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Shadow puppet

Shadow puppet

  • Place of origin:


  • Date:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pierced and painted hide with twine

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Countess Patricia Jellicoe

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Chinese shadow puppetry is said to be over 2000 years old. Its Chinese name 'pi ying' means 'shadow of hides' since the puppets were traditionally made from the donkey or ox hide. Shadow puppetry has been immensely popular in China, but due to its universal appeal was forbidden in China between 1796 to 1800, for fear of spreading peasant uprising.

A Chinese shadow puppet troupe is made up of five people. One operates the puppets, one plays a suo-na horn, and a yu-kin, one plays banhu fiddle, one is in charge of percussion instruments, and one sings.

Physical description

Shadow puppet made of pierced hide, painted with key- pattern, leaf and floral decoration in black, green, pink, red, yellow and orange. Representing an aristocratic Chinese lady wearing an elaborate head-dress decorated with the head of a dragon and pom-poms; a jacket with flared sleeves and trousers, pierced and painted, the cuffs and trouser below the knee less densely decorated than the rest of the suit, and tiny high-heeled shoes. The puppet comprises 11 separate pieces, joined with twine at neck, elbows, wrists, waist and hips to make moveable joints.

Place of Origin




Materials and Techniques

Pierced and painted hide with twine


Height: 32.8 cm top of head-dress to sole of shoe, Width: 28.5 cm with arms and hands fully extended, Width: 6 cm width at hips, hands by the sides of the puppet

Object history note

This figure would originally have had rods attached to the hands and to the neck, for manipulation in shadow puppet plays by operators who were concealed below white screens, lit from behind. The plays were accompanied by a sung story, with percussion and string music.


Historical context note

Chinese shadow puppetry probably began during the Tang dynasty (618-907), although other sources credit its origins to the later Song Dynasty (960-1297) It flourished as an art form in China, enjoyed by all classes, though to the early years of the 20th century. Although it survived in many regions during the 20th century, there have been recent efforts to revive its popularity, with troupes performing at home and abroad in international puppet festivals.

Descriptive line

Chinese shadow puppet, pierced and painted hide, of an elegant lady. Probably from Sichuan, early 20th century.


Hide; Twine


Pierced; Painted

Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

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