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A puppet is a symbolic figure manipulated by a puppeteer, varied in sizes and types on the basis of its intentions, and can be made of a wide range of materials. They are usually less than one meter tall with vivid features and weigh about 1-2 kilograms. Chinese puppet shows actually originated from ancient forms of theater and are performed by puppeteers working behind a screen through manipulating puppet, accompanied by theme music. During the performance, the puppeteer must hold the puppet high by controlling wire sticks with one hand, keeping it motionless or moving it smoothly with the other hand.
Puppet shows have a long history in China and were used in acrobatic shows in the Three Kingdom Period (25-280. In the Sui Dynasty (581-618), they were used to reenact historical events. The puppet performances and puppet making combined perfectly as one in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) with rod puppets, string puppets, and bag puppets emerging successively as society developed, thereby greatly enriching people’s everyday lives. Great progress in the development of puppet shows in the Song Dynasty (960- 1279) when they began to feature multiple contents and more vivid shapes, signifying the peak of ancient Chinese puppet artistry. In the Ming (1368- 1644) and the Qing Dynasties (1616-1911), the popularity of puppet shows spread all over China. After the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, puppet shows becomes even richer and more colorful, playing an important role in musical dramas, traditional opera, and even advertisements.
The classifications of puppets
According to the differences in shapes and manipulating skills, puppet can be classified into three types: rod puppets, string puppets, and glove puppets. Of these, rod puppets are the most popular in China.
1. Rod Puppets
During the performance of rod puppet shows, the puppets are constructed around a central rod secured to the neck, with two side rods attached to the hands. The puppeteer manipulates the puppet by turning the central rod with his left hand and moving the side rods with the right hand, making the puppet move or stay motionless when necessary.
2. String Puppets
Compared with rod puppets, the structure of string puppets is more complex. The string puppet is manipulated by a puppeteer through the pulling of a series of strings, which are often attached to key joints of the puppet such as the head, back, abdomen, arms, palms, and toes.
3. Glove Puppets
Glove Puppets are also called hand puppets and are the smallest of the three types in size, ranging from 0.27 to 0.4 meters tall with a hollow head. Behind its neck is a bag connected with its arms and legs. The puppet is manipulated by a puppeteer who uses one hand in the interior of the puppet. The 5 fingers prop up the puppet’s head and two arms respectively, then with the two legs hanging down limply.
Puppet shows are not only popular in China, but they also attracts a number of audiences from Russia, the USA, France, Japan, and Austria. The International Puppet Association was established in 1929 with more than 50 full member countries as of 2010, and over 100 international puppet performances are held in major cites around the world every year. Puppet shows were listed on the first batch of National-level Intangible Cultural Heritage List by the State Council on May 20, 2006.
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