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Tag: Culture

Shanxi shadow play finds takers

Chang Zhi Gui, starring Wang Jinfa, is an experimental shadow play funded by a Tsinghua University’s cultural-heritage project. The show is staged in a church in Yan’an, Shaanxi province. 

A Tsinghua University project is helping to preserve intangible culture in China, Cheng Yuezhu reports. 

The lights go out and the show begins. Silhouettes of leather-made figurines are projected onto an illuminated screen, delineating stories with the accompaniment of musical instruments, opera-singing and storytelling.

Long before the invention of films, with the earliest text record dating to 1,900 years ago, the screen of shadow play provided a pioneering means of entertainment, its venues ranging from palaces to markets.

A recent experimental shadow play, Chang Zhi Gui (Long Way Home), offers an outlook on innovating upon the traditional art form with cross-cultural elements as part of the Tsinghua University Sulwhasoo Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Fund’s annual project.

The story explores a diaspora theme. The protagonist Tang Suo, an artist who has lived in Italy for years, comes home to Yan’an, Shaanxi province, for Lunar New Year. The reunion dinner sees a dispute between the protagonist and his father, who disapproves of him living far away from home.

Su Dan, a professor at Tsinghua University and director of the project’s management committee, points out the imperativeness and complexity of innovating upon shadow play.

He says shadow play is a comprehensive art form that incorporates painting, sculpture, performance and Chinese opera. Hence, its innovation must take all these aspects into consideration.

“The implication of this experimental play is an attempt to rejuvenate the ancient art form of shadow play and rid it of its confines,” Su says.

The denouement of the play sees the reconciliation between the protagonist and his father, unconventionally with the Italian song Santa Lucia rendered with a Shaanxi regional opera-singing style.

Elderly performers have carried on the tradition of shadow play, which incorporates puppet-making with folk music, opera-singing and storytelling, in Shaanxi province. 

As the conflict escalates, the father wants to find an effective way of communicating with his son. As the son has difficulty comprehending the dialect used in a local art form, the father chooses to sing the Italian song that is well-known in China, according to the play’s director Zhang Jian.

To get the artists to learn singing in lyrics translated into Mandarin instead of their regional dialect was not an easy task. It took 79-year-old Wang Jinfa, who plays the father, some 50 days to learn how to sing the song.

“For 70-year-olds to accept novel things, they must have the willingness and a proactive attitude,” Zhang says.

“We spent almost a year visiting and interviewing elderly artists, and establishing a consensus (to make changes).”

He stresses the importance of making connections between shadow play in its old form and modern life.

Wang is a practitioner of Tongchao shadow play, an intangible cultural art form of Shaanxi province, which incorporates leather-carving, shadow-puppetry performance and a local Chinese opera style.

Art installations made of leather puppets are also on display at the venue.

“In the old days when shadow play flourished, our village had such performances all the time. My teacher used to perform at least 300 days every year. People from neighboring villages would come to our village in the middle of the night just to see a performance,” Wang says.

He recalls that those days were his happiest, traveling around performing and attending other performances. “I used to travel for 40 to 50 days performing. I was doing something I enjoyed, and I got paid for it, as well as lodging. I couldn’t be happier.”

Meanwhile, he says he is saddened by the decline of shadow play. In recent years, requests for performances have reduced, and now he performs shows only a few times in a year. Most of his students are over age 50, which is another worrying prospect.

Wang is working with film and stage projects to innovate upon shadow play, including singing Chinese opera in a play that replaced shadow puppets with real performers.

“The audience enjoyed the performance a lot, including a lot of small children. So I won’t say that shadow play is too traditional and obscure. As long as the method is right, everyone can enjoy it, especially something this good,” Wang says.

The play Chang Zhi Gui took place in a church at the former site of the Lu Xun Academy of Art in Yan’an, an institution established in 1938 during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), aimed at cultivating artistic and literary talent. The venue in its glory days witnessed classic performances, including Chinese opera The White-Haired Girl and Chinese song The Yellow River Cantata.

Zhang says to maximize the acoustic quality of the building, no amplifier was used in the recent performance, and the space was also fully put to use, with performances happening not only on the front stage, but in every corner of the church.

“The arrangement was initially a necessary adaptation because of the limited church space, but limitations often give rise to unexpected highlights,” Zhang says.

The Tsinghua University Sulwhasoo Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Fund was launched in August 2017 by the university and South Korean skin-care brand Sulwhasoo.

Each year the project focuses on researching, promoting and protecting an intangible cultural art form.

Apart from the play, last year’s project’s achievements included two short documentaries about Shaanxi shadow play, and two publications on the art form.

Chang Zhi Gui, starring Wang Jinfa, is an experimental shadow play funded by a Tsinghua University’s cultural-heritage project. The show is staged in a church in Yan’an, Shanxi province.  

