Shadow play in Yunmeng County originated from the middle period of Qing Dynasty and there are 26 shadow puppets at present. Performances are continuous throughout the year. In February, 1995, it was rated as “hometown of Hubei shadow play art” by Hubei Provincial Department of Culture.
Shadow puppet has little luggage and few attendants and two persons can give a performance. Person at the front stage is in charge of singing and manipulation and person at the back stage beats the drum as accompany. It is commonly known as playing gong or song-and-dance duet and also called drama motorbike.
Production of shadow puppet imitates drama costume and facial makeup and adopts paper and plastic sheet, with hollow piercing engraving, exquisite pattern and bright color.
The music for voice of shadow puppet is Xixiang high-pitched tune and the actor should combine true and false voice and enunciate clearly at the time of talking and singing. In addition, the actor uses the tunes boldly. The voice is as hard as work song for wheat scouring and as soft as cradlesong. Afterwards, influenced by sister arts, music for voice of Chu and Han opera were absorbed to gradually form male lead, female lead, character with painted facial make-up, clown and type of metre for music such as guide plate, buttress, two-six, two-eight, shaking and counting. Some theatrical troupes even add (Jinghu) string music as accompany.
Sing catalogues are mostly historical romance of all dynasties, including the Investiture of the Gods, Various Kingdoms in the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, Heroes of Tang Dynasty, The Complete Story of Yue Fei, Tianbao Map, Sea Master, Liu Gong and other masterpieces. There is no script in talking and singing and actors master the synopsis and play it by ear. Most words are expressed through singing. A masterpiece can be performed for two or three months. Repertories performed in province and city should be performed in public after writing script accompanied with music and repeated rehearsal. Repertoires include Child from Mountain and Phoenix Fairy, Pig Guy Carrying Wife, Mo Chung Fights the Tiger, Liang Hongyu Beats a Drum to Fight against Soldiers from Jin Dynasty, Behead Imperial Envoy, Three Borrows of Palm-leaf Fan, Crane and Turtle, etc.
Performance sites are mainly distributed in tea houses and story-telling houses of villages and towns in the county and some are required to perform in adjacent county and city. Over 20 shadow plays serve thousands of audiences to activate cultural life of the masses.
“Mengze Shadow Play Venue” is the most influential performance venue of shadow play in Yunmeng County. It is located at No. 95, Dongzheng Street outside the city gate and is a self-built house of Qin Ligang, famous shadow pullet artist at that time in Yunmeng. He was the boss himself and performed by his own. It could be called the first one in Hubei Province. There were 200 seats in the performance hall. He performed for 20 years in the town since 1984 and there were 364 performances (except the Chinese New Year’s Eve) without empty seats. His performance also received friends from West Germany, Italian experts, Chinese American and Taiwan compatriots and completed performance task in province and city for several times. He was invited to perform in the former residence of Wu Cheng’en in Huai’an City, Jiangsu Province and highly acclaimed. General's Son To Be Executed, the shadow puppet made by him participated in Hubei folk fine arts exhibition in 1987 and obtained award of excellent works. In addition, it was published in Hubei Folk Arts and Hubei Cultural Art and Yue Fei and Princess of Iron Fan composed by him were published in Newspaper of Specialized Households in Hubei. In 2003, 12 shadow puppets occupying eight exhibition spaces made by him participated in farmer art exhibition in Hubei as the hometown of folk art. Goddess Marriage won gold award and Pig Guy Carrying Wife won bronze award.