Pulling the Strings on a Beautiful Art Form
Taishun County in Zhejiang Province has a knack for manipulation. The “City of Puppets” is home to the Taishun marionette school, which was listed as a Chinese national intangible cultural heritage in 2011.
An exhibition of Taishun marionettes is now on display at Hangzhou Arts and Crafts Museum through January 5. A series of puppet shows will also be held during the exhibit.
Marionettes are used around the world to entertain people. Taishun string puppets are typical of Chinese marionettes and are known for detailed craftsmanship. Taishun is a county in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, and its puppetry history dates back more than 800 years. Taishun puppets are complex and difficult to operate as each marionette can have as many as 36 strings. While difficult to master, the puppeteers who do are true artists as the puppets they manipulate give vivid expressions that make them almost seem human.
Making the puppets is also an art and rather technical. Each puppet has many joints to allow for more life-like movements. One of the most famous craftsmen is Taishun native Ji Guifang. The 71-year-old’s string puppets are so dynamic that the eyes can glance right and left. Some of Ji’s puppets are included in this exhibition.
During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), as northern China was invaded by Jin people, the royal court retreated south and established its new capital in Hangzhou, continuing to hold out as the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). A group of puppeteers also fled northern regions and settled in Zhejiang, especially the areas around Taishun. According to historic documents, puppet shows were popular in Zhejiang during the Southern Song Dynasty. Taishun puppetry boomed during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, when Taishun people integrated characteristics from other Chinese puppet schools with their own.
At that time, the county had 108 puppetry troupes. Taishun locals would invite puppeteers to perform during festivals and other important celebrations — a tradition still followed today. However, Taishun puppetry nearly disappeared during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945) and the “cultural revolution” (1966-1976). However, the county government in 1978 helped rejuvenate the art form and there are now 78 marionette troupes in Taishun.
This exhibition is designed to stir more interest in this craft. Puppet shows will be performed Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 12pm. On weekends and national holidays, additional performances will be held from 1:30pm to 4pm.
Date: Until January 5 (except Mondays) Address: 334 Xiaohe Rd Tel: (0571) 8819-7511
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