Marionette Plays from Northern China

Edited and translated by Fan Pen Li Chen
Introduction by Fan Pen Li Chen

Subjects: Asian Literature, Chinese Studies, Asian Studies, Cultural Studies, Folklore
Paperback : 9781438464848, 344 pages, January 2018
Hardcover : 9781438464831, 344 pages, April 2017

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Part I. Post-Midnight Skits

Lai Baozi 赖包子

Baldy’s Wedding Night 禿子鬧房

Peddling Notions 卖杂货

Part II. Historical Fiction

Empress Lü Usurps the Throne 吕后篡位

Yang Wenguang 杨文广

Short Version of River Yang 小阳河
Part III. Romance

The White Undershirt 白汗衫

Pavilion of the Immortals in Exile 谪仙楼

Works Cited and Bibliography of Chinese Puppet Theatre

English-language translations of traditional plays from the marionette puppet theater of Northern China.


Marionette puppet theater has a rich and ancient history in China, extending back to the Han dynasty and reaching its heyday in the Qing dynasty. While this art form is nearly extinct in northern China today, a handful of troupes in Heyang County in Shaanxi Province, which claims to be the birthplace of marionette theater, continue to perform skits and scenes from Heyang's earlier, broader marionette theater repertoire. In this book, Fan Pen Li Chen has collected and translated rare transcriptions of some of the most popular of these plays. Her insightful translations include a rich variety of genres and highlight memorable characters that range from manipulative aristocrats, poor Confucian scholars, and a woman warrior to Baldy Guo, the iconic clown of puppet theater. As the only work in English about the puppet theater of northern China, these translations provide valuable information about the history, religion, social roles, and popular culture of that region. Detailed introductions and annotations for each play, as well as an extensive bibliography, are also included.

Fan Pen Li Chen is Associate Professor of East Asian Studies at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She is the author of Chinese Shadow Theatre: History, Popular Religion, and Women Warriors and Visions for the Masses: Chinese Shadow Plays from Shaanxi and Shanxi.


"…containing a number of beautiful and colorful photographs of puppets, the book is well written. The author makes a significant contribution to the study of traditional puppetry in China. " — Journal of Folklore Research

"…an extremely well researched, sophisticated examination of the tradition, and the only study of the Heyang puppetry in English … The book is especially valuable to the student of Chinese literature, theater studies, folklore, or popular culture. Marionette Plays from Northern China provides an excellent contribution to our understanding of an important, yet endangered cultural expression. " — CHINOPERL

"…a thoughtful investigation into the ancient but nearly extinct art of the marionette puppet theater of northern China. " — CHOICE