Taiwanese Arts, Arts Festivals and Interesting Artifacts
This month we feature Taiwan's arts and artifacts, its famous artists, performing groups and arts festivals. Taiwan is a place of diverse cultures, with influences from the Chinese, the Japanese, the Hakka, Southeast Asian countries, and Taiwan's aboriginal tribes.
Taiwan has a very vibrant art scene and cultural life. In recent years many artists and performing groups from Taiwan have appeared on the international stage, to great acclaim from around the world. Foremost among these are the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, the Neo Classic Dance Company, the Lanyang Dance Troupe, the Ming Hwa Yuan Taiwanese Opera, the Holo Taiwanese Opera Troupe, and the hand puppet troupes 'Yi Wan Ran' founded by Mr. Li Tian-lu, and 'Wu Jhou Yuan', founded by Mr. Huang Hai-dai. Traditional crafts are also an important part of the local art scene, with ceramics from Yingge, Shueili and Kinmen, woodcarving from Sanyi, stone carving from Hualien, and Meinung's hand-crafted oil-paper umbrellas. Oriental glassware art has also taken on a new lease of life in Taiwan: Liuli Gongfang and Tittot are two examples of glass art manufacturers who have earned an international reputation in recent years.
Taiwanese hand puppetry and Taiwanese opera are two foremost examples of art forms which are authentically Taiwanese, in that they use the Taiwanese language, not Mandarin. Taiwanese puppetry is said to have originated from Quanzhou or Zhangzhou in Fujian, China, in the seventeenth century.
Taiwanese puppets usually consist of two parts – a hollow wooden head and a hollow body made of colorful cloth. The puppet master puts his hand inside the puppet to control it, using his fingers, wrist and palm to mimic the natural movements of people. Because the stories are usually adapted from Chinese traditional folklore, the puppets' movements sometimes also reflect certain elements of martial arts. In addition to making these intricate human-like movements, the puppet masters recite poems, sing songs and produce sound effects. In order to attract a wider and younger audience, many puppet masters have started using lasers, dry ice, and other modern techniques to add spice to the performance.
Taiwanese hand puppet shows are still a very popular form of traditional street entertainment. Puppet shows are often the main featured event at local festivals. The grand and colorful theatre designs, the many different puppet characters, their costumes, the intriguing stories, the exciting music and the lively hand movements of the puppet masters, make Taiwanese hand puppet shows a favorite entertainment for people of all ages. Two famous exemplars of this popular art form are Mr. Li Tian-lu and Mr. Huang Hai-dai. The Yi Wan Ran Hand Puppet Troupe, founded by the late Mr. Li, combines classical Chinese music, traditional Chinese Kungfu, and poetry. In 1993 the movie about Mr. Li's life, "The Puppetmaster" by Taiwanese director Hou Siao-sian brought Mr. Li and his troupe to an international audience at the Cannes Film Festival. Mr. Huang Hai-dai's troupe, Wu Jhou Yuan was founded 70 years ago and has been the inspiration for a recent upsurge of interest in this traditional art form, with over 200 other hand puppet troupes now performing all over Taiwan. Mr. Huang continues to bring new ideas to Taiwanese hand puppetry, innovating in puppet design, special effects and storylines. Perhaps his major achievement was to bring hand puppetry to TV, and into the movies, a development which has ensured the continuing popularity of the art form in today's modern world of youth oriented mass media.
Taiwanese opera is said to have originated from Taiwan's Yilan at the beginning of the twentieth century. The art form was originally called Luodisao, and all the actors were male. It received influences from various theater forms such as the Chinese opera, Sihping opera, Gaojia opera, Hakka tea-picking opera and Beiguan and gradually developed into an independent performance art. The language used is Taiwanese, and the lyrics and dialogues usually combine colloquial phrases with traditional Chinese poems. The art has long been known for its luxuriously colorful costumes, mask-like make up, and its unique music and singing. The inspirational stories are usually about virtuous heroes or heroines. Taiwanese opera used to be a very popular public entertainment, usually performed outdoors, at temples or in night markets. Nowadays, it is mostly performed on TV or in theaters and very few performances take place on the traditional outdoor stage. In recent years, the Ming Hwa Yuan Taiwanese Opera has been winning praise internationally with performances in France, Japan, China and Southeast Asia. The Holo Taiwanese Opera Troupe, founded in 1990, is another company dedicated to the mission of breathing new life into the exquisite beauty of traditional Taiwanese opera.
Hsinchu is best known as the home to Taiwan's world-famous Hsinchu Science-based Industrial Park. But it is also rapidly emerging as a center of glass art. Since 1995 there have been five Glass Art Festivals in Hsinchu. In 2006 the theme of the festival was "flowers". Glass art works from international and local artists, including gigantic outdoor glass art installations, are displayed during the festival along with live folk and music performances, glass art classes, and international glass art souvenirs. Hsinchu is also home to Taiwan's first glass art museum and over a decade ago glass art was chosen as a focal art form for development in the city. Although the Hisnchu City International Glass Art Festival usually takes place in April, visitors are welcome throughout the year to find out more about the transparent beauty of Hsinchu's glass art.
In Sanyi, woodcarving is the most important creative industry. The first two woodcarving masters in Taiwan, Wu Luo-song and Li Jin-chuan, were both from Sanyi and studied woodcarving abroad. Li Jin-chuan was also the teacher of Taiwan's most famous sculptor Ju Ming. In the early days the woodcarvings were mostly of traditional subjects such as statues of local deities or decorative items. However, nowadays the form and technique has expanded, often combining wood with other materials.
Taiwan has many other thriving local arts and crafts. They may not be world-famous or on a grand scale, but these arts reflect the age old wisdom and traditions of the local people, who combine local natural resources and history with modern technology and creativity to produce contemporary, living works of art. And often, it's this kind of local, small-scale experience that makes your vacation so unforgettable!