Kaohsiung Museum of shadow puppet
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Features of Shadow Puppets Flash


No discussion of Taiwanese shadow puppets would be complete without a visit to Kaohsiung County, a region of beautiful scenery which is a major center for all three of the major forms of traditional puppetry. The "headquarters" of shadow puppet theater in Taiwan is the Shadow Puppet Museum run by the Bureau of Cultural Affairs, Kaohsiung County. This museum chronicles the development of the art in Taiwan and showcases precious articles and techniques of this form of puppet theater. In this museum located in Kangshan District, one can gain a better understanding of this Taiwanese theater art, and catch a glimpse of the beauty of similar forms of puppet theater from mainland China and other countries.
Welcome to the Shadow Theater Digital Museum!

Cross Straits Transmission Period
This period represents the initial development of the art, timed after the arrival of Koxinga in Taiwan in 1662. We surmise that included among the army that accompanied Koxinga and the immigrants that came later in the early Ch'ing period (1644-1911) there were shadow puppeteers from Fukien Province's Ch'uan-chou and Zhang-chou area. Taiwan's shadow puppetry mainly developed in the area south of Tainan, including the plain of Kaohsiung and Pingtung counties. The development of Taiwan after Koxinga and during the early Ch'ing Dynasty was focused in Southern Taiwan, for which reason the art of shadow puppet theater took its root in this same area.

Prominence Period in the Ching Dynasty
Taiwan's historical development started with a period of turbulence in the early Ch'ing Dynasty, when China was being conquered by the Manchus. It was not until the middle of the Ch'ing Dynasty that Taiwan began to enjoy stable political, economic and social development, which paved the way for the development of folk performances. The cities and towns of the southern Taiwan plains thus witnessed the development of shadow puppet theater. In the 24th year of the reign of Emperor Chia-ching (AD 1819), Tainan City's Puchi Temple erected a stone tablet to commemorate the restoration of the temple, the text of which included two articles of prohibition.
One of them forbade shadow puppetry performances within temple grounds. The reason was that this theater form was so popular that its performances harmed the serene and solemn temple atmosphere. Another way of discerning the prominence of the art form is through hand-copied puppetry scripts. Today, one of the earliest scripts is that of Saving Han Yuan. Although the copier remains anonymous, the script is dated to the 3rd Year of the Hsienfeng Period(1853).
Another script, the "Wang Yu ch'i," was completed in the 8th year of the Tungchi Period (1858), and is 26 pages long. Another work, a copy of Saving the Orphan, bears the following words on the last page:"Copy completed on the 19th day of the 3rd month, in the 8th year of the Kuanghsu Period. The script totals 90 pages. May it be a great success!"
By looking at the above-mentioned Ch'ing scripts, we get a glimpse of the development and prominence of shadow puppet theatre in Southern Taiwan, especially around the area of Kaohsiung and Pingtung. The abundance of hand-copied scripts suggests that there was a large demand for shadow puppetry presentations. At the time, the puppetry were only painted in three colors: black, red and green. The puppets were of a simple design and their shapes were projected on a screen using kerosene lamps as a source of illumination.

