More than 60,000 items relating to the traditional Chinese folk art known as shadow puppetry have been collected from a dozen provinces by China's cultural heritage departments.
Experts said some of the relics are extremely rare and can be dated back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
The one-dimensional leather puppets, tools for making them and rendition paintings will be preserved in a museum for the protection of shadow puppetry in Chengdu, capital northwest China's Sichuan Province.
Colorfully painted shadow puppets are used to perform shadow plays in which the silhouettes of the puppets are cast onto a white cloth. Performers manipulate a cast of characters from behind the screen while singers, accompanied by musicians, tell the story.
Chinese shadow puppetry was first performed during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) in northwest China's Shanxi Province. It spread to South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia and North Africa in the 13th century. The ancient Chinese folk art reached Europe in the 17th century. The famous German poet Goethe staged European operas using shadow puppets.
Shadow plays, with their distinctive and folksy stories, were for centuries the only form of mass entertainment in many Chinese villages.
The ancient traditional art form has fallen from the limelight thanks to the huge shadow cast by movies and television. Many bands of shadow puppeteers have disbanded, and many of the most talented artists have died without leaving apprentices. In many areas the performance art and the stories they told are nearly extinct.
(Xinhua News Agency June 13, 2006)