The team went on three field trips to Shaanxi, visiting and interviewing experts and practitioners of shadow play. It also collected texts, photos and videos, and hosted seminars and workshops to discuss innovation and inheritance.

“Every year we invite scholars and artists, and together discuss the problems faced in taking intangible cultural heritage forward, exchange our experiences and present the work we have done in the past year,” Su says.

An unexpected finding during their trip last year was a manuscript from 71-year-old shadow-play artist Zhang Zhirong, according to Chen Anying, the project’s chief expert.

“During our discussions, we came to realize this artist is different from others. He researches the art form in addition to performing. Then, he showed us the shadow-play scripts he had collected and written,” Chen says.

“He pulled out manuscripts from a tattered envelope and told us that it was a history of the regional shadow play.”

The manuscripts were written by Zhang Zhirong 10 years ago. He can now publish them as a book as part of the intangible heritage fund project.

The fund supported lacquer craft of Shanxi province in 2018, metalwork of Yunnan province in 2019 and Shaanxi shadow play in 2020.This year, Cantonese embroidery will be its focus.

Landscapes on show remember a late reformer

The works of late landscape painter Sun Bowen show two major directions of reimagining the face of classic shanshui mountain-and-water paintings in the 20th-century China, employing bold, carefree brushes to present the grandeur of nature and highly-saturated colors to bring the genre of ink paintings more accessible to the general public.

Impassioned Poem, an exhibition at the National Art Museum of China until Sunday, marks the lifelong effort of Sun, a low-profile reformer of art. It also shows his literary accumulations in composing poems, practicing calligraphy and carving seals, through which one can feel his scholarly spirit.

Old Summer Palace offers free entry to mark 160th anniv. of massive loot

Tourists visit the Old Summer Palace in Beijing.

The Old Summer Palace in Beijing will allow free entry to the public on Sunday, the day that marks the 160th anniversary of the burning and massive looting of the palace, in a bid to remember history and draw more people into the memorial place.

Also known as Yuanmingyuan, the site was once an imperial garden and is now open to the public as a park. An architectural wonder of its age, it was built in the 18th and 19th centuries during the Qing Dynasty (1636-1911). British and French forces destroyed the place on October 18 and 19, 1860, during the Second Opium War, a move to force China to open its market.

A special activity marks 160th anniversary

In order to allow visitors to explore the Old Summer Palace more deeply, the park has launched the “Old Summer Palace Passport,” which can be purchased at stores in the park or at Tmall and JD.com stores. There are 51 classic attractions of the Old Summer Palace on this “passport.” Visitors can find the seals from shops near the corresponding attractions on the map on the front page of the passport.

After collecting all 51 seals, one from each attraction, visitors can get a special seal. “This seal is the symbol of treasure coming into and going out of the Old Summer Palace. Completing the seal collection is like bringing the Old Summer Palace home,” said a personnel who works at the park.

According to officials, each seal has been custom-made for the 160th anniversary of the massive loot.

As many as 160 years ago, the Old Summer Palace, known as the “garden of gardens,” was looted and burned down by Western powers. Numerous treasures disappeared and the famous garden was gradually abandoned. Later, the Old Summer Palace was turned into a park, but it remained as it was when it was destroyed.

As the restoration work continues, some experts and scholars say the Old Summer Palace needs a museum to store items that behold precious historical memories. What is the fate of the cultural relics? Should we keep it original or restore it? Experts and scholars have different views on this.

Experts estimate that millions of looted cultural relics are scattered around the world and China, and the ones in the country are mainly concentrated in Beijing. Since the establishment of the management office of the Old Summer Palace in 1976, experts and scholars have been trying to trace the lost relics. Nowadays, access to information is expanding, providing more clues for finding cultural relics.

In September 2007, Macao gaming tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun purchased the bronze statue of the horse head of Yuanmingyuan at a price of HK$69.1 million. Twelve years later, as a gift to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the 20th anniversary of Macao’s return to the motherland, he donated the statue to the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, hoping that it would return to where it belongs – the Old Summer Palace.

The good news is the horse head could go home, but it was difficult to find a suitable place to put it, an embarrassment that made the management of the Old Summer Palace realize once again that the palace should have a museum of a certain size.

A visitor views the bronze horse head (R) looted from the royal garden by Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War in 1860 during an exhibition in Beijing, capital of China, Nov 13, 2019.  

However, Zhang Bai, former deputy director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, said the Old Summer Palace site differs from other sites in that it bears a historical pain that the Chinese people will never forget, which is an important part of what the place should show.

