Senior Artist Passing on Liaonan Shadow Puppetry for 40 Years Is Now Looking for Young Successors
Feb 23,2023

With a few wooden sticks and shadow puppets, singing, speaking, acting, acrobatic fighting and all the feelings can be performed. A piece of white cloth is the stage on which thirty-centimeters-long puppet figures are the actors. Gaizhou shadow puppetry tells the story of thousands of years.

Lin Shimin, the inheritor of the National Intangible Cultural Heritage Project “Liaonan Shadow Puppetry”, has been bonded with shadow puppetry for more than 40 years since she learned from Wang Shengtai, a shadow puppeteer in southern Liaoning, in 1978.

Gaizhou shadow puppetry, also known as Liaonan shadow puppetry, is originated in the late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty. It stands out for its strong local characteristics, unique modeling crafts and original folk singing, music, play scripts and lyrics of southern Liaoning. In the performance, there is a shadow curtain and an oil lamp, and the folk musical instrument four-stringed Hu used as the main instruments. The puppeteer moves the shadow puppet behind the curtain while speaking and singing to interpret the folk historical legends and new stories in local slang.

“The modeling of Gaizhou shadow puppetry is unique. The eyes of puppet are very big, and the puppets can be characterized as loyal, virtuous or evil by the face. The lyrics vary from three to ten characters.” Lin Shimin said, when it came to the characteristics of Gaizhou shadow puppetry.

On Lin Shimin’s desk are many components of shadow puppets’ heads, also known as “Toucha”. To make one of these components, four steps are needed: drawing, carving, dyeing and oiling. When carving, it should be very delicate in terms of force and proportion because a slightest mistake can undo all the work. Lin Shimin and her husband Zhang Yongfu, known as the “Northeast Shadow Puppeteer Zhang”, share the career of shadow puppetry. They not only perform shadow puppet shows, but also carve many shadow puppets.

There are nearly 5,000 pieces of shadow puppets carved and collected by Lin Shimin and her husband’s studio, which have been exhibited in and out of Liaoning, China for many times. Over the years, many enthusiasts, experts and scholars from home and abroad have been attracted to Lin Shimin’s studio. Concerned about the folk art of shadow puppetry, they have come here one after another to visit, exchange and learn skills.  

With more than 40 years of experience in this art, Lin Shimin’s shadow puppetry skills have gradually matured and she has become an influential shadow puppeteer in southern Liaoning. Every year, she and her troupe perform more than 100 shows, most of which are of public service. “I hope that through my shadow puppet shows, people will have an in-depth understanding of the ancient art of shadow puppetry.” Lin said.

Today, Lin Shimin is looking for young successors. “I hope more young people can join us to infuse new blood into this art, so that Liaonan shadow puppetry can be better passed on”, she said.

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