Thoughts arising out of the 21st UNIMA Congress and Festival of the Arts, by Erica Luo. Article written by Dr. Erica Luo, head of research at the Shadow Theatre Museum of China and director of the exhibition presented at the last XXI Congress of UNIMA in Chengdu, at last translated! We appreciate she sent us these courageos and appropriate in this times lines about the important event that took place in her town, with a remarkable critical point of view and future prospects.

Mr. Ji Xiang Shan in his work “On the role and purpose of the museum in the new era,” says: “The nature of traditional museums is defined by four functions: to collect, display, education and research. Currently the main task is to protect museum collections of cultural heritage and to serve society. Since they were born 200 years ago modern museums, their responsibility has been to promote social progress through a rational policy for humanity in this time of world globalization.

Congreso de Unima Chengdu 2012

The Shadow Theatre Museum of China is located in Chengdu and was built in 2006, being the thematic museum with as many collected works of shadows in the world. The museum collects everything related to the Shadow Theatre: the scripts, tools to make shadows, musical instruments, videos of the works of popular authors that relate to the Shadow and Shadow Puppet Theatre. The museum collects hundred thousand shadows figures, with a wide geographical distribution covering more than twenty provinces in China, and covers the period from the middle of the Ming Dynasty (around the fifteenth century) to the present, with a majority of works from the Qing dynasty (seventeenth century to the early twentieth century). It has more than ten thousand puppets collected according to the categories of string, silhouette and glove.

Congreso de Unima Chengdu 2012 - Exposicón

The Shadow Theatre Museum of China, since its inception, has always collected shadow puppets across China, which it is the reason why it is currently the number one in the world for the number of pieces assembled. Sixty thousand of these pieces have become objects of exhibition. In the research of the pieces collected, with the subject of Public Administration of Cultural Heritage in 2008, the research focused on how to protect heritage pieces of The Shadow Theatre Museum of China. This is the most representative research in recent years. Under the new circumstances, while the whole museum sector continues to explore the features and functions of the modern museum, the Museum of Shadow Theatre of China has not ceased to strive in this area. First, the museum has received a generous amount of collections and continues to explore the subjects of research, on the other hand takes care of the sacred responsibility of spreading the art and culture of the Shadows and Puppets to promote their worth and the development of society, being on his service. From this principle, the Shadow Theatre Museum of China in 2008 sought to organize the 21st UNIMA Congress and Arts Festival. This was held in May 2012 in Chengdu.

UNIMA is an international NGO of UNESCO, founded in 1920 in Prague, the Czech capital, and now based in the French town of Charleville-Mezières. It has currently 75 state members. This is the first international organization registered in the arts sector, dedicated to the art of puppetry. Therefore represents an important milestone in the history of world culture. Its goal is to implement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a union of all peoples through art, the common pursuit of human values ​​and understanding and peace among humans, to ensure the transmission of tradition of the ancient arts of peoples and promote awareness of their protection. So far, there have already been issues twenty-one UNIMA Congress and Arts Festival.

Congreso de Unima Chengdu 2012

The 21st UNIMA Congress and Arts Festival began on May 27th and ended on June 3rd, lasting for eight days. There, attendants mainly discussed the work plan of UNIMA for the next four years, a colorful selection of high quality Chinese shadow puppets was presented and an academic symposium and the Festival of Arts was hosted. 65 artistic puppet groups from 45 countries of the 5 continents participated in it and 36 groups of the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, with a total of over 700 performances open to the public.

It is easy to see the Shadow Theatre Museum of China has a sacred duty to spread the culture of the arts of Shadow Puppets and to promote their development by the progress of society and in the service of this, a liability matching in a surprising way with the aim of UNIMA. It is for this reason that the Shadow Theatre Museum of China has prepared meticulously for the past four years this international event. Reviewing the encounter, we observe an achievement without coming, and some unwanted details:

1 – The initiative of the request to the Congress of UNIMA and Arts Festival

The Shadow Theatre Museum of China, with the support of the government of Chengdu, to celebrating the International Festival of Arts and Shadow Puppets, is meeting its educational responsibilities to the people, not only for education but also for spread knowledge of the culture and arts of shadow puppet; was responsible also for training of managerial staff, helping to make the planning work to promote the dissemination of culture and arts of shadow puppet .

2 – About Unima Congress

The Assembly has re-elected President and Secretary General, and elected the 18 Audit and Executive Committee. Commissions have been established and appointed their respective presidents: Rules Commission, Asia-Pacific Commission, European Commission, North American Commission, Commission on International Arts Festival, Audit and Communication Comission, Research Commission, Commission on Cooperation, Therapeutic Commission, Training Commission and Women Commission. It has also created the new Cultural Heritage Commission. They have also been elected the 10 independent representatives. In the Assembly, each one has expressed freely and through a wide range of topics. It has missed the presence of representatives of the African zone, with the development of culture and arts of shadow puppets in the African region as one of the issues that most concern and which has been discussed. The work of Iran, as a state member of UNIMA along with other partners, has been praised and received special tips for the Assembly. After the assembly, the presidents of each of the committees have convened their own meeting with the members of each of them, in order to plan the work for the next four years.

