piyingxi (Shadow Puppet)

About this object

History of use

With bamboo manipulating rods, these shadow puppets come from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. They are unique because of their aesthetics and large size; their finger, arm, and shoulder joints; and their facial profiles, which often show a small overbite. The figures represent military officials, lower-rank officers, and women of status and rank. Once an enormously popular form of entertainment, they performed classic stories such as Sanguo or Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a 14th century text. These exquisite puppets were probably made in the late 1800s or early 1900s, during the last decades of the Qing dynasty (1636-1912 CE).


In 1981 the donor wrote that she had found this group of shadow puppets in Chengdu (Sichuan, China) over 40 years earlier.

Physical description

A shadow puppet of a male with a solid face (body is part a, head is part b), and hair in a top knot. Wears clothing that is decorated in red, green, and black with elaborate perforations. Wire is coiled around the neck. There is an elaborate red, orange, green, and black headdress (part c) that has two red pompoms at the front and a tassel dangling at the back. Joined in the shoulder, elbow, waist, hips, hands, and fingers with rivets.