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Google Launches Interactive Shadow Puppet App

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Google Arts & Culture has launched an interactive web app that brings the art of Chinese shadow puppetry (皮影戏 pi ying xi) to your mobile phone.

The story-driven app uses technology from TensorFlow to capture and interpret the user’s hand movements. Players use their hands to form silhouettes, unlocking features of the plot and different endings, and making their way through storylines such as the famous Legend of the White Snake

The app is a collaboration between Google Arts & Culture, the Central Academy of Fine Arts, the China Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Alliance, and the artist Wu Jianan. Together, they worked to digitize over 500 high-definition images from shadow plays and create 10 different exhibitions. 

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Google’s search engine is notoriously blocked by China’s internet regulators, but the company is still active in the mainland through other avenues such as translation software and corporate investments.

Chinese pi ying xi is very different to the Western conception of shadow puppetry. Rather than just using one’s hands to cast shadows on a wall, pi ying xi is an elaborate form of theatre where performers use intricately constructed, colorful leather puppets, and is usually accompanied by live music and song. The art form has been called one of the first forms of motion picture.

You can try Google’s shadow puppet app for yourself here.

Allison Jiang
    Allison Jiang is a Baltimore-based writer interested in the intersection of art and culture. She is passionate about big dogs, social justice, and stand-up comedy, among other things.