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Taiwanese Glove Puppet Theater Exhibt at Victoria and Albert Museum September 8, 2018 - January 12, 2019


Table of Contents 4 Introduction

Roots in Mainland China........................8 Glove Puppet Theater in Taiwan.............12

14 Traditional Characters

Cheng: male..........................................17 Dan: female...........................................18 Jing: warrior...........................................19 Chou: clown...........................................20 Tza: monster and special creature.......21

22 Puppet making process 28 Puppet Costumes 36 Puppeteers in performance

Master puppeteer in Taiwan..................39

42 Stage styles

Outdoor temple performances.............42 Indoor performances.............................46 From the stage to TV shows..................48 5


is a form of glove puppet Potehi theater with live music that originated in southern Fujian province in China. Over a period of more than two centuries Chinese migrants took their religious belief system and related performing arts with them to Southeast Asia. Potehi is still performed in many of different ethnic Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, influenced by the local sociopolitical climate, cultural context and changes in the entertainment sector. At the same time, glove puppet theater in Taiwan has gone through dramatic changes over the past century.



Roots in Mainland China In Asia, puppets are symbols of a local or national identity. The need to deal with concepts of death, disease and many other natural phenomena resulted in different belief systems. Human started with these religious beliefs through the making of paintings and statues. This resulted in many expressions: music, dance, mediums, rituals with masked persons and, of course, also puppets. Puppets are logical vehicles for expressing eternal truths of beliefs as they are unchanging and can be handed down from generation to generation. Apart from their role in religion, puppets were starting to be used in theatrical performances in China over two thousand years ago.

Carrying pole theater performance in Peking ( Beijing ) in the 1930s ( photography by Hedda Morrison)

China had documented puppet theater culture during the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), and glove puppet theater developed into exquisite forms of performance in Fujian. Glove puppet theater was and still is an elaborate form of theater by the design of its puppets and stages.


The roots of puppet theater have been

A poem by Liu Kezhuang, does imply that

traced by Sun Kaidi to the Han dynasty (206

puppet theater performances exist in the

BCE-220 CE). Until the Southern Song, the

thirteenth century. In his poems, he uses

term kuilei was used without any adjective

puppet theater as a metaphor. The first two

specifying its content, and kuilei was not only

lines of poem ‘The First Day of 1259’ are:

a label for performances with puppets but a

The opera costumes have long since been taken off

term that also encompassed other forms of

There are also no cloth bag or rod baskets

entertainment. Early sources give a vivid account of the existence of puppet theater in an urban environment. There is a division into different genres in Kaifeng and Hangzhou of the Song dynasty era: water puppets, shadow play, rod puppets, meat puppets, string puppets and powder puppets. Carrying pole theater performance in Peking ( Beijing ) in the 1930s ( photography by Hedda Morrison)


After this very interesting poem, there is hardly any information on the existence of glove puppet theatre in Fujian. Glove puppet theater starts to appear in several sources in the eighteen century, though merely mentioning the existence of the genre.

An outdoor puppet theater performance on the road in Taiwan.

The waves of migration to Southeast Asia that started after the Opium Wars in the early 1840s also meant that glove puppet theater An actor is praying for a smooth performance to the god of the theater in Taiwan. (from Olfert Dapper, Gedenkwardig bedryf der Nederlandsche Oost-Indische Maetschappy, op de kusten en in het Keizerrijk van Taising of Sina, Amsterdam: Jacob van Meurs, 1670 )


companies found their way to established Chinese communities in British Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies.

During the Qing dynasty, the Dutch sinologist J.J.M. de Groot (1851-1921) spent several years in southern Fujian, where he collected glove puppets, now in the collection of the Museum Volkenkunde in the Leiden, the Netherlands. These puppets show a high level of sophistication in both carving and costumes. large number of performing companies created a carving and costume industry in Fujian that catered to Taiwanese companies. Puppets were produced as toys for children, so they could re-enact the plays on stage. In the twentieth century, there were embroidery workshops in Quanzhou. They produced embroidered cloths for religious ceremonies, effigies of gods and puppet costumes. The patterns were made by famous local painters and copied onto cloth. One of a glove puppet in traditional style.


Glove Puppet Theater in Taiwan In 1624, the 38-year rule of Taiwan by the

At the start of the eighteenth century, large

Dutch, it is from this period that there

scale immigration of people from mainland

have written records in Taiwan. Theatrical

China began and with that came the growth

performances are mentioned as ‘wayangen

of Taiwan from an aborigianl tribal society

en toneelspelen’ and it seems that both

into a Han Chinese dominated area of the

opera and puppet theater were performed.

