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Puppet Master: Mr. Wang 
(Macha Village, Gansu, China)

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Welcome to Macha

A Village in the province of Gansu.

The Macha Village features rolling hills planted with wheat and corn under an arid climate. The Macha Village is also home to the only Qinqiang Shadow Puppeteer in the wider Huining Area, Mr. Wang Weiji. Below is a series of photos and videos documenting life in Macha and a brief ethnography on Mr. Wang's lifelong journey with Shadow Puppetry.

Mr. Wang

Ethnography: A Puppeteer of the Macha Village in the Gansu Province

Weiji Wang (71) is a renowned Puppeteer and the best of the old Qin school in Huining. He is the only artist who knows Qin school shadow puppetry in Macha. He was born into a family of the Chinese Red Army but became a shadow Puppeteer out of interest. 


Mr. Wang was first exposed to shadow puppetry during his teen years when he fell in love with traditional art. He was very happy every time he performed and temporarily forgot all his worries. The nearby town of Malian invited his teacher Shanhai Gao over for a performance, and Mr. Wang followed. He was very interested in cultural entertainment as they were easier to learn. He already knew how to play instruments involved in performances like the erhu and big Chinese gong. 


He started formally learning shadow puppetry when he was in his early 20s (1967-1968). He had three teachers who were all from Dingxi and shared the same teacher and singing school. In total, Mr. Wang learned shadow puppetry for 10 years. Shanhai Gao was his best teacher, whom Mr. Wang was the closest to as the two spent the longest time together. 


After his 10 years of learning during the Qingming festival, his teacher was invited to a farther village for performance but couldn’t attend because he had to graft trees at home. Because he was the only one who knew how to puppeteer and sing in the group, he took his teacher’s place. After 4 nights of performance, his teacher still did not return. Through this experience, Mr. Wang felt that he received the accolade and approval of the audience, and his teacher felt more confident in him as a disciple, encouraging him to look for opportunities by himself.


To make a name for himself, Mr. Wang and his group of 5 traveled from the Southern town of Dinggou to northern Huining, completing a circle. They performed from August to October, 3-4 hours a night for 40 whole days. Because of his artistic excellence, the entire Northern area knew his name. Around 1978, his teacher was getting old, and Mr. Wang became independent. In the 80s, he found another retired puppeteer Guo and bought his puppetry Box for 80-90 RMB. He found a new group of 6 to perform. Because his new groupmates did not know the old Qin school of singing, he taught himself and changed to the new Qin school. He performed in temple fairs. 


Mr. Wang worked to preserve the old Qin school of singing by asking his group mates to transcribe the scripts during an organized performance of Huining puppetry. When the curator wanted the groups to perform puppetry in the old Qin singing style, he was the only one who knew how. The old Qin school is more urban, relatable, and traditional, while the new school is more embellished and technically demanding. 

A few decades ago, a lot of the villagers left for the cities to pursue work. Because only a few people remained, and the youth started to lose interest in shadow puppetry, fewer temple fairs invited Mr. Wang and his group to perform. To maintain a living, the other group members also left the village for work. Because shadow puppeteers had low incomes, the group disbanded. Because of his handicapped leg, Mr. Wang stayed in the village and conducted farm work.

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