Japanese Suppression Period
Shadow puppet theatre remained popular even in the early period of the Japanese colonization, a phenomenon that can be attested by the large number of hand-copied scripts dated to this period. For instance, a certain Zhang Chuan of Donghua copied a script of Chao Chun Appeasing the Barbarians in the 33rd year of the Meiji Period (1900). In the 36th year, he also copied the script of Chen Kuang-rei. Huang Yuan, who took residence in Houhsieh Neighborhood in Kaohsiung's Kangshan, area copied the script of Five Tigers Pacify the South in the 36th year (1903).
There are also a large number of hand-copied scripts dating from the Taisho Period (1911-1925). In addition to those preserved by theatre groups in Kaohsiung, copies were also discovered in the Pingtung Area, South of Kaohsiung County.
For instance, Chung Tien-chin of Haohsingpan, Hsichung Neighborhood in Kanghsi, Pingtung copied the script in the 8th year of the Taisho (1919). Hu Nan-cheng, who lived in Wukueiliao, in Ch'ao-chou in Pingtung County, copied the script of Hsianankeng in the 14th year of the Taisho Period (1925).
Donghua's Zhang Ch'uan made a copy of the Ch'ien Chi Kuo in the 4th year of the Showa Period (1929). Hand-copied scripts were reveals that the shadow puppet theatre still remained popular at this point in time, and was not restricted by the Japanese colonial government. It was not until after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937 in Beijing, i.e. the start of the Sino-Japanese war, that the Office of the Governor General started suppressing Taiwan's shadow puppet theatre.
The colonizers adopted strict measures to carry out the Japanization policy with the goal of reforming Taiwanese culture, religious beliefs, language, art, drama, etc. After the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, the colonial government announced the "Pointers for the Implementation of the Citizens General Mobilization Plan" in September of the same year. Influenced by this, Taiwan also speeded up its Japanization movement. On April 19, 1941, the "Public Service Association of Imperial Subjects" was established to support the Kominka (i.e. Japanization) Movement.

Post-Retrocession Revival Period
Taiwan's shadow puppet theater entered a period of revival right after the island's retrocession and unification with China in 1945, quickly returning to the same level of popularity that it had enjoyed before the era of Japanese colonial rule. The form of performances differed according to venue, such as the indoor theater (performed inside theaters) and the outdoor type, both of which have their own characteristics.
The indoor type started on September 7, 1952 with the premier performance by the Donghua Shadow Puppet Ensemble at Wenhwa Theare, Chiayi City, of the plays Journey to the West and Kuo Tze-yi Probes the Underground Pit. During a 15-yeaer period lasting until June 30, 1967, Donghua performed in 346 theaters across Taiwan, covering Keelung, Taipei, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, Taichung, Changhua, Nantou, Yunlin, Chaiyi, Tainan, Kaohsiung, Pingtung, Taitung, Hualien, Yilan and Penghu.
At this point in time, shadow puppet competed with other forms of folk performances, such as Peking opera, movie, dance troupes, new drama, acrobatics, etc. for performances in theaters. Indoor shadow puppet shows required previous agreement with theatre-owners, specifying details such as schedule, play titles, fees, etc. The venues of these performances outsize those of temple festivities. The involvement of commercial interests and competition made these performances undergo major changes, notably in their scripts, puppets and performance modes.
The scripts were mainly traditional specialties of Donghua Ensemble such as The Story of Chikung and Journey to the West. In the latter periods, the need to meet audience demand and the rise of "martial theater"(performances with many combat scenes) led to stories such as Chikung Tours Taiwan, scripted by Zhang Chiao. Puppets were enlarged, as a way to adapt to the large screens in theatres. However, manipulation became less agile compared to the smaller-size traditional puppets. Changes in the mode of performance included the combined use of Chinese and Western musical instruments, and the inclusion of female singers.
In times of box office hits, both theater and performing group benefited. Usually, the theater and performing group benefited. Usually, the theater management would send a formal letter of thanks to the troupe. In order to attract larger numbers of audiences, entertainment sections of newspapers carried notices of shadow puppet performances.
Another special point of the revival period is the influence of the anti-communist, and anti-Soviet policies on the development of the art. A major change in the scripts of shadow puppet was that of scripts used for shadow puppets show contests.
Yet, if folk performances were to lose their folk spirit and interests, they cease their significance in the art form’s development. Thus, Zhang Te-cheng wrote the stories of Against Communists, Soviets and North Koreans and The Anti-Communist Battle (also called The New Story of Chikung). The latter employs the popular story of Chikung, to which ideas on modern warfare and anti-communism were added.

