Chinese Leather Silhouette Art

The leather silhouette show is an age-old popular folk art of China, which even spreads abroad and thus becomes a worldwide art. The main prop of the shadow play is the PIYING (leather silhouette). It demands a superb handicraft to make such a prop.

The images painted on the PIYING are usually figures coming from historical theaters or myths. Despite of its difference in style made in divers areas in China, PIYING has the following characteristics in common: sculpture highly precise, simply shaped, decorative patterns exaggerated, which form together an artistic charm.

The process for making the PIYING is as follows: Sheep or donkey skin with hair removed is cleaned and treated chemically to become thin enough to be translucent. Coated with tung oil and dried, it is carved into various parts of dramatic figures. The trunk, head and limbs of a PIYING are separately carved but joined together by thread so that each part may be manipulated by the operator to simulate human movements. The leather puppets are painted with various colors to show their different qualities-- kind or wicked, beautiful or ugly.