Chinese empire. In the nineteenth century, glove puppet companies becom active in Taipei and in the south. Most of the puppets during this period were produced in Fujian and sold in Taiwan. Some early puppeteers included Tong Quan and Chen Jinkui. Some companies must have established themselves much earlier. The family of the late puppet master Huang Haidai established itself in the middle of the nineteenth century in Yunlin county.

Musicians playing in the back of the stage in Taiwan.



Traditional Characters

Traditional Characters There are many kinds of characters in traditional glove puppetry performances, which makes it extremely attractive. Basically, it can be classified into five categories, which are called Cheng, Dan, Jing, Chou and Tza. In addition, these categories can also be subdivided by their ages and personalities.


Cheng This character normally present as male characters. They can be divided into two categories by their personalities, Wu Cheng and Wen Cheng. Wu Cheng, are more likely to be natural and unrestrained. They tend to fight with each other in the show. On the other hand, Wen Cheng, are the gentlemen and are mostly the main male characters in the show.


Dan This character usually presents as female characters in Potehi and devided into three categories, which are Cheng Dan, Hua Dan and Wu Dan. Cheng Dan mostly played as main female characters in the show. Hua Dan mostly have a saucy personality, so they are minor actress in the show. Wu Dan, which are similar like Wu Cheng, played as bodyguards or warriors.


Jing This character is often called as “Flower Faces,� which have the most beautiful and stunning face among all the puppets in the show. They play as warriors and can differentiate their dirpositions by their color of faces. For example, puppets with black faces usually mean they have irritable and impulse personality, while the ones with red faces normally are honest and courageous. Moreover, the ones with green faces are usually present as robbers or gangsters.


Chou This character and can divided into three categories, which are Male Chou, Female Chou and Wu Chou. Also, Potehi usually placed those less important roles as Chou, so some puppets present as stupid sidekicks and they dressed ridiculous just to make the audience laugh.


Tza These characters are the ones that cannot divided into those four categories mentioned before, such as monsters, gods or special creatures. Their styles are created by their own special power or personalities, such as horrifying monsters that have scary faces and some Chinese Gods that have dragons or monkey faces with human bodies.


Puppet Making Process

Puppet Making We can guess the characters through the

glove puppets’ appearances and clothes. For examples, puppets’ hands have two categories, “Wen Shou” and “Wu Shou.” “Wen Shou” have two parts and they usually take fans, while “Wu Shou” usually take weapons or they make fist hand gestures. Sometimes, their eyebrows are one of recognisable features as well.


There have several process to finish

making glove puppet heads during the

process. In the book Jang Jung Tian Di Kuang– Taiwanese Folk Opera–Potehi written about that each carvers had different sequences of making glove puppet heads. First, they cut camphor wood into the size of puppet heads. Then, they measured their facial features and carved them. Secondly, they sticked cotton papers onto the woods. Third, they put yellow soils on them and polished them after they were dried. Next, they drew their faces with gold, siviler, cinnabar, garcinia and ink. Lastly, they finished their decorations, such as hairpins or beards. 27

Heads of Glove Puppets Most traditional glove puppets imported from Quanzhou. They are famous for “Hua Yuan Tou,” which made by Jia Zhou Jiang and “Tu Men Tou” are made by Liang Szu Huang and Tsai Szu Huang. The “Tu Men Tou”,means better qualities of puppet heads, while the worse quality ones were called as “Tu Tou.” In the 1950s, because of the martial laws in Taiwan, which could not import puppets from Quanzhou. Therefore, glove puppetry companies started to find carvers in Taiwan. Shi Sen Hsu is one of the famous carver and his glove puppets’ heads were called as “A Sen Tou.” He made glove puppets for several famous characters for Pili Shows. As the revolution of Taiwanese glove puppetry, the appearance of puppets change constantly and unique. Nowadays, glove puppets’ faces become humanlike and the size are getting larger and larger. 28


Puppet Costumes


The Glove Puppetry is the same as other traditional Chinese Opera, there are no serious criticisms, so styles are mixed by Tang Dynasty (618-907), Song Dynasty (960-1279), Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), Ming Dynasty (13681644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The clothes have different styles depend on the puppet’s gender, characteristic and status. Most of them are made by satin, then embroidered with colorful silk yarns and decorated with pearls and golden strings.

Traditional costume embroidery ( Taipei Asian Puppet Theater Museum / by Lucie Kelche)



Costumes of Glove Puppets The costumes of traditional Chinese glove puppets mostly are formed by three parts: body, clothes and hats. The body contains head, body, arms, legs and feet, which will be decorated on the wood. The clothes are the costumes worn on the puppets, such as shirts, dresses and pants. The hats are one of the most important part of their costumes. They can clearly represent which categories of characters. The hats contain helmets , crowns, turbans and a wide variety of head coverings worn for both male and female characters.