Period of Decline due to Rise of Motion Picture and Television
Like any other form of folk performance, shadow puppet theater entered a period of decline with the rise of the television medium and Technicolor movies. In this period, the audience could just stay at home and enjoy all kinds of programs on the television, even though it was black and white. Theater and temple performances could not compete with the convenience, speed, economy and comfort that television offered. TV programs changed people’s entertainment styles and attracted vast audiences, thus paving the way for the gradual fading away of folk performances.
The Donghua Ensemble performed in 24 theaters around Taiwan in 1964. In 1966, the figure shrunk to 7 theaters located in Tainan, Pingtung and Penghu. By 1967, they only performed in two theaters located in Chiahsien and Chishan, both in Kaohsiung County.
Packed houses were a thing of the past. The impact of the rise of motion picture television changed people’s leisure habits, such that Donghua made its last curtain call on May 30, 1967 with an indoor performance at Minghsing Theater in Chiahsien.
In this period of decline, shadow puppet theater was forced out of the theater, and it retreated back to its outdoor performances. The shadow puppet ensembles soon realized that the new forms of entertainment had also affected the outdoor performance market. Temple festivities and wedding parties originally graced by folk performances now favored cheaper movie screenings, song & dance troupes with their strong official character, and entertainment teams.
This endangered the very survival of folk theater. In 1960, nine shadow puppet ensembles were registered in Kaohsiung County. By 1971, only four remained. This illustrates how shadow puppet ensembles dwindled owing to outside competition and the lack of new recruits.

Government Assistance Period
With the advent of the Chiang Ching-kuo era, cultural development in Taiwan became increasingly oriented development in Taiwan became increasingly oriented towards localization. Finally on Nov. 11, 1981, the Executive Yuan established the Council for Cultural Affairs. On Feb. 23, 1984, the Implementation Rules for the Cultural Heritage Preservation Law was promulgated, marking the start of government assistance for shadow puppet theater.
According to existing bylaws, the Ministry of Education selected the first recipients of the Folk Art Heritage Award-a total of 22 individuals and 10 groups. Shadow puppet theater was represented by one of the winners, Zhang The-cheng of Donghua Ensemble. The following year, the list of winners included Xu Fu-neng of the Fuhsing Ke Ensemble. Finally, the outstanding shadow puppeteers have received government recognition.
This period promoted the preservation and propagation of shadow puppet theater. To better attain this goal, the Kaohsiung County Shadow Puppet Museum was inaugurated on March 13, 1994. Managed by the Cultural Center, this museum took charge of preservation and promotion work. Preservation work was carried out through the collection and exhibition activities in the museum.
Among the regular exhibits are musical and written data from five of Taiwan’s shadow puppet ensembles, and publications about, shadow puppets obtained from China and other countries, as well as Taiwan’s old shadow puppet scripts, puppets and other artifacts. In 2004, the museum collection was converted into digital form, which serve as basis for the digital learning system created for more learning convenience by the general public.
Propagation work can include workshops, on-campus leather or paper puppet cutting competitions and shadow puppet tours. Shadow puppet workshops are targeted towards elementary and high school teachers, as well as the general public. As early as February of 1985, the Cultural Center has already held shadow puppet workshops, in the process training about 50 elementary school teachers. Since 1993, the Cultural Center has organized workshops for elementary and high-school teachers on a yearly basis, while also extending workshop participation to the public.
Among the teachers arranged to teach are puppeteers such as Xu Fu-neng, Zhang Fu-guo and others. On campus leather (or paper) puppet cutting competitions, beginning in 1994, have led to various achievements. Another form of the competition is on design of leather(or paper) puppets. These were aimed at making the art take root in Taiwan’s schools. A way that directly benefited shadow puppet ensembles was through the roadshows. These performances were held in distant rural areas within Kaohsiung County, schools, as well as outside counties and on university campuses.
No. 42, Gangshan S. Rd.,Gangshan District,
Kaohsiung City 82060, Taiwan(Museum Hours)
Copyrught © Kaohsiung of History. All Rughts Reserved.
TEL:8867-6262620 ext. 2806 | FAX:8867-6250404