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Pulling the strings
Last Updated: 2018-02-27 13:33 | China Daily
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An exhibit of a puppet show on stage. [Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]

An exhibition in Beijing features more than 300 puppets made by members of the Xu family from Zhangzhou through seven generations.

For more than two centuries, the Xu family in Zhangzhou, East China's Fujian province, have been passing down one skill - carving a variety of faces on small pieces of camphor wood.

These heads are then added to limbs, and the complete pieces are then dressed up in delicately woven outfits.

The pieces are called glove puppets. And they are widely used in traditional opera orchestras.

Puppet shows have been around in Zhangzhou for more than 1,000 years.

Xu Zhuchu, now 80 and a sixth-generation master craftsman from the Xu family, is like his ancestors as a devoted fan and practitioner of this time-honored art.

One of his ancestors, Xu Ziqing (1768-1858) opened the family's first studio in 1807.

Xu Zhuchu says the sounds he heard most when growing up were of carving knives cutting wood.

The silent wooden dolls were his best friends in childhood, and constant reminders of the family business he was to inherit.

When he was at the opening of a grand exhibition of the Xu family puppet art earlier this month in Beijing, Xu Zhuchu seldom spoke but mostly, gazed smilingly at the works his family has produced.

His son, Xu Qiang, 53, the family's seventh-generation craftsman, did most of the talking.

"I'm getting old," Xu Zhuchu says. "I want to spend more time being with and talking to them (the puppets)."

The exhibition, titledCraftsmanship, at the National Museum of China, features more than 300 puppets made by members of the Xu family through seven generations, including Xu Zhuchu, a State expert of intangible cultural heritage and Xu Qiang.

Xu Zhuchu became a full-time artisan after completing his middle school education. Over more than six decades, he has changed puppet-making, so the puppets are not just the stars of a live show but also, eye-arresting pieces of art widely displayed at home museums and abroad.

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