Zhang Jian: the man who makes shadows come to life

Zhang Jian, a shadow puppet artist from Shanghai, has been making and performing with them for nearly 20 years. For him, shadow puppets are not only his work, but also his life.

Directed by Tang Dafei. Filmed by Zhou Shengjie. Edited by Sophie Wang and Andy Boreham.

Shadow puppetry is an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment. It uses flat, cut-out, articulated figures called shadow puppets — often made from leather — which are then held between a source of light and a screen, projecting a shaped shadow for the audience to see.

A talented puppeteer then helps the puppets come alive, making them appear to walk, dance, fight, laugh, and live.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

The puppets sometimes feature translucent colors or other types of detailing, and various effects can be achieved by moving both the puppets and the light source. The best shadow puppet performances are accompanied by live music.

Zhou Shengjie / SHINE

Zhang Jian, a shadow puppet artist from Shanghai, has been making and performing with them for nearly 20 years. For him, shadow puppets are not only his work, but also his life.

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