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Taiwanese Opera Actor | Yang Li-hua

  • Date:2023-06-02
Yang Li-hua wearing Taiwanese opera costumes

Chinese Name: 楊麗花

Birth Name: Lin Li-hua (林麗花)

Born: October 26, 1944

Place of Birth: Yilan County (Eastern Taiwan)

Did You Know?

Yang Li-hua is a well-known star of Taiwanese opera, and is also the founder of "radio opera" and "television opera" in Taiwan. She was born into poverty and did not receive a formal education, but both of her parents were opera actors. In the late 1940s, opera was the most popular form of entertainment or drama in Taiwan. While she was still under 10 years old, Yang joined the well-known Yi Chun Yuan (宜春園) opera troupe in Yilan, of which her mother was a member. Her first performance was well-received due to her excellent acting skills.

In 1957, at the age of 13, Yang Li-hua officially became a full member of Yi Chun Yuan, and all of her performances were in male roles. Because of her handsome appearance, she quickly became the pillar of the troupe, and in 1961, she became famous throughout Taiwan for her performance in the play “Lu Wen-long (陸文龍).” This play also established her as the "the number one sheng of Taiwanese opera." In addition to continuing to be popular in the opera world as a sheng, or male lead, during the 1960s, Yang Li-hua also appeared in more than ten Taiwanese opera films. In 1972, she played the female lead in the film "Back to Anping Harbor (回來安平港)," which was adapted from the song "Remembering Anping (安平追想曲)." This was a rare occasion where Yang played a female role.

In the early 1970s, Taiwan Television (TTV) recognized Yang Li-hua's popularity and invited her to participate in their productions. With decades of experience as a lead actor and producer in television opera, Yang became the leader of the TTV Opera Troupe and officially shifted her focus to television. The 1980s were a golden age for both Yang Li-hua and television opera, and she quickly became synonymous with Taiwanese opera.

In the 1990s, after martial law had been lifted and entertainment from around the world was allowed to enter the country, and with the rise of cable television, Yang Li-hua's television opera gradually declined. Her successors were unable to continue her legacy, and the TTV Opera Troupe, which Yang Li-hua had formed in the 1970s and had flourished in the 1980s when Taiwanese opera was at its peak, fell into decline.

Despite this, Yang Li-hua continued to cultivate new talent, such as Chen Ya-lan (陳亞蘭), Chi Li-ju (紀麗如), Pan Li-li (潘麗麗), Chien Chia-ling (簡嘉伶), and Ye Li-na (葉麗娜), and brought opera performances to national stages. Yang believed that if Taiwanese opera did not change and innovate, it would lose its audience. After experiencing different types of performances such as radio, film, and television, in 1981, Yang Li-hua and her old partner Hsu Hsiu-nien (許秀年) performed "The Fisherman's Wife (漁孃)" at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei, becoming pioneers in bringing traditional Taiwanese opera to modern theaters. Afterwards, she performed in major plays such as "Lu Bu and Diao Chan (呂布與貂蟬)” and "The Butterfly Lovers (梁祝)" at the National Theater. In 2012, Yang Li-hua and her disciple Chen Ya-lan collaborated on "The Ultimate Play of Yang Li-hua—Xue Dingshan and Fan Lihua (楊麗花終極大戲-薛丁山與樊梨花)" at the Taipei Arena, incorporating computer projection effects to elevate opera to a new level. She has repeatedly broken through boundaries for opera, all to prevent this traditional art form from disappearing.

In addition to opera, Yang Li-hua also sings, acts in films, and has opened a restaurant, but she has never forgotten where she came from. In her autobiography, Yang Li-hua said, "Born and raised on the stage, I have lived my whole life with Taiwanese opera. Perhaps I have made opera more brilliant, but opera has enriched my existence, and so I have always felt responsible for its sustainable development."

To pass on her legacy, she established an opera actor training class, improved the way opera was broadcast on television, opened the door for opera to enter modern theaters, and fought for opera to be shown during prime time at 8 pm. Opera used to be lively and eye-catching, and Yang Li-hua’s efforts have made it shine even brighter.

Yang Li-hua made traditional opera a part of popular culture, allowing people of different generations to fall in love with opera through different media. Her existence itself is a history of the development of Taiwanese opera, and she has become synonymous with the art form. Due to her outstanding contributions to Taiwanese traditional opera and performing arts, Yang Li-hua was awarded the Special Award for Opera Performance at the 33rd Golden Melody Awards in October 2022.