Hohhot, 7 July -- Inner Mongolia's "cane puppet" reappears on the stage Sixty-year-old actors look forward to inheriting their skills

Written by Martini Ma

Bowing, riding a horse, waving... The half-human cane-headed puppet performs a series of difficult actions under the control of the actor.

Recently, the classic play "Bala Gancang" was unveiled at the Hohhot Theater of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and the protagonist Bala Gancang fought wits and courage with Wang Ye on stage, and his humorous language and vivid body movements caused the audience to laugh. After more than 30 years, this format has been revived on the stage.

The picture shows a cane-headed puppet. Photo by Ma Danni

As one of the traditional Chinese arts, puppet theater was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in 2006. As part of the puppet show, the cane puppet show became a popular entertainment in the early 20s of the 80th century. It is not only a must-have program at festivals and temples, but also a local cultural symbol that has accompanied the growth of a generation.

The puppet movements on the stage look relaxed, but the lightest puppets weigh 5 pounds and the heaviest weigh 12 pounds, but the people holding them are a group of old actors in their sixties. The reporter learned that this is currently the only troupe in Inner Mongolia that performs a cane puppet show.

"I started learning to stick puppetry at the age of 18 and loved the craft ever since." He Ning, an actress in the puppet theater troupe, said, "The cane puppet show is a comprehensive art, and you can understand vocal music, body, demeanor, etc. The basic skills should be practiced first, one stand for at least two hours, at the beginning we were shaking, only fixed down to move, can do the later movements, you see now my arm thickness is different. He Ning said, showing his arm to reporters.

In 1980, the puppet troupe was officially established, and the "Bala Gancang" play toured more than 100 performances in Inner Mongolia. "The conditions were difficult, and everyone was an actor, a coachman, or a craftsman. But every time I see the big smiles of the children, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Speaking of this, He Ning said with some pride that at that time, he and other members were like stars, and almost all the kindergarten and elementary school children walking on the road knew her, and would point to her and say to her parents that this was an aunt who played a puppet.

He Ning said that each puppet is handmade by members of the troupe, and needs to go through more than a dozen processes such as mold removal, pasting, polishing, baking, cleaning, and coloring, which makes many young people prohibitive.

With their love for this skill, the performers of the puppet troupe dedicated their youth to the cane puppet theater performance, and sent laughter to every audience. However, with the development of the times and the transfer of personnel, puppet theater gradually declined, and in 1986 the puppet theater troupe was forced to disband.

The picture shows a cane puppeteer making a puppet. Photo by Ma Danni

In 2017, after 31 years apart, the puppet troupe performers met old friends and got back together, and although they are all over <> years old, they still stick to their original intention to pass on this skill.

Zhang Xiaohong, the head of the puppet troupe, told reporters that in today's puppet troupe, only a few old actors are still performing, lacking fresh blood, and he is very worried that this skill will not be passed on in the future.

"I am very worried about the inheritance of the puppet troupe, because the young people have not followed up, and we are all old." He Ning couldn't hide his disappointment.

The picture shows Zhang Xiaohong, the head of the puppet troupe, sorting out the puppets. Photo by Ma Danni

"Next, we want to carry out intangible cultural heritage activities in schools, attract some children and young teachers, and set up an amateur puppet troupe in the cultural center, combining old, middle-aged and young people, and passing on our skills to them by the older generation." Zhang Xiaohong said. (End)