The Artistic Characteristics of Chinese Puppetry

1.The Modeling of Chinese Puppetry
During the Yuan. Ming and Qing dynasties.puppet shows gradually spread from the cities to the countryside. Puppet shows from various places had their own unique characteristics with strong local color in terms of figure modeling. String puppets from Quanzhou and Heyang. glove puppets from Zhangzhou.rod puppets from Guangdong. wire puppets from Chaozhou.shoulder-pole puppets from Wuqiao and large rod puppets from Sichuan were all finely and vividly crafted. They had all types of roles-the Sheing dan.jing and chou-as in Chinese opera. Among the puppet carvers during that period the best-known were jiang Jiazou and Xu Ziqing.Since the Republican era. especjally in the last few decades. Chinese puppet troupes have become highly professional. Puppet shows are no longer performed in the open air by itinerant artists. but instead in modern theaters. Puppets are modeled with modern techniques. Generally speaking. China`s puppet design and modeling have reached a considerably high level and are able to keep pace with the times. Development of Chinese puppet modeling can be divided into three stages:

The first stage puppets featured 70 percent painting and 30 Percent carving.Puppet heads were carved in a simple fashion and then their faces were painted in accordance with the characters they represented.

The second stage stressed both carving and painting. Puppet makers began to attach great importance to creativity and carving techniques and professional puppet makers and puppet-making workshops appeared. The first and second stages covered the time before the Ming-Qing period.

The third stage witnessed the development of plastic arts and freedom in creation. Modern puppet makers make full use of new materials according to the needs of plays and the requirements of modern aesthetics. Their puppets. characteristic of artistic exaggeration. fully exhibit the unique quality of puppetry and have broken free from the conventions of Chinese opera in deiineation of characters. This stage marks a prosperous era unknown in the history of Chinese puppet modeling.

2.The Mechanisms of Chinese Puppetry

Puppet art has two major aspects: modeling and performing arts. Mechanisms and modeling are a unified whole and a means to suit the performance. Together they provide the preliminary aspect in the per forming art of puppet shows. The mechanisms of Chinese puppets are becoming increasingly complicated. Following are the most important types of puppets in China: Rod Puppets They are wide spread in China. They range in length from a inches to that of an average adult. and vary from place to place.

Rod puppets are manipulated by a main rod which is inserted through the neck and attached to the head. and two rods which control the hands. Hence. in some areas the rod puppet is called ``Three Rods.`` The hand rods can be placed either in or outside the sleeves. The head is carved from wood. Mechanisms in the hollow head move the eyes and mouth. The main rod. made either of wood or bamboo. runs through the neck to the head. with the length varying from place to place. The hand rods are attached to the elbow and wrist. Puppets with the hand rods concealed in the sleeves are used in traditional operas. The bulky costumes used for Chinese opera provide ample space for manipulatingthe rods. resulting in lifelike actions. Puppets with the hand rods outside the sleeves have a bent main rod. it is less tiring for the per former to raise the puppet by holding the bend at the end of the main rod and easier for him to manipulate. The head of the puppet with the hand rods placed outside the sleeves can be made of papier mache. and these are light and easily manipulated by the main rod. In addition. there is a large hollow space for additional mechanisms that help the puppet enrich its facial expressions. As the hand rods are placed outside the sleeves. the body can be molded to meet the needs of the character Instead of wood and plastic. the hands are now shaped with resin and wire has been. used to replace wood or bamboo as the material for making hand rods. Rod puppets have no feet. and unattached legs are used for kicks and other leg movements.(Fig.3-4) Due to constant improvements on the making and manjpulation of rod puppets. this type of puppetry is still very popular in China.

