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Chinese Puppetry: Oriental Art of Puppets

Dec 28, 2009


Puppet show is a common form of performance art that you can find in many different cultures. Although its exact date of origin is hard to define, many historians believe that puppet show is developed with other drama forms around 2000 years ago independently in various ancient cultures.

In China, lots of ceramic or wooden puppets were found among relics from Shang (1,600~1,100BC), Zhou (1,100~221BC), and West Han (221BC~9AD) Dynasties. As a performance art, puppet show is believed to be “originated in Han dynasty, and thrived in Tang Dynasty”. In Three Kingdom Period, puppets were used in juggling performances; in Sui Dynasty, puppet show was introduced in storytelling.

Puppet Design

The design of Chinese puppets is very diversified and creative. Besides some rare designs such as water driven puppets, gunpowder puppets, etc., most popular puppets are these following four types (in the order as shown above, two of each type):

Glove Puppet: They are controlled by hand “inside” the glove puppets.

Iron Branch Puppet: They are controlled by iron wire “branches” from the “back”.

Rod Puppet: They are controlled by a major body rod and two hand rods by the controller from the “bottom”. First two videos embedded in this post are rod puppets.

String Puppet: Obviously, they are controlled by strings from the “top”. The last video in this post is a string puppet show.

Contemporary Chinese Puppetry

After the founding of The People’s Republic of China, puppet theater performances thrived rapidly. They are not only performed in traditional opera performances, but also performed a drama, musicals, dramas, and even starred in advertisements. At the same time, puppet shows are also faced with fierce competition from other art forms. Traditional puppetry has deep root everywhere in Chinese folk culture, of great intellectual, moral and aesthetic value. I think it should be well supported and protected.

china.com.cn has a special page on Chinese Puppetry with lots of images about contemporary Chinese puppetry. Although the texts are in Chinese, I think you can still have a taste of Chinese puppetry through these beautiful pictures.

Pictures are categorized in four sections:

Puppet design | Stage setup | Puppet movies | Stage photos

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