As CCTV News reported, there have always been different opinions among experts and scholars on the discussion of the Old Summer Palace. There have always been two completely different views: keeping the original appearance and reflecting the history of the changes; and restoring its glory as it was in its heyday.

The Old Summer Palace management office, at the center of the controversy, has been trying to explore this issue. For example, in recent years, the management office of the Old Summer Palace rebuilt the palace gate of the Garden of Eternal Spring and the Garden of Elegant Spring. The Palace Gate site, the largest and most ornate entrance into the complex, is also being excavated and restored since 2019.

With more and more relics unearthed and returned to the palace, the administration has again submitted an application to the relevant authorities, hoping to push forward the construction of the museum, CCTV News reported.

The park is located near China’s two most prestigious universities – Tsinghua University and Peking University – as well as Zhongguancun, known as “China’s Silicon Valley.” Tourists can book tickets or make reservation online in advance to visit this famous garden and catch some traces of past glories.

Ming garments on display in Shandong

An exhibition at the Shandong Museum in Jinan, Shandong province, is displaying well-preserved garments of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The exhibition features clothes worn on the occasions of royal activities, meeting guests and ordinary daily life.

The garments were handed down from generation to generation. They didn’t go through procedures of being buried underground and then unearthed, so they have maintained their original colors, said Yu Qin of the museum.

The collection also comes from the Confucius Museum in the province’s Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius.

The exhibition will last until Nov 29.

Garments of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) are on display at the Shandong Museum in Jinan, capital of Shandong province.

8 things you may not know about Autumn Equinox

Autumn Equinox lies at the midpoint of autumn, dividing autumn into two equal parts. After that day, the location of direct sunlight moves to the south, making days shorter and nights longer in the northern hemisphere. The traditional Chinese lunar calendar divides the year into 24 solar terms. Autumn Equinox, (Chinese: 秋分), the 16th solar term of the year, begins this year on Sept 22 and ends on Oct 7.

Here are 8 things you should know about Autumn Equinox.

  1. Cool autumn

As it is said in the ancient book, The Detailed Records of the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476BC), “It is on Autumn Equinox day that the Yin and Yang are in a balance of power. Thus the day and night are of equal length, and so are the cold and hot weather.”

By Autumn Equinox, most of the areas in China have entered the cool autumn. When the cold air heading south meets the declining warm and wet air, precipitation is the result. The temperature also drops frequently.

  • Season for eating crab

In this season, crab is delicious. It helps nourish the marrow and clear heat inside the body.

  • Eating Qiucai

In South China, there is a custom popularly known as “having Qiucai (an autumn vegetable) on the Autumn Equinox day“. Qiucai is a kind of wild amaranth. Every Autumn Equinox day, all the villagers go to pick Qiucai in the wild. Qiucai is verdant in the field, thin, and about 20 cm in length. Qiucai is taken back and made into soup with fish, called “Qiutang” (autumn soup). There is a verse about the soup: “Drink the soup to clear the liver and intestines, thus the whole family will be safe and healthy”.

  • Season for eating various plants

By Autumn Equinox, olives, pears, papayas, chestnuts, beans, and other plants enter their phase of maturation. It is time to pick and eat them.

  • Season for enjoying osmanthus

The Autumn Equinox is the time to smell the fragrance of osmanthus. At this time, it is hot in the day and cool at night in South China, so people have to wear a single layer when it is hot, and lined clothing when it is cool. This period is named “Guihuazheng” in Chinese, which means “osmanthus mugginess”.

  • Season for enjoying chrysanthemums

Autumn Equinox also is a good time to enjoy chrysanthemums in full bloom.

  • Standing eggs on end

On Autumn Equinox day, thousands of people around the world try to make eggs stand on end. This Chinese custom has become the world’s game.

According to experts, on the Spring Equinox and Autumn Equinox, the day and night are of equal time both in the southern and northern hemispheres. The earth’s axis, on its 66.5 degree tilt, is in a relative balance of power with the earth’s orbit around the sun. Thus it is a very conducive time for standing eggs on end.

But some also say that standing the egg has nothing to do with the time. The most important thing is to shift the egg’s center of gravity to the lowest part of the egg. In this way, the trick is holding the egg until the yolk sinks as much as possible. For this, you’re better off choosing an egg that’s about 4 or 5 days old, whose yolk is inclined to sink down.

  • Sacrificing to the moon

Originally, the festival of sacrificing to the moon was set on Autumnal Equinox day. According to historical records, as early as the Zhou Dynasty (c. 11th century-256BC), the ancient kings by custom sacrificed to the sun on the Spring Equinox, and to the moon on the Autumn Equinox.

But the moon won’t be full during Autumn Equinox. If there was no moon to make sacrifices to, it would spoil the fun. Thus, the day was changed to the Mid-Autumn Day.