Shadow and Light

April 17, 2017


Chinese shadow puppets at the Museu da Marioneta, Lisbon

After the death of his beloved, Emperor Wu’s grief consumed him and he no longer wanted to rule. He could not bear to leave his bed, let alone tend to the nation’s affairs. As the country teetered on the brink of chaos, he offered a reward to anyone who would bring his lover back to him. Upon hearing this, a wise man carefully cut out a silhouette of the departed woman and displayed it behind a white cloth for the emperor, who smiled for the first time in years. The sight of his beloved restored his desire to live and prosperity returned to his people. This two thousand-year-old myth from the Han dynasty not only describes the origin of shadow puppets, it is a reminder that art can mitigate grief and even deny death.