Chinese shadow theater fights against dying of the light

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Falling audiences mean troupes are having to be creative to stay on the stage. (AFP)
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Members of the Flying Dragon Troupe create shadow puppets at the troupe’s studio on the outskirts of Beijing. (AFP)
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Shadow puppets flitting across screens and reliving age old stories have fascinated Chinese people for some 2,000 years. (AFP)
Updated 08 July 2019

Chinese shadow theater fights against dying of the light

  • Shadow theater was celebrated up until the 1960s when it was targeted as part of the Cultural Revolution
  • For the Chinese, the show is the forerunner of cinema

BEIJING: Shadow puppets flitting across screens and reliving age old stories have fascinated Chinese people for some 2,000 years, but falling audiences mean troupes are having to be creative to stay on the stage.
On a translucent screen in a Beijing classroom, a child with a cosmic ring takes on the son of the dragon king, attacking him with huge thrusts of his lance.
Behind the screen, puppeteers use rods to move the figures, to the joy of the schoolchildren watching.
The legends of the past are the bedrock of shadow theater — a tradition still popular in the countryside, though it has lost much ground in large cities over the last few decades.
Shadow theater was celebrated up until the 1960s when it was targeted as part of the Cultural Revolution. It had something of a renaissance in the 1980s and in 2011 was included on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
For the Chinese, the show is the forerunner of cinema — in the Chinese language the word “cinema” literally means “electric shadow.”
With video games, film and TV now vying for viewers glued to their smartphones, shadow theater is slowly losing its audience, and performers are struggling to keep their heads above water.
Wiping his forehead after his furious on-stage battle, Lu Baobang — one of the last puppeteers of the old generation — is worried there is no one to replace him when he retires.
“We can’t offer reasonable living standards to young apprentices,” said Lu, who descends from a large family that developed one of the main schools of shadow theater in Beijing.
While the theater struggles to attract young peoples’ interest, a troupe in a Beijing suburb — whose performers have an average age of 22 — has managed to survive.
It is made up of 60 or so puppeteers with dwarfism, who present themselves as having an average height of 1.26 meters.
Jin Xinchun is one of them. He was struggling to find work several years ago, before he discovered the troupe online and moved to Beijing to join it where he was employed as a puppet maker.
“I am always happy to cut old leather to make beautiful puppets. They are my babies!,” Jin told AFP.
Wang Xi, a puppeteer founded the troupe with her husband in 2008 after meeting with the national association of dwarves.
“They had trouble finding work. And it was hard for us to find successors. Our collaboration is like two drawbacks that turned out to a be a plus!“
The puppeteers now perform regularly in schools.
But Wang Xi said she is nervous about the future: “Our masters are all older than 80 and they obviously won’t be able to go on stage in 10 years.”
State support is key to keeping shadow theater alive, Lu said.
“The government is aware of the importance of traditional culture, what we need now are concrete measures,” he said.
“This art will have no future if we don’t give young people hope.”


Mo Salah’s doppelganger substitutes him in some ads

Updated 13 October 2019

Mo Salah’s doppelganger substitutes him in some ads

  • Ahmad Bahaa is an engineer
  • He appeared in Eyptian Vodafone and Pepsi ads

DUBAI: Ahmad Bahaa’s image went viral last year on social media, for one simple reason: he is the look-a-like of internationally famous football player Mo Salah.

Bahaa lives in Egypt and works as an engineer, but he has also substituted Salah in some advertisements, Dubai daily Gulf News reported on Sunday.

“I do some of Mo’s shots for his advertisements when he is busy with the English Premier League,” Bahaa said I an interview with an Egyptian TV channel.

He appeared instead of Salah in the Vodafone and Pepsi ads, in the parts which are shot in Egypt.

A video shows Salah’s reaction after he met Bahaa, as the footballer himself was surprised by the resemblance.