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Chinese Puppet Show

The Puppet Show (kuileixi) is better known as mu'ouxi (play of wooden dolls), in the country, which has its roots in remote times. It is said that King Mu of the Zhou (c.10th century B.C.) of oral history, on his way home from a big hunt on the Kunlun Mountain, saw a choral dance performed by Yanshi, a skilled carpenter, with wooden dolls made by himself. However, it was not until the Han Dynasty that the puppet show was mentioned as a full-fledged form of amusement. Still, that puts it at least 2,000 years back in Chinese history.

As in most other countries, three types of puppet shows are presented in China: the rod-top puppet, the marionette and the glove puppet. Of course, the first type is most popular in China. The puppet, generally less than a metre tall, is made with true-to-life features. It is raised overhead at the top of a stick by the puppeteer with one hand and manipulated by him with the other hand moving a pair of wire rods. This type of puppets generally do not show their feet.

One of the basic skills required of the operator is to be able to hold high the puppet, which weighs 2 to 3 kilograms, with one arm and to keep it either motionless or moving steadily on the same level as dictated by the scenario. Only on this basis may the puppet be convincing in its other dramatic actions.

The marionette appears on stage in full view of the audience. It is of a more complicated structure, with the head, shoulders, waist, hands and feet all jointed, movable and controlled by separate wires. During performance, it is operated from a concealed operating bridge high above the puppet.

The glove or hand puppet, rather like those in a Punch and Judy show, is also called "bag puppet" (budai mu'ou) in China. About 20 cm long, it is the smallest of the three types. Its dress is in the form of a small bag, from inside which the puppeteer's hand manipulates its postures and movements.

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