Story Behind the Curtain

Chinese Pi Ying Xi, also called leather-silhouette show or shadow play, came into existence almost a thousand years ago. Legend has it that Emperor Wudi (156-87 B.C.) of the Western Han was depressed with the death of his favorite concubine Lady Li. To help him get over the sadness, an occultist sculptured a wooden figure in the likeness of the lady and projected its shadow on a curtain for the emperor to see, bringing him consolation with the belief that the shadow was her spirit. This has been thought to be the beginning of the shadow show.

When perform a Pi Ying Xi, the paper or leather cut silhouette is reflected onto a piece of white cloth and performers behind the scene control it to walk, dance, or do various kinds of acts by the strings connected to the joints, with companion of music and songs.

The plays can be quite dramatic and, when it comes to fairy tales or kungfu stories, the "actors" may be made to ride on clouds or perform unusual feats, to the great enjoyment of the audience, especially children.

The leather puppets are painted with various colors to show their different qualities-- kind or wicked, beautiful or ugly. The images painted on the Pi Ying are usually figures coming from historical theaters or myths. All the leather puppets are sculptures highly precise, simply shaped, decorative patterns exaggerated, which form together an artistic charm.

 Leather Cut Silhouette Used in Shadow Shows.

A Scene from a Shadow Show.

Performers Behind the Scene.