Congreso de Unima Chengdu 2012

3 – About the special puppets and shadows exhibition

The special puppets and shadows exhibition presented in Chengdu was divided in two parts: of puppet with 200 exhibits, and of shadows with 1000 figures. There were two settings, one for the art group of shadows of Chengdu, and one for the company and individual traditional art of Taian Shandong FanZhengAn. The collection and its display are the basic functions of the museum, having received high praise from the participating countries, by the abundance of the collections and the elegant design of the exhibition.

Congreso de Unima Chengdu 2012 - Exposicón

4 – About the Seminar

The seminar was chaired by two senior scholars, with a 15-minute lecture each and small talk for the exchange of views. This seminar took a low public participation, which is a shame. (see photo)

Congreso de Unima Chengdu 2012 - Seminario

The research work on puppets and shadows is one of the most important tasks of the Shadow Theatre Museum of China. In my personal opinion, should be invited to more people, all monographs published scholars with regard to shadow theater and puppets should have been invited.

According to the summaries, the seminar involved a total of 22 experts and scholars. For example: Professor Sam Somar of America has talked about “the application of electricity in Javanese shadow theater”, Xianglin Li, professor of Sichuan University, has spoken on “puppets in SiChuan according the perspective of the protection of non-material cultural heritage”. Because of limited time, the experts have not had enough time to fully express their arguments. It was proposed that after the seminar, to get together all papers for publication.

5 – About the Arts Festival

On May 27th, the Arts Festival began with the opening ceremony on the site of non-material cultural heritage. The opening ceremony lasted 40 minutes, was “the meeting of the five continents puppets in China” as its main theme, formed in turn by five parts: “On the arrival of the guests the flowers bloom”, “The Dance of tulle and butterflies love “, “foreign style”, “the movement of the stations in shadows” and “A thousand puppets compete to the sublime”. The ceremony, with passionate artistic performances from each group, expressed perfectly the cultural characteristics of the puppets of different countries and regions. Representatives of groups acting, actors from other groups and a few representatives of the people, attended the opening ceremony and enjoyed this great celebration of culture.

Congreso de Unima Chengdu 2012 - Opening Ceremony

However, as Puppet Festival, has ignored the most important group: the population. When writer of these lines returned to the main stage of the Festival of Arts, were not acting wonderful puppet shows or art groups of countries that were taken in decorated cars. Only two scenarios were presenting shows according to established schedules. Some of the participants who returned to the main stage they thought they would find the time to act, what not, something very stupid. Only the Opening Ceremony, in which all representatives of each state could show to the public the elegance of his puppets from different regions, can be called a true celebration of puppets. But this tempting dish art that began with so much momentum, declined later, which was a shame.

Part of the Festival performances represented on theater stages, namely Chinese representations I could see, the texts were only subtitled in Chinese. Being an International Festival, should have been presented in two languages​​, English and Chinese. Furthermore, there was little time and few occasions for the exchange of views between artists, being all busy in their representations, the only real opportunity that took place one night at the Congress, at 21h. It thus lost an opportunity that only comes every four years, which is a shame.

Congreso de Unima Chengdu 2012 - Opening Ceremony

In short, by boundaries of time and place, the UNIMA Congress and Arts Festival are still far from achieving a true exchange and full dissemination of the arts of puppetry and shadow. But it was an important opportunity to reflect on what the objectives and functions of Theatre Arts Museum of China in the development of arts heritage of puppetry and shadow in the distant future. Besides enjoying the rich abundance of collections and a thorough study of the traditional arts of shadow puppets, the Museum should also be a point of transit and exchange between cultures and arts of shadows puppets in the world. Regarding heritage and arts of Chinese shadow puppets, it is important to disseminate to the outside and introduce in China foreing shadow puppets and then show them off to society.

To this end, the following points should be followed:

1- First, starting with collections and shadow puppets existing in the museum, make a thorough investigation to be transferred to the region of origin equity to restore traditional culture there different parts of territory as every lifestyle , under the relevant social studies. Getting so dead figures are transformed into a collection living culture and can later be transferred to the public.

Congreso de Unima Chengdu 2012 - Exposicón

2- Secondly, popular arts groups or large public art companies, as far as possible to contribute to the healthy development of Chinese shadow and puppet theatre. They are heirs and developmental expression of traditional Chinese puppets and shadows. These groups and arts companies find their roots in the Theatre Museum of Arts of China, and they work give life to the heritage collections of the Museum.

3 – Third, the UNIMA established as a base or starting point, under compliance to ensure the development of the cultural arts of traditional shadow puppets and integrating them into reality, should be also to ensure the exchange and dissemination of these with the international cultural arts and shadow puppets.

The 21st Congress of UNIMA and Arts Festival has lowered its curtain, but the mission of culture and shadow puppet of the Museum of Theatre Arts of China has just begun. There is a long way to be done.


  1. QiXiang Shan, “reflection on the functions and objectives of museums in the New Era “[J] Museum of China, fourth edition, 2010
  2. QiXiang Shan, “About the social objective of the museums “[J]. China Cultural Heritage, 2011(01)
  3. Yi Chen, “The current museum functions “[N]. East Newspaper, 2005-9-5
  4. BingWu Cao, “The fundamental value of museums “[N] Chinese Heritage Newspaper, 2007-12-28
  5. Unima Congress.
  6. Opening Ceremony Program

Erica Luo

Erica Luo.

Graduated from SiChuan University. Master.
Engage in Artistic Archaeology research.
Representative of International Cooperation Department in National Shadow Puppetry Museum in ChengDu.
UNIMA Councillor, Member of UNIMA Research Commission