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Dragon in the Sky Shadow Puppet Theater in Beijing
Family Friendly Art and Culture in Beijing
In 2009, we took a family vacation to Beijing. Our ten year old daughter "Sprite" is old enough to enjoy the architecture and to appreciate the history of the typical Beijing sites, but we also wanted some kid-friendly activities especially for her.
Going to the Dragon in the Sky Shadow Puppet Theater was one of those kid-friendly outings that we all enjoyed! It's not just a shadow puppet performance. You can also get hands-on and try manipulating the puppets yourself behind the scenes. And there is a large museum and display room where you can touch more puppets, learn how they are made, and buy one if you desire.
The Official Website of Dragon in the Sky Puppet Theater is in Chinese. Here is a short overview of the theater in English --Chinese Shadow Puppetry: Revived at Longzaitian Theatre. (The prices quoted for tickets there are not correct.) But my lens here is going to give you a thorough tour of the Dragon in the Sky Puppet Theater, all in English.
What is the Dragon in the Sky Shadow Puppet Theater Like?
The performance is 40 minutes and consists of two puppet performances and two dance routines. If you don't understand Chinese, it won't matter. The puppet shows have no speaking parts. There is only music. The stories are traditional Chinese folktales and are easy enough to understand simply through the actions of the puppets.
After each puppet show, the actors come out, holding their puppets so you can see who was operating which puppets. Some puppets take more than one person to operate! Between the two shows, the audience is invited to the back for a hands-on demonstration. You can hold the puppets, see how they work, and take photos if you like. At the end of the last dance routine, the audience is invited to the stage to learn the dance moves! I strongly encourage you to participate. It's silly and very fun! My friend and I learned the Chicken Dance, and I can tell you that we laughed and laughed about it all over Beijing the rest of the week.
Then you can browse around the gallery and learn how the puppets are created. There are many different puppets on display in the gallery. And amazingly, not once did I hear an employee say "Don't touch that!" or "Put that down!" In fact, they welcomed our exploration and seemed genuinely pleased at our fascination with the puppets. This positive approach really impressed me!
Below you can find a sneak peek of the performances. One interesting fact about the puppet troupe is that all the actors are dwarfs. They may look like children in the photos, but that's simply because they are all under 120 centimeters tall. When you see them in person, you will realize that these are adults (albeit some of them are young adults).
If you desire an English translation of the gallery tour, you'll need to arrange that ahead of time. Have a Chinese speaking friend or tour guide help you contact the Dragon in the Sky Puppet Theater to set that up. Otherwise, all the explanations and introductions will be spoken in Mandarin Chinese.
Contact Telephone Numbers
Phone --(86) 10 - 62618506
Mobile --(86) 13621399612
Tickets are 120 RMB per person. (Click here for a currency converter.) You can reserve seats ahead of time by phone and purchase the tickets (in cash) when you arrive.
There are three shows daily except for Monday.
2:00 - 3:30 PM
4:00 - 5:30 PM
My copy of this book has a clear plastic cover that works well to hold little notes and business cards on the inside covers. This book has all the basics that you will need for a Beijing vacation. The pull out map is quite detailed. I carried it in my purse every day.
Watching the Performance - Dancing and PuppetsClick thumbnail to view full-size
We took a taxi to the Puppet Theater. The ride was expensive, and the driver had to call the theater for directions. Print out this image of the address if you want to take a taxi or hire a car.
But actually, the entrance to the theater compound is RIGHT at the Yuan Ming Yuan Subway stop. On our way home, we took the subway for a fraction of the price of a taxi.
Here is the official business card for the Dragon in the Sky Shadow Puppet Theater.
Shadow Puppet History and Customs
At the puppet theater you will learn the story of the origin of Chinese shadow puppets.
In 121 BC, a Han Dynasty emperor lost his beloved concubine. A Taoist priest created the shadow puppet of her likeness to soothe the emperor's grief. The emperor was so moved by the realistic portrayal of his love that he believed the priest had brought her back to life. This was the beginning of a Chinese folk art. Later, traveling troupes of performers would present entertaining shows in villages across the nation.
You will also learn the answer to why shadow puppets are always designed with removable heads.
Some people feared that the puppets would come to life at night and cause mischief. To prevent that disaster, the puppet owners removed the heads from the puppets before storing them for the night. "Decapitating" the puppets would remove their ability to come to life, according to the superstition. Even today, puppets are created according to this tradition.
In the Shadow Puppet GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Making Shadow Puppets
This book gives detailed directions for making nine different puppets including a snake, a robot, a flying bird, and a monster.
Shadow Puppet Links - Make Your Own Puppets and Learn Hands-on
You may want to prepare your children with a little history before the trip, or do some follow up fun at home afterwards instead. Here are lesson plans, printable shadow puppet templates, and directions.
- How to Make a Chinese Shadow Puppet Theater
Steps for making your own Chinese shadow puppets with a screen for performances.
- Shadow Puppet Templates
A dragon, a man, and a woman are offered in the PDF about Chinese shadow puppets.
- How to Make a Shadow Puppet Theater
Making shadow puppets with your hands has been a pastime since the earliest of times as men sat around an open fire. Dress it up a bit by designing a small puppet theater and cardboard shadow puppets. Then dim the lights and treat your family and fri