flat figures (shadow puppets) to create the impression of moving humans. Shadow puppets are cut-out figures which are held between a source of light and a translucent screen. The cut-out shapes of the puppets sometimes include translucent color or other types of detailing. Various effects can be achieved by moving both the puppets and the light source. During a shadow play, puppeteers hide themselves behind a white curtain and move stick-mounted puppets to make the figures appear to walk, dance, fight, nod and laugh, while also narrating the story through folk song. Performances are generally accompanied by musicians playing drums and stringed instruments.
Shadow puppetry has a long history. Ancient Chinese historical records show that shadow plays were originally created by a Chinese Taoist during the Han Dynasty (202 B.C. to 220 A.D.) to console the heartbroken Emperor Wu, who had lost one of his imperial concubines. The Taoist made a stone image of the concubine and put it in a tent by a burning candle. The shadow cast looked like his loved one and helped his sadness faded away. Over the next two thousand years, the stone figures gradually became cowhide ones, and the tents were turned into curtains. Performers then added drum sounds and Chinese opera to the movement of the figures, and the shadow play was born.
With the invention of modern entertainment alternatives such as television and the cinema, it's safe to say that the art form of storytelling in China is still practiced today. One particular hub is the historical Jinli Street in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, where shadow players are joined together to be able to share the magic of shadow puppetry to locals and tourists.