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Glove puppeteer, percussionist receive highest cultural honor

  • Date:2020-08-20
Glove puppeteer, percussionist receive highest cultural honor

Legendary puppetry master Chen Hsi-huang (陳錫煌) and renowned percussion musician Ju Tzong-ching (朱宗慶) have each received a National Cultural Award, a recognition of lifetime achievements by the Executive Yuan, at a ceremony on Aug. 20 at the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park in Taipei.

Chen, the eldest son of the iconic Taiwanese puppeteer Li Tian-lu (李天祿), has spent decades dedicating himself to passing on the art of pò͘-tē-hì — otherwise known as Taiwanese glove puppetry. The 89-year-old has been recognized by the Ministry of Culture as a "National Living Treasure" — an official designation that recognizes living artists and important groups for their role in preserving Taiwan's cultural heritage.

In his acceptance speech, Chen said viewers' appreciation and love for the traditional puppetry has been the encouragement that inspires him to pass down the heritage, which has now earned him the prestigious award.

Worried that this ancient art would not regain its old time glory, the veteran puppeteer said cutting narration or dialogue and presenting more action-oriented performances are necessary, as young people nowadays are relatively unfamiliar with Hokkien dialect, leaving Taiwanese glove puppetry, an art form featuring a fair amount of lines in Hokkien, underappreciated.

Ju, on the other hand, is the first Taiwanese artist to have received the Performer Diploma in Percussion by the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. In 1986, the internationally acclaimed musician founded Taiwan's very first professional percussion band Ju Percussion Group.

Upon receiving the award, Ju said most people believed that percussion does not guarantee a promising future when he decided to pick up the category of music more than five decades ago. It was the faith his parents had in him that enabled Ju to explore the musical genre, the musician said, adding that he has never given up on percussion music since.

Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), who presented the award to the artists, said the honorees have dedicated to raising the visibility of the most exquisite skills which not only enrich lives of Taiwanese people, but also inspire generations to learn their techniques and therefore pass down the heritage that adds richness to Taiwan's culture.

Also speaking at the Aug. 20 event, Minister of Culture Lee Yung-te pledged to provide an environment conducive to cultural performances and artistic exhibitions, safeguard and pass down Taiwan's precious intangible heritage.

Founded in 1981, the National Cultural Award is Taiwan's highest national honor for the cultural scene, given in recognition of outstanding achievements in the arts and contribution to the promotion of Taiwanese culture. They are presented by the Premier in person, who awards recipients with a certificate, medal, and a cash prize of NT$1 million at a grand ceremony held in their honor.

A total of 85 prominent individuals from a variety of fields have received the award to date.