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Hsin Hsing Ku Puppet Show Troupe

  • Date:2022-03-02
Hsin Hsing Ku Puppet Show Troupe

.Chinese Name: 新興閣掌中劇團

.Time of Establishment: 1828

.Location: Xiluo Township, Yunlin

.Did You Know?

Hsin Hsing Ku Puppet Show Troupe has performed for Taiwanese during the island's time as Qing territory and Japanese colony through post-war retrocession to the present day. It has evolved through indoor, outdoor, and even television performances, constantly evolving with the times and becoming an icon for and witness to the development of Taiwanese po-te-hi puppet theater.

The founding father of the Hsin Hsing Ku Puppet Show Troupe, Chung Wu-chuan, came to Taiwan from Fujian Province in 1828 and established the Hsieh Hsing Po-te-hi Troupe in Xiluo. Leadership of the troupe passed down through the family, to Chung Teng-feng, Chung Teng-lu, Chung Teng-shou, Chung Hsiu-chi, and then the fourth generation, Chung Jen-hsiang, who officially renamed the troupe Hsin Hsing Ku and ushered in a new period of revitalization and renewal. As Chung grew up practicing martial arts, he combined his glove puppetry skills with martial arts to create a show of his own, a swordplay-focused piece that was well-received for its intermingling of combat and traditional beiguan music.

In 1940, due to the implementation of the colonial Japanese government's policy of kominka, or "Japanization," the troupe was renamed, taking the Japanese name Shinko Puppetry Troupe, as well as becoming an "Entertainment Team for Forts on Taiwan island." After the retrocession of Taiwan at the end of World War 2, they returned to the name Hsin Hsing Ku. The troupe was invited to perform in the "four corners" of Tainan, namely Dingtaizi, Niu mohou, Xiadadao, and Nanchang, being warmly received by audiences. This led to the establishment of the Cishan Society Theater in large part by Hsin Hsing Ku, where Tainan’s Cishan Society would become famous for its own performances of po-te-hi puppet theater.

After his father's passing, the fifth-generation leader of the troupe, Chung Jen-pi, took up his father’s mission, carrying forward the art of po-te-hi. Chung explained that Chaozhou-style puppet theater is particularly folksy in both its singing and dialogue, interweaving vernacular language with literary phrasing to tell tales of loyalty, filial piety, and righteousness, all of which have given it a deep influence in terms of passing along education in folk customs. In addition to continuing the ancient and beautiful literary tradition of Chaozhou-style puppet theater, Chung also inherited his father's superb swordplay skills, continuing Hsin Hsing Ku's reputation as a troupe that combines both martial and literary arts. The troupe itself has gone on to spawn more than 100 child troupes, including Lung Hsing Ku, Wen Hsing Ku, Chin Hsing Ku, Kuang Hsing Ku, and Fu Hsing Ku, all of which are well-known puppetry troupes and members of the "Ku" school.

Traditionally there are two types of po-te-hi performances: outdoor and indoor. Chung Jen-pi created the Hsin Hsing Ku 2, serving as both its leader and its main performer, to focus on indoor theatrical performances. In the same year, he recruited the famous rehearsal artist Wu Tian-lai, and together they released the popular work "The Warrior Baicao Weng & The Gentleman Weirdo Buzusheng" in 1953, which went on to be performed for 19 years, with a 2,000-volume script and each volume boasting a performance time of three hours, making it the longest scripted po-te-hi show in the history of Taiwan. In addition, to cater to indoor performances for audiences of nearly 1,000 people, the puppets were changed from between eight and 14 inches to 24 inches in height. They also created the first "golden light theater," which is to say a large, magnificent theatrical stage set with 3D sets, colorful lights, pyrotechnics, and advanced sound equipment, which they then toured the length and breadth of Taiwan with.

In the 1970s, televised po-te-hi began to take center stage, with the CTV show "Little Prodigy Li Sanbao Saves the World," performed by Hsin Hsing Ku, becoming a big hit. However, soon afterward the government clamped down on the performance of po-te-hi on television, as the art is generally performed in Hokkien and the government was pushing a policy of enforced Mandarin usage. This sent Hsin Hsing Ku into a period of decline, but later they complied with government demands and began touring Taiwan with shows focused on promoting messages against drugs, anti-communist and anti-Soviet propaganda, and opposing kidnapping. Since 1982, Hsin Hsing Puppetry Troupe's renown has spread abroad, seeing them receive invitations to perform in Japan, Korea, the United States, France, and elsewhere, conducting a great deal of cultural diplomacy for Taiwan. In 1986, Chung Jen-pi began actively promoting the company's participation in domestic cultural and educational heritage activities. In 1992, he was awarded the Ministry of Education's Global Chinese Culture Award and Arts Award. In September 2021, Chung Jen-pi passed away, succeeded as leader of Hsin Hsing Ku by his son Chung Jen-liang, who is now the sixth-generation head of the troupe. Over its 170 years of history, Hsin Hsing Ku has adapted and grown with the changing times, opening up new horizons for traditional culture with its creativity and becoming an important witness to the development of Taiwanese puppet theater.