Skip to main content

Legacy Series II: Li Tian-lu and his disciples

  • Date:2016-09-26
Legacy Series II: Li Tian-lu and his disciples

The ‘Wai Jiang' school of puppetry

Li Tian-lu (李天祿) was an iconic puppet master who established "Wai Jiang Pai (外江派),” a school of glove puppetry that incorporates Peking opera and Beiguan elements with hand puppetry performances. He has left a long-lasting impact on his choice of folk art in both the East and West.

As the founder of a prolific puppet troupe known as "I Wan Jan (亦宛然掌中劇團),” Li was also the mentor of the founders of "Theatre du Petit Miroir” and the "Chiao Wan Jan (巧宛然),” which are both active in performing and promoting the art form today.

Based in Paris, Theatre du Petit Miroir was established by Jean-Luc Penso, a French national who visited Taiwan in 1970 after watching a documentary about Taiwanese puppetry. Amazed by Li's skills after he met the puppet master in Taipei by coincidence, Penso decided to learn puppetry from Li and became his first French disciple.

After five years of training in Taiwan, Penso founded his own troupe in 1975 and introduced Taiwanese puppetry to more audiences around the world. Following Li's suggestion to create productions of his own, Penso incorporated the techniques he acquired from Li with that of classical shadow puppetry, and began to interpret classic western tales through traditional puppet theater.

In the beginning of 2016, Theatre du Petit Miroir brought a special exhibition featuring the story of Li and his French disciple to Taiwan, unveiling a collection of cultural relics, manuscripts, and photos of Li with Penso, as well as shadow and hand-puppet figures, including one bestowed by Li, at the Taipei Puppetry Museum.

Chiao Wan Jan, the first children's hand-puppet troupe established in Taiwan, was founded in 1988 by music teacher Ji Shu-ling (紀淑玲) at the Pingdeng Elementary School. Li was invited to teach the school children his techniques, thereby passing down the traditional art form for the first time to members of the younger generation.

The troupe has since joined several international art festivals, including those in Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and the US. In addition, it holds charity performances in nursing homes, orphanages, and temples, bringing happiness with hand-puppet performances across Taiwan.

While both troupes continue to carry his legacy in Taiwanese puppetry, Li's vivid personality remain larger than life in several films directed by the noted Hou Hsiao-hsien, including "Dust in the Wind (戀戀風塵),” "A City of Sadness (悲情城市),” "The Puppetmaster (戲夢人生),” and "Daughter of Nile (尼羅河女兒).”

Li Tian-lu

Considered as Taiwan's "Living National Treasure,” Li was a puppet master who brought Taiwanese puppetry to the world's attention. Li was honored as a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by France and received the first National Heritage Award in 1985 for his lifetime contribution … (read more)

I Wan Jan

Traditionally, a puppet troupe is inherited by family members. However, I Wan Jan is now led by Li's disciple, Lin Yong-zhi (林永志). In the post-Li era, I Wan Jan has been working on training members to acquire all the skills of glove puppetry, aiming to make I Wan Jan as influential as its founder … (read more)