Taishan's one-man show
For many years, Fan had been bothered by the deficiencies in the traditional one-man performance. He had promised the old master he would study and improve the techniques.
Traditionally, drums and gongs were hung by the sides of the canvas. When the puppets were being manipulated, the instruments stayed silent, and when they were being played, the puppets had to stay still. Only the wooden knocker, operated by the feet, could be played while the puppets were moving.
Fan's teacher, Liu, always had one or two assistants helping him and he had felt guilty about not being truly a one-man show. In 1999, on his deathbed, he had made Fan promise to recover the spirit of the solo performance.
Fan Zheng'an teaches people how to play shadow puppet show.[Photo by Wang Qian / China Daily]
"My teacher had eight apprentices, but he passed down all his puppets to me and only my name was engraved on his tombstone," Fan says, tears gathering in his eyes. "That was a huge trust."
In the years following, Fan devoted himself to finding the best solution. Inspired by the modern car's clutch and gears, he finally worked out a mechanical device that can connect all the percussion instruments, and can be operated by footwork.
"I did not add or remove any instruments - I simply moved them from above the table to below the table," he says with pride.