Ju Percussion Group founder Ju Tzong-ching (朱宗慶) and celebrated puppetry master Chen Hsi-huang (陳錫煌) are the joint recipients of the 39th National Cultural Award, a recognition of lifetime achievement by the Executive Yuan, Taiwan's top administrative body. Minister of Culture Cheng Li-chiun personally congratulated the seasoned artists, acknowledging their exceptional performances and contributions in traditional and performing arts, and also the initiatives that Ju and Chen have taken up to promote Taiwan's culture worldwide.
Born in 1954, Ju is the first Taiwanese artist to have received the Performer Diploma in Percussion by the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. Upon returning to Taiwan, the Taichung-born musician established the Ju Percussion Group, which has staged more than 3,000 performances in 33 countries and territories and toured around Taiwan for years, making the exquisiteness of percussion art widely appreciated.
Ju has spared no effort cultivating music talents. During his tenure first as professor and later as head of the music department at Taipei National University of the Arts, Ju founded the percussion division under the department. The percussionist also mentored emerging artists during his seven years as principal of the arts institution.
While holding the position of director of both the National Symphony Orchestra and National Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Center, Ju had been a driving force transforming the center into Taiwan's first ever administrative corporation. The National Performing Arts Center (國家表演藝術中心) was thus inaugurated as the nation's highest-level independent cultural institute with access to national budgets as well as greater operational flexibility. Ju became the center's first artistic director and is now its chairman.
In 1993, Ju launched the Taipei International Percussion Convention (TIPC), bringing to Taiwan a total of 149 percussion groups and performers from 31 countries since. The seasoned artist has received numerous honors, including the Golden Melody Awards, National Award for Arts, and Presidential Order of Brilliant Star with Violet Grand Cordon. In 2016, he was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society's (PAS) Hall of Fame. In the following year, Ju received an Honorary Doctorate from the Taipei National University of Arts.
Chen is the eldest son of the iconic Taiwanese puppeteer Li Tian-lu (李天祿). Born in 1931, the Dalongdong native began to learn Taiwanese puppetry at the age of 13. Over the years, the puppetry maestro has gained knowledge of the northern and southern puppetry forms and traditional techniques of casting shadow puppets by joining a number of puppet troupes, including the Hsin Hsing Ku Puppet Show Troupe (新興閣), Hsiao Hsi Yuan Puppet Theater (小西園), Wu Chou Puppetry (五洲園), and Yuquan Pavilion (玉泉閣). Chen established his own New Wan Jan Puppet Theater (新宛然掌中劇團) in 1953.
Since 2001, Chen has collaborated with Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company (台原偶戲團), giving rise to enduring productions such as "Marco Polo (馬可波羅)" and "The Wedding of the Mice (大稻埕的老鼠娶新娘)."
While Chen's puppet shows have been well received internationally, his efforts in encouraging interdisciplinary collaborations have led the art of Taiwan's traditional puppetry to collide with other art forms. The puppeteer also strives to promote the traditional art and introduce more young people to Taiwanese puppetry. In 2008, Chen founded the eponymous Chen Hsi-huang Traditional Puppet Troupe (陳錫煌傳統掌中劇團) to pass on and further popularize the art.
The 88-year-old Chen 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 the nation's cultural heritage.
In addition, Chen is the only puppeteer in Taiwan