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June 23, 2014

Hou Yi and the Ten Suns: A Chinese Folktale

Production and animation: Aurélie Beatley
Narration: Karlie Leung

The story of the archer Hou Yi goes back to at least 2000 BCE. In some versions, it is a pourquoi tale explaining how the sun and moon came to govern the day and the night. One version says that the nine suns Hou Yi shot fell into the sea, forming a rock that evaporates the water around it—the reason the sea never overflows.

Animator Aurélie Beatley had only “a cursory background” in Chinese folklore prior to starting this project, but after meticulous research she based her part-digital, part-hand-drawn characters on the movements of Chinese shadow puppets.

“Folklore is really important, and you want to do other people’s stories justice,” Beatley says. She went through over a dozen library books and spent a few weeks researching Han Chinese imagery just “so I could get all the shapes right. It’s a combination of looking at modern photos, for the architecture, and looking at paintings and drawings to get a feel for the atmosphere.”

To discover more stories—told with words, dance, music, and even puppets—check out the daily performances in the Moonrise Pavilion and throughout the China: Tradition and the Art of Living program at the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

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