2006 Trip to China

One of the greatest “cultural treasures” in Quanzhou–in all of Fujian, really–is the Quanzhou Marionette Troupe, part of a Chinese marionette history that goes back 2,000 years. If you ever take a trip to Quanzhou, the Quanzhou Marionette Troupe’s training facility and performance hall is a “must” for your itinerary. These Marionettes are to Quanzhou as the Space Needle is to Seattle, as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, as Gun Racks are to Pickup Trucks in Texas….

I’m fortunate in that one of my former student’s in-laws live and have an optical shop just a short walk from the Troupe’s small campus, so we were able to arrange a private tour and demonstration on fairly short notice. (You can do the same; I’ll point you to how in a follow-up post.)

You have to understand, though, that this marionette art is far more than fancy puppetry. Some of the marionettes have up to 36 strings to manipulate, and they’re all important, but a master puppeteer can bring them to life. And I don’t mean just “making them walk like real people,” but making you feel that there are real emotions and unique personalities coming from each of the figures. And real, independent thoughts. Sometimes really evil independent thoughts. Like they remember some Opium War atrocity and are thinking of ways to exact their revenge on you.

Anyway, in a follow-up post, I’ll take you on a tour of some of the marionette display cases and rooms, but here are a few other pictures from our visit to set the stage, so to speak.

The Troupe’s training and office building, which are located at No. 24 Tong Zheng Lane, Quanzhou, Fujian Provice:

The entrance to the Troupe’s performing hall:

Mr. Xia Rong Feng, the Quanzhou Marionette Troupe’s Vice Director of Performers, demonstrates a marionette technique for us on the exquisite performance hall’s stage:

Another view of the performance stage:

A table full of banners in one of the troupe’s award rooms:

Next time: Meet the marionettes up close….

The Definitive Guide to Quanzhou Marionettes
Marionette Theatre in Quanzhou (Sinica Leidensia) (Sinica Leidensia)

From the 1990’s to 2003 the author followed four marionette theatre companies in the Quanzhou area. Based on this unique fieldwork the author describes both the theatrical and social context of the marionette theatre. He shows it as a complex entity in which elements of religion, ritual, language, history and social structure all come together. The study includes an analysis of the companies’ organization, libretti, music and puppets, as well as of the social and religous context of the performances and their ritual aspects. Its important insights into the functioning of a traditional form of theatre in the economically advanced region of southern Fujian provide a fascinating window on contemporary China.

About the Author
Robin E. Ruizendaal, Ph.D. (1999) in Sinology, Leiden University, is director of the Lin Liu-Hsin Puppet Theatre Museum in Taipei, Taiwan. He has published extensively on Asian puppet theatre.

This oddly titled post actually serves as the wrap-up to our three-part “Visit to Qingyuan Mountain/Old Man Rock” series.

Obvious premise: Put a foreigner in China–and by foreigner we mean a non-Far-East-Asian person–and the person is going to be stared at. A lot. Known fact, no need to dwell on it.

But in my nearly 14-year relationship with China, I’ve passed now through three types of staring. And it’s that third one we’re going to highlight today. Disclaimer: This of course reflects my own experience. I’m not, say, a woman with one African and one Latino parent, so yeah, we’re talking just Dumb White Guy in China stuff.

OK, then.

First type of staring: You’re a single Dumb White Guy in China. People stare at you sometimes like you’re a circus freak.

Second type of staring: You have a Chinese girlfriend, fiancee or wife. The staring sometimes takes on a different dimension: He must be a predator of some sort, deceiving our sister there into some evil foreigner type of relationship, or She must be a Gold-digger, looking for that green card, or…You go, girl!…planning to cheat him out of his extensive Lao Wai fortune, all of which he’s probably carrying around in that faded green backpack.

Now on to the third type of staring. I touched on this in an earlier blog entry, “Gawking on Gulang Yu: The Revenge Photos,” but here we are again.

Third type of staring: People stare not so much at you, or your wife, but at your kids.

Now, it’s fine if they look at your children in a pleasant sort of way, but when they stare en masse, and for far too long, as Jimi Hendrix put it, “That ain’t too cool.”

So there we were, my daughters and I, enjoying ourselves in front of the Lao Zi statue at Qingyuan Mountain.

I took some pictures of the statue, and was then taking some pictures of my girls, like this one:

But when I was about to take a later shot, I noticed that an entire line of tourists, like crows on a telephone wire, had caught sight of my youngsters and were staring at them like they were witnessing some sort of optical illusion, and simply could not avert their eyes:

They look amiable enough in this shot, but this staring went on for several minutes. We went here and there, and this group of people just followed us with their eyes the whole way. Yes, tour bus people, my daughters are adorable. And smart–they do vector calculus just for fun. And they’re extraordinarily well behaved. But C’mon, don’t overdo it.

If you see them, have some courtesy, have some sympathy, and some taste. Use all your well-learned politesse, or I’ll lay your tour bus to waste.

Even the girls, who generally learned to shrug this stuff off quickly, were starting to feel a bit uncomfortable.

I know what you might be thinking, so Yes, we could have left, but why should we? We made quite the effort to get there. And Yes, I could have politely asked these people to stop, but prior experience suggests they would not have done so, and it would have required taking the girls even closer to these folks. And Yes, I could have said some abrupt things to them to make a point, but that’s not my style–or at least not the sort of thing I want to demonstrate in front of a 4-year old and a 2-year old–so I just tried to keep the kids active and focused on other things…which of course these people ended up finding even more stare-worthy.

Finally, this group got up to leave. But one woman in particular just wouldn’t friggin’ blink or stop staring at the girls even as they were on their way out. If there had been a stone wall in front of her, she would have bumped into it. And I admit, by this point, I would have broken out into evil, evil laughter when she did.

As they came by us, I tried to make the point by taking this woman’s picture–that has sometimes brought people to their senses, even garnered an apology or two–but not even that phased her.

So here she is, Ms. Orange Jacket, who could not mind her manners and instead STARED AT MY KIDS LIKE A STUNNED BUNNY FOR TEN MINUTES STRAIGHT. This has won her a spot here in this next Revenge Photo, where you can now pretend to stare at her unabashedly for as long as you’d like:

Have a nice day.

Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated

Continuing on with photos from our visit to Old Man Rock, then, here are a few meant to show you some great views of the stone carving itself, but also what the typical scene around the statue looks like.

Which is to say, ol’ Lao Zi spends his days looking out on a steady stream of Chinese tourists and the occasional Lao Wai, and has probably has more photos snapped of him each day than Brad Pitt, Angela Jolie, Jennifer Aniston, and Vince Vaughn combined.

And I must say, for being over 1,000 years old, the old fellow is looking remarkably good–that Thick Face, Stone Heart approach to life is to thank, no doubt.

Make your way through the entryway and up the footpath, and here’s your first sight of the Old Stone Man:

If our visit is any indication, one tour group after another comes along to take their pictures in front of the effigy:

Just after I clicked this one off, the two ladies on the left lost their footing and had to head back down to base camp before gearing up rejoin their comrades on the summit:

If you wait long enough for crowds to thin, you can catch a decent shot:

Here’s a close-up for you; I didn’t even bother to PhotoShop out the moss and lichen:

Next time: A personal PostScript to our visit….

My favorite book on Taoism/Daoism:
The Tao of Pooh

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