Once upon a time, a long time ago, in Han times, the
favorite wife of the emperor became ill and died.
Her husband, the emperor, loved his wife very much. He
missed her company. He missed hearing stories about her day. He missed
hearing stories of their life together.
Everyone in the land thought time would heal his heavy
heart. But as time went on, the emperor cared less and less about the
activities of the court and of his people.
Everyone wanted to help the emperor, but nothing seemed
One day, a priest in the palace passed some children
playing with dolls. The dolls made shadows on the floor, shadows that
seemed to dance as the children played. The dancing shadows gave the
priest an idea. He hurried away to work on his idea.
First, he made a puppet from cotton balls. He painted
the puppet to look somewhat like the emperor's wife. When his puppet was
ready, he invited the emperor to a special puppet show.
The emperor appreciated all the things his court had
done to cheer him up, but really, all the emperor wanted was to be left
alone. He knew the priest would be insistent. The priest was a old
friend. With a sigh, a very deep sigh, the emperor agreed to attend the
That evening, the priest placed a light behind a
curtain, along with himself and his puppet. As he moved the puppet
behind the curtain, it cast a dancing shadow. The priest told stories of
the emperor's wife. They were wonderful stories, wonderful memories.
Even though the priest was there, and the puppet was there, it seemed as
if the shadow was telling the story.
The emperor was delighted. He clapped his hands in joy.
Every night, after a busy day of taking care of the business of being
emperor, the emperor looked forward to hearing "shadow
stories" about his wife, and her day, and of their life together.
And that, according to legend, is how shadow puppets
History, Design, and Politics of Chinese Shadow Puppets