Puppeteers in performance

How Puppeteers Control Puppets A glove puppeteer is required to learn many things, such as mimic the tones, phraseology of different ages and gender characters. They manipulate puppets to perform complex actions, ensures that each puppet should perform its own style and tones, and they needs to be a storyteller as well, which is able to tell thousands of ancient stories from a single mouth, and create a million troops with ten fingers.

Perspective of drawings to tell how to control glove puppets.

A hand to control glove puppet in perspective.


Master Puppeteer in Taiwan Xi Huang Chen was born in 1931, the oldest

At the age of 80, he preserves the beauty

son of Taiwan’s legendary puppeteer, Li Tien-lu.

of the traditional puppet theater, which is

He learned the art of puppetry by observing

now rarely seen. He has been generous

his father from the age of 13. “I watched and

in teaching puppetry, accepting all who

studied about puppet theater, from carving,

embrace this traditional art. He continues

acting, directing, and writing storylines to

to devote his time to the art of puppetry,

designing the costumes. These were just some

in hopes of igniting the interests of young

of the many things I picked up over the years,”


he recalled. After training and establishing a troupe of puppeteers named after himself, they performed frequently to share the beauty of traditional puppetry with the public. As a result of his outstanding achievements in both wood-carving and performance, he was highly regarded as a “National Arts Preserver” by the Council for Cultural Affairs.

Xi Huang Chen is performing glove puppets in the interviews.


For over sixty years, he trained a large num-

He created a new performing style, drawing

ber of puppeteers who themselves created

audiences of all ages and social classes. He

schools; as a result, he is the godfather of

broke the stereotypes of traditional per-

more than three hundred troupes of glove

formance with his new themes and sound

puppetry in Taiwan’s Chinese diaspora com-

effects. One of his sons, Huang Tsun-Hsiong,

munity. Since the 1970s, the sons and grand-

promoted further innovations in perfor-

sons of this maestro took over the troupe

mance, which are continued to the next

and moved performances into Taiwanese


television. In 2012, the Ministry of Culture granted Chen the National Cultural Heritage Conservation Award in recognition of his efforts to pass on traditional arts to the next generation. Those who are interested in the history of local glove puppetry can watch this special exhibition to get a better understanding of Chen’s upbringing, artistic career, extraordinary achievements, and major contributions Xi Huang Chen was performing the indoor glove puppet performances.


to the traditional arts.

Xi Huang Chen controls glove puppets in the interview.


Stage styles

Outdoor Temple Performances In 1895, Japan took control of Taiwan

It was at the Sino-Japanese War in 1937

and did not curtail glove puppet theater

that outdoor temple performances were

performances. All famous Taiwanese

strictly limited and only a handful of

companies were founded during this

companies were allowed to continue to

period: Xiao Xiyuan, Yi Wan Ran and so

perform, albeit indoor theaters. These

on. These puppet theater companies with

actions by the Japanese government were

a master, an assistant and musicians who

part of the process of Janpanification of

were not connected to the company.

Taiwan. This forced development would be essential for future development of glove puppet theater in Taiwan. The companies performed with recorded Japanese and Western music, and were presented in a mixture of Japanese and Taiwanese spoken languages. The stages were large clothpainted constructions and this situation lasted until 1945.

Perspective drawing to tell how to control glove puppets.



Indoor Performances In 1945, Taiwan became part of the

The puppet theater and religious festivals

Republic of China and was ruled by the

were controlled, curtailed and scrutinised,

Guomingdang, whose armed forces were

but never subject to the intense govern-

involved in civil war with the armies of the

ment control and bans as in the mainland.

Chinese Communist Party. Puppeteers

The content of puppet theater plays was

such as Li Tian Lu, Huang Hai Dai and

based on Chinese history and not offensive

numerous others started performing again

to the regime; on the contrary, they even

in the religious context of temple festivals.

confirmed traditional Chinese values.

After the retreat from mainland China in 1949, the culture of the mainland elite was reckoned to be the shining example of national Chinese culture. Local Taiwanese culture was regarded as far less important. However, Guomingdang rule would never reach the excesses of repression, executions and mass killings that took place in communist China after 1949. Indoor performance by Taipei Puppet Theater at National Center.


In the 1950s, Taiwanese puppet theater

In the 1950s, golden rays glove puppet

went into a period of unprecedented

theater established itself as the major

growth and development, moving away

form of glove puppet theater and the

from traditional southern Fujian glove

most widespread form of performing art

puppet styles into a distinctive Taiwanese

in Taiwan. This wave of popularity would

style, best simplified by the golden rays

gain new heights with the introduction of

puppet theater. The moment when the

televised puppet theater.

name was coined and the genre started is lost in time. After the withdrawal from China to Taiwan in 1949, outdoor temple performances were banned. Indoor theater performances were permitted and two most important southern glove puppet companies, Wu Zhou Yuan and Xin Xing Ge, moved into theaters and developed innovative styles of performance.

