According to film historians, movies have their origin in the ancient Chinese art of shadow puppetry, where puppeteers manipulate figures made of paper or animal skin against a backlit translucent screen.
Shadow puppetry appeared in the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-8AD). A legend has it that after the death of Madam Li, the wife of Han Emperor Wudi, he missed her very much. A wizard named Shaoweng cut a piece of animal skin into the shape of Madam Li and made its shadow on the cloth tent. Emperor Wudi saw the shadow and felt that Madam Li came back to life so that he awarded the wizard a lot of money. The wizard may be the first "director" in China.
Shadow puppetry was introduced into India, Arab and Turkey in the 13th century and the Southeast Asia a bit later. In 1767, it entered France and was shown in Paris. In 1776, it entered London. The theory of shadow puppetry is similar to that of modern films so that many historians believe that films were invented on the base of the shadow puppetry.
Shadow puppets and props from ancient China are on display in the Turin Museum of Italy and the Paris Film Museum.
(chinaculture.org January 18, 2004)