String Puppets About two feet in height. the string puppet consists of a head. torso. limbs and control board. The head is carved from camphor. Chinese linden or willow wood. Mechanisms contained in the head can make the five sensory organs move as the situation requires. he torso is woven with bamboo filaments. The hads of warriors have oexible fists capable of wielding weapons. The agile hands of a gentleman can hold small props such as a writing brush. a cup or a folding fan. The feet can be fitted with either boots or ladies` slippers. and. if desired. can remain bare. The strings used to control the puppet are about 3 feet long. With the development of Chinese puppetry. large stages are now used for string puppet performances. The Quanzhou Puppet Troupe in Fujian has introduced innovations in its stage structure. With the puppeteers standing on a bridge above the platiorm. there is more stage area for the puppets. the strings used to control them have been extended to six feet. Although this increases the difficulty of manipulation. it can make the puppets perform more vividly Generally. 16 strings are used. However.their number can be increased or decreased as the situation demands. Puppets in Heyang. Shaanxi have only five strings. but they can be increased to more than 30 for complicated tricks. Wire Puppats which evolved from shadow plays. are very popular in eastCrn Guangdong and western Fujian. They are called paper shadow plays in Chaozhou and Shantou. They measure about 1-1.5 feet in length with painted heads made of clay. bodies carved out of tung wood. papier mache hands and wooden feet.They are controlled by three metal rods - one main rod and two side rods. all fixed with bamboo handles. The puppeteer either stands or sits behind the puppet when manipulating. In recent years. the puppct has been improved by increasing its length and adjusting the placement of the control rods.

Glove Puppets Also called palm puppets. consist of a head. a body and clothing. Glove puppets. about a foot in length. are most popular in Fujian`s Zhangzhou and Quanzhou. Carved out of camphor wood. the head contains mechanisms used to control facial muscles. The hands are either open or clenched.The puppeteer inserts his forefinger into the hollow neck and his thumb and middle finger into each sleeve to control the head and hands. In order to enrich the arm movements. a thin bamboo stick is placed in the sleeves and turned. Skilled puppeteers can make their puppets do highly difficult actions such as opening a folding fan. changing clothes. brandishing a sword. fighting and jumping out of a window. all to the surprise of the audience. Chinese rod puppetry boasts a rich repertoire which includes not only traditional items but also modern plays. mythical plays and fairy tales. (Fig.3-5)

Apart from the aforesaid types of puppet. water-activated and gunpowder-activated puppets can still be found in China but their influence is insignificant. Although human puppets still perform. they are regarded as folk art confined to certain regions.

3.Chinese Puppetry Show Stage Art

As puppets ore used to imitate human beings. the stage for puppet shows must have the function of hiding the puppeteers from view. separating the audience from the performing platform and focussing audience attention on the puppets.

In stage art. Chinese puppetry used to follow the tradition of Chinese opera. In the past. most string puppet shows were performed on a stage open on three sides with a back curtain to conceal the puppeteers and two doors marked with the words ``Minister in Court.`` and ``General in Battle`` respectively for the puppet characters to enter and exit. The stage for glove puppet shows is built of wood in palatial architecture. gilded and beautifully painted. it can also be disassembled and reassembled easily. making it possible to use the space on the stage in a better way. Elegant and graceful. most glove puppet sages are actually beautiful works of art. Over the past few decades. Chinese puppetry has developed into a fully-fledged stage performance. While inheriting and developing the tradition of the art. it learned the strong points of modern dramatic art and improved its stage design by employing new materials. modern sound and light effects. illumination and sets to enhance its performance.

Chinese puppetry undetwent tremendous changes during the 1970s and 1980s.Great efforts were made to bring the unique feature of the puppet to the forefront. Instead of performing stylized movements as in Chinese opera. puppets were made to perform as naturally as possible. Puppeteers often performed without any screen or Curtain to conceal them and sometimes different types of puppets appeared in the same play. Inspired by the effect of using colors not easily discernible by the eye. puppeteers performed in black velvet costumes in front of a black velvet backdrop. This and modern stage devices gave the audience the illusion that the stage was much laopr than it really was and attracted their attention to the maximum. Outstanding productions of stage design during the past decades include The Story of the Goldfish Monkey King Makes Havoc in Heaven. and Chang E Goes to the Moon which are traditional plays. the modern play of Heroic Little Soldiers of the Eghth Route Army and Magic Aster.