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About the Author
Ken Smith currently divides his time between New York (where he writes for Gramophone magazine) and Hong Kong (where he serves as the Asian–performing arts critic for the Financial Times). He is Co–Music Director of the recordings Dong Folk Songs and Miao Music for China's MediaFusion Group, and he won an ASCAP–Deems Taylor Award in 2008 for his liner notes to Gil Shaham's recording of The Butterfly Lovers Concerto for Violin. Ken is also the author of Fate! Luck! Chance!, published in 2008 by Chronicle Books.

Ancient Paths, Modern Voices Blog

Stringing Me Along

Opening Night

My plans to get a sneak peek at the stars of the Quanzhou Marionette Theater—the 18-inch wooden ones, I mean—got slightly hijacked when the troupe’s president Wang Jingxian phoned to say they were not at their midtown hotel as planned but instead downtown visiting their fellow villager Cai Guo-Qiang, the self-styled “gunpowder artist” who was responsible for (among other stellar events) the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony, where the Chinese rather grandly reminded the world that they invented fireworks.

By the time I raced down to Cai’s East Village studio, the scene had turned into a giant photo-op—not just for the Chinese media but for the players themselves. Cai, it turned out, was in Taiwan preparing for a show, but President Wang and the four senior puppeteers (fellow veterans of the Olympic Opening Ceremony who have all performed in New York before) were hosted for lunch by Cai’s wife, fellow Quanzhou native Hong Hong Wu.

It was hard to figure out who was more honored. While each of the puppeteers took turns being photographed (marionettes in hand) in front of Cai’s artworks—one of which was a recent Quanzhou-inspired piece entitled My Home—Wu herself could hardly take her eyes off her wooden guests.

“I grew up with these puppets,” said Wu, whose grandmother used to live in clear view of the theater. Quanzhou puppetry, which traces its history back at least to the late Tang Dynasty, came to a screeching halt during the Cultural Revolution. When the puppets reappeared after 1976, Wu said, she knew that a terrible decade was finally over. “I haven’t seen the puppets since I left China in 1986,” she said, still beaming wistfully.

Posted by Ken Smith

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Chinese Translation (Traditional Characters)
Chinese Translation (Simplified Characters)