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Legend of the Shadow Puppets (ancient story) Illustration

Legend of the
Shadow Puppets
Ancient China for Kids

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Legend says.....

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was woman in one of the many kingdoms that made up ancient China. She was a very special woman. She told the best stories! She was married to the emperor. She was, in fact, his favorite wife. The emperor loved her stories. He loved his wife. Sadly, one day, the emperor's wife became ill and died.

Everyone thought the emperor would soon find another favorite among his wives, but the emperor was very sad. He spent more and more time in his garden, and less and less time caring for the needs of his people.

Everyone in the kingdom was worried. They were afraid that another clan might hear that their emperor had become weak. That would never do. A warring clan might attack the city. Many could die. Something had to be done, and done soon.

One day, a priest passed some children playing with their dolls. The dolls made dancing shadows on the wall of the city. This gave the priest an idea. He knew the stories the emperor's wife used to tell. What if he could bring those stories to life?

The priest made a puppet out of bits of clay. He painted the puppet to look somewhat like the emperor's wife. When the puppet was finished, the priest slipped into the emperor's garden, carrying his puppet, a candle, and a curtain. He placed the curtain near the emperor's chair. He placed his candle, his puppet, and himself behind the curtain. He waited for the emperor to appear.

The emperor did not even notice the curtain at first. It was the dancing shadow that drew his eyes. As the priest moved the puppet behind the curtain, he told wonderful stories of the emperor's wife. The priest told a story she used to tell, one of the emperor's favorites.

The emperor was entranced. He knew the priest was there. He knew the puppet was there. But it seemed as if the shadow was telling the story, as if his wife was spending time with him.

The emperor was no longer sad. At the end of each busy day, the emperor went into his garden, eager to visit his shadow wife and hear her stories once again.

That is how shadow puppets first began.

The History, Design, and Politics
of Chinese Shadow Puppets