Indoor performance by Yun Lin puppet theater.


From the Stage to TV Shows In the 1960s, television was introduced in Taiwan. Television programmes broadcast in Taiwanese were becoming popular, a phenomenon that seemed worrying to the authorities, which then limited television broadcast in Taiwanese. Almost every Taiwanese who lived during this period vividly remembers Huang Junxiong’s TV puppet shows. Huang Junxiong, the son of Huang Haidai, is a famous puppeteer and credited as the father of the golden rays style of puppet theater. His puppets epic of roaming martial scholar Shi Yanwen and the Dragon Lady of the Bitter Sea, captured the hearts of the Taiwanese audience.


A poster of some famous characters in Pili TV shows.

The television puppet shows were performed in Taiwanese by Huang Junxiong himself, and the characters were original. They began airing in the 1970s, but after four years, they were stopped because they disrupted the normal routine of agrcultural and industrial work and thus shook the foundations of the nation. In attempting to control puppet theater performances, the Guomingdang was following the same line as imperial officials had taken a thousand years before. But Shi Yan Wen had already become a national hero and nothing could stop the popularity of the televised puppets. Moreover, their performances had sown the seeds of love for puppet theater for a generation of Taiwanese schoolchildren, as well as adults. Chun hsiung Huang, the son of famous puppeteer Hai Dai Huang, holding puppet made by Pili company.


After the lifting of martial law in 1987, there was the beginning of a period of local Taiwanese cultural hype, with puppeteers gaining national and international status.On a popular level, the intellectual interest in puppet theater by reasearchers was overshadowed by the success of Pili Puppeteer Chun Hsiung Huang (right) and his son Li Gun Huang (left) took this picture before the performance in national theater & concert hall in Taipei, Taiwan.

Televised puppet theater influenced the golden rays outdoor puppet shows. After the 1970s, the golden rays shows became extensive, with more elaborate lighting, sound effects, exploding puppets, smoke cannons and so on. It became ultimate postmodern performance into which any musical or visual element could be incorporated. 50

International Multimedia from Yunlin. Huang Qianghua and Huang Wenze, sons of Huang Junxiong, started making TV programmes in 1983. They started out with the Shi Yanwen series of their father, but over the years built a puppet empire that does not have an equal anywhere in the world. Pili built the largest puppet film studio, where production work continues around the clock.

through plastic surgery all over Asia. Unlike other Taiwanese culture, Pili puppets have not been heavily influenced by Japanese or traditional Chinese models. The puppets create a link with Japanese cosplay culture in which people dress up as their favorite characters. This is why Pili is embraced by young people.

People are filming TV shows in Pili company in Yun Lin County.

Pili rode the wave of interest in Taiwanese culture and bulit its empire using mass media. The popularity of Pili attributed to several factors. Its language is Taiwanese and the puppets are original creations, as opposed to southern Fujian puppets. The puppets follow Asian concepts of beauty, with features such as pointed chins and long noses that have been popularised

The process of making Pili TV shows.


Victoria and Albert Museum September 8, 2018 - January 12, 2019

Glove puppet characters Cheng, Dan,

NAL Centre Room

Jing, Chou, Tza:

Victoria and Albert Museum

Collection Happy Puppetry Company (www.bodehi.com.tw)

Organizer: Pei Ju Shih Chief curator: Pei Ju Shih Exhibition planning & execution: Pei Ju Shih Photography: Pei Ju Shih Admission: free Open hours: Daily: 10.00 – 17.45 Friday: 10.00 – 22.00 Address: Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL Phone: +44 (0)20 7942 2000 Email: hello@vam.ac.uk

Puppet making process photos: Collection Yenching Woodcraft Company (http://yenching.coco1490.com) Customs of glove puppets: Collection KnowTaiwan (http://knowledge.teldap.tw) Master of Puppeteer, Xi Huang Chen: Collection Yang Li-Chou Historic puppet theater photos: Collection Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theater Museum (http://www.taipeipuppet.com) Pili puppet TV show puppets: Collection Pili Company (https://drama. pili.com.tw)



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Glove Puppet Theater  

Catalog for exhibition of Taiwanese Glove Puppet Theater. For more details, check out: https://peijushihdesign.com/project/glove-puppet-thea...

Glove Puppet Theater  

Catalog for exhibition of Taiwanese Glove Puppet Theater. For more details, check out: https://peijushihdesign.com/project/glove-puppet-thea...

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