Zhangzhou Puppets
Originated in the Han dynasty (202BC-220AD) of China, puppet show, the time-honored form of performance by people controlling puppets via strings or wires, has been spread across the country based on its combination of folk customs, religions, local operas, etc. during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1912 AD), with the period from mid-Qing to early Republican China era (1912-1949 AD) witnessing the heyday of this art form. That’s also when a large number of exceptional puppet crafters cropped up, leading to the emergence of many exquisite puppets, some of which have survived until today. In the Qing dynasty, a variety of puppet play started to enjoy huge popularity in Zhangzhou of China’s southeastern coastal Fujian province. Thus ensued the establishment of Zhangzhou Puppet Show as a representative category of Chinese puppet show. A lot of workshops specializing in making puppets in Zhangzhou in response to the popularity of the puppet show, as the people then, while being attracted to the play itself, started to pay attention to the personalities of characters and stage effects resulted from the shaping puppets, of which the crafting of puppet heads was the key procedure. As the carrier of expressions, the head of puppets is the most important position to show personalities of characters. Therefore, the carving of puppet heads had evolved into an independent folk handicraft by then.

Tools for carving puppets.

Painting on the puppet head.

Tools used for adorning puppet heads.

Ready-made puppets.

Classic Puppet Artworks by Xu Zhuchu
Xu Zhuchu was born in 1938 in a Zhangzhou-based family well-known in the south of Fujian province for the famous puppet workshops it ran by several generations, including the store “Cheng Cheng Shi” by Xu’s forefather named Xu Ziqing and “Tian Ran” by his father Xu Niansong. Starting to learn puppet-making craftsmanship following his father when he was 10, Xu has inherited and developed more than 500 puppet designs, thus winning the honor of “Wonder of China” granted by the Chinese Ministry of Culture.

Xu Zhuchu is carving a puppet head.

Toad Spirit (puppet head). Zhangzhou Puppet Show is known for its diverse characters of deities, demons, ghosts, monsters and animals as it abounds in plays of the mythological and monstrous themes. This piece shows the image of a toad spirit.

Thousand-mile Eyes (puppet head). This piece falling into the mythological and monstrous category portrays a character named Thousand-mile Eyes, a deity in ancient Chinese legends worshipped by the folk for his super ability of seeing things one thousand miles away. He usually appears with another deity nicknamed Follow-wind Ears.

Follow-wind Ears (puppet head). This piece of puppet, belonging to the mythological and monstrous category, shows the image of Follow-wind Ears, a character in Chinese legends and folklores who has the super ability of hearing sounds where the wind goes. Both Follow-wind Ears and Thousand-mile Eyes, enjoying equal popularity, are household names with super magic in China.

Nine-head Lion (puppet head). This piece of puppet, also belonging to the mythological and monstrous category, portrays Nine-head Lion, the monstrous character in the Chinese literary classic Journey to the West, who was originally the riding animal for Taiyi Zhenren in heaven and descended on earth to be a vicious monster without the permission of its master.

Bull Demon King (puppet head). Bull Demon King, also a character in Journey to the West, is one of the few among all the demons and monsters in the book that could rival Monkey King with its magic and power.

Dragon King of the East Sea (puppet head). The mythological character Dragon King of the East Sea, as the head of the dragon kings of the four Chinese seas and kings of all aquatic creatures, is believed to be in charge of rains, thunders, floods, tides, tsunamis, etc. There are controllers hidden behind the eyes and the jaw.

Red Painted Face (puppet head). Good at presenting fighting scenes, Zhangzhou Puppet Show boasts diverse designs for characters of men of action, which is called hualian, meaning “painted face”, in Chinese operas. These characters are further categorized into subgroups based on different colors of make-ups, with or without beard. Red hualian or painted face signifies the personality of righteousness and integrity.

Vicious Women (puppet head). This piece portrays vividly a vicious and bellicose woman by exaggerated designs of eyes, mouth and hair adornments so as to accentuate the cruelty and pugnacity of the woman.

Rat Lou (puppet head). This piece shows a typical image of an ignorant idler who is good at nothing but pernicious habits. Such characters usually have a tipped head, a small mouth on a slim face, just as the so-called “monkey head and rat face” in the Min Nan dialect.

Dou Erdun (puppet head). Dou Erdun is a martial art master featured in many Chinese chivalrous novels of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912 AD). This piece portrays a helmet-wearing Dou Erdun with red beard and blue facial make-up, a symbol of bravery and righteousness.

Monkey King. This pieces portrays a white-face monkey king based on meticulous and life-like illustration. Wearing his signature Golden Hoop, this Monkey King is in a Peking Opera look, clad in tiger fur skirt and holding his Golden Cudgel in hand.

Zhou Yu. Zhou Yu was a general and strategist of the state Wu during the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD) known for his good look, proficiency in music, and expertise in military strategies. This piece portrays a handsome Zhou Yu with dignified and elegant bearing. The helmet with erecting feathers indicates his identity as a brave and able military commander.

Lord Guan. The worship of Lord Guan, the deified image of Guan Yu, the renowned general in the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD), is an important part of the folk religion of Zhangzhou as well as the traditional culture in Fujian province. He is believed to be the deity who brings peace, fortune and wealth to people.

Scholar. The roles in Zhangzhou Puppet Show fall roughly into categories of Sheng (male characters), Dan (female characters), Jing (painted-face characters), and Chou (comic characters). This piece portraying a scholar belong to the category of Sheng.

China Intangible Heritage Industry Alliance
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