Before my class and I went to the Forbidden City, we journeyed to a small, dirty alleyway. I wasn’t too sure where we were going, but I’ve learnt by now to just go with the flow. After a couple of minutes of walking through the street we reached a building with large glass windows and a carved wooden door. It was called the Beijing Shichahai Shadow Art Performance Hotel. It looked totally out of place in the dingy street. At the reception desk was a bowl full of lollies with awesome multi-coloured wrappers. Some people used several wrappers and stuck them behind their translucent phone cases. There was also a small desk with orange juice, a coffee machine and an assortment of teas (the poor serving ladies must have gotten so sick of us).
We sat and talked for a little while until the shadow show started. They used metal pins to hold the scenery cut-outs onto the sheet of fabric stretched across the wooden frame. The first show was about a turtle and a crane. It was so amazing to watch and there were no words so the show could be watched all around the
world. There was obviously a lot of skill involved. I couldn’t quite figure out the plot but that was probably because I was paying close attention to the puppets’ movements.
The next show was about a devil that wanted eternal life by eating a monk’s special food. The devil’s plan was to turn into a beautiful lady to charm the monk. It was so cool to watch the devil’s face, clothes and body change with just a couple of swift turns. All the movements were so fluid and clean. It must have taken a long time to perfect each character. One of the ladies hosting the show told us that barely any Chinese people are interested in traditional shadow puppetry now.
After the show, the shadow puppet master showed us how he uses the puppets. Each character is 2D and is made from dried animal skin. He brought out some little cut-outs of female and male character heads. We each got to have one female and one male head to paint. They had tiny brushes and an assortment of colours to choose from. It was a really fun activity and afterwards we went to the Forbidden City and Tian’anmen Square.
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