The secrets of leather shadow play


In Hunan, leather shadow play is also called shadow play.

Before 1949, there were many temples in Changsha. The big temples and convention halls were all built with stages, on which shadow plays were often performed with the company of traditional music.

In this times Pinxiangji, Polly from Russia and Li Xiang from Uzbekistan experienced shadow play for the first time at Yuhua Heritage Museum of Hunan.

Tian Han, a famous playwright, once said, "Shadow play is the starting point of my exposure to dramatic arts."


For Polly and Li Xiang, this experience may also be their starting point to fall in love with Hunan opera.

Shadow Play: A Complex, Wonderful and Challenging Form of Art

In Hunan Yuhua Heritage Musem, there is a Derun Pavilion named after the famous local shadow play master, He Derun. The current person in charge is He Derun's great-grandson, He Huaiyu.


Once they stepped into the Derun Pavilion, Polly and Li Xiang were instantly fascinated by a wall full of shadow figures. Li took up a figure of a hat-wearing master. When he heard that the figure in his hands was made of cowhide, he exclaimed in surprise: "It doesn't feel like skin at all!"


To tailor a shadow puppet usually takes eight stages, which are: selecting the leather, processing the leather, drawing, examining manuscripts, carving, applying color, sweating, ironing and affixing. Sometimes, more than 3000 times of manual carving are needed. He Huaiyu describes it as a "complicated, wonderful but arduous process".

The Charm of Changsha Noodles

Polly and Li Xiang are the freshmen of Central South University. Although they have just come to Hunan for one year, their Chinese proficiency can not be underestimated.

Holding the shadow figures of "Li Bai" and "Du Fu", Polly and Li Xiang also improvised a shadow play.


Hey man! Oh, Hi! Where are you going? I am going to eating noodles. Thats good, take me with you!

The lines blurted out by two foreign friends are inseparable from eating.


Polly poked her hair and laughed shyly,I am a big fan of Hunan noodles, especially the beef noodles, thats amazing!

Before living in Hunan, polly knew little about the city. But now, she loves Changsha more than ever. Today I have learned so many of Hunan culture. I hope next time I can know even more.


As early as in the early Qing Dynasty, shadow play was prevalent in both Hunan's urban and rural areas. According to He Huaiyu, back at that time, activities of entertainment were not very diverse, so there were not many choices. Shadow plays were as popular and fashionable then as "4D movies for young people nowadays."

The shadow play always reminds me of Russian puppet play.

Assembling a paper shadow figure, Polly started to introduce a similar play in her country.

In Russia,we also have a conditional play, that is, the puppet play. said Polly. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of puppet, the solid puppets, which are manipulated by ropes; and the glove-like puppets, which are put on the performers hands during performance.

When Polly was young at school, she often played puppet shows with her classmates. "I haven't played it for many years. Today I feel like I'm back in my childhood."

  Source: EN
Reporter: Peng Kexin, Zhou Yang
Video: Lu Wei, Li Zhenming
Intern: Yu Zheng, Tang Lelin
Special thanks to: 
Yuhua Heritage Museum of Hunan
Edited by Tian Mengyao
Revised by Zhou Yang


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