Shadow puppet

From Bejing, China, late 19th / early 20th century AD

An intricate and delicate balancing act

Two servants carry an elegantly dressed clown on a pole as though he were sitting on a comfortable sedan chair. In Chinese theatre, clowns are either kind, cunning or stupid characters, and play important comic roles. With this puppet, the clown would be made to look ridiculous as he desperately tries to keep his balance when the servants run back and forth in the performance.

The puppeteer sits behind a screen on which he moves the shadow puppets. A lamp projects the shadows on the screen for the spectators on the other side. The puppets are most often made of donkey skin, tanned, stained and decorated with intricate cut-out designs. The colours, details and characteristics of each puppet are visible to the audience. This identifies particular roles or individuals while the singing and dialogue, accompanied by music, provides the story line. Clothing and ornaments on the puppets are inspired by regional costumes and the fashions of particular periods in China's history. Here, the servants are identified as Manchu.

Chinese shadow puppets form an interesting contrast with those used in Indonesia which are more stylized in form.

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More information


S. Broman, Chinese shadow theatre, Monograph series no. 15 (Ethnografiska Museet, Stockholm, 1981)

R.H. Stalberg, Chinas puppets (China Books, 1984)

Liu Jilin, Chinese shadow puppet plays (Beijing, Morning Glory Publishers, 1988)


Height: 30.000 cm (max.)

Museum number



Gift of Mrs H.G. Beasley


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