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An intergenerational tale of endurance and passion

Li Wei, a shadow puppet artist from Jinan, and his father, Li Xingtang, the only inheritor of the Jinan shadow puppet intangible cultural heritage in Shandong province, recently completed making about 500 puppets based on characters in four classic Chinese novels – Water Margin, A Dream of Red Mansions, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Journey to the West.

This endeavor took the father and son duo a whopping 57 years to complete.

According to Li Wei, his father started conceptualizing the Jinan shadow puppet version of characters in the four classic Chinese novels in 1966. However, faced with several challenges, including the lack of cowhide, the main material used to make the puppets, Li Xingtang only started making the characters in Water Margin in 1991.

The next year, Li Xingtang completed the production of the 108 warriors mentioned in the novel and received praise for his work. He then started work on the puppets for the characters in A Dream of Red Mansions. Two years later, his collection of more than 70 characters was exhibited at the Baotu Spring scenic area.

In 2003, Li Xingtang completed the character design for Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but his poor health prevented him from doing more.

Eager to help his father achieve his goal, Li Wei had to learn about the craft before taking over the task. Years later, Li Wei succeeded in creating a collection of more than 70 shadow puppets of characters in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. He even made another set that was colored.

After his father passed away, Li Wei started work on the shadow puppets for Journey to the West. Despite taking five years to complete the collection, Li Wei was dissatisfied with his work and decided to start all over. It was only recently that he finally finished the collection of a whopping 230 puppets.

Li Wei showcases puppet characters from A Dream of Red Mansions. [Photo/Jinan Daily]

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