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From the shadows springs an enduring folk art favorite

THE Songjiang shadow play originated in Maojiatang - today's Qibao Town, Shanghai's Minhang District - more than 100 years ago.

The art form is based on the East China tradition of the shadow play, which emphasizes bright colors more than the intricacies of the silhouette cutouts. Figures, animals and items such as lamps and tables are painted in vivid hues.

Another characteristic of the Songjiang shadow play is its music, ranging across almost 10 different tones and varied according to different scenes, such as weddings, funerals and banquets.

Most of the dialogue is in the local Songjiang dialect, punctuated with little excerpts from Peking and Kunqu operas.

Traditionally, the cutouts projected on a screen were made of paper, but today many are composed of much sturdier plastics. They are often multi-jointed, allowing the figures to appear to walk, sit, jump and hop. Artisans who cut the figures also manipulate their shows.

The shadow plays retell stories of mythology, history, fairy tales and legends. They use a small band of drums, fiddles, gongs and flutes to simulate a wide variety of sounds, such as children crying, women sobbing, horses neighing and doors slamming.

The towns of Sijing, Dongjing and Jiuting are fortunate to have among their populations many older people who are skilled in the ancient art of the shadow play. The Songjiang government has set up special foundations to preserve and promote the art form.

That effort extends into primary schools, where youngsters are taught the history of the shadow play and how to make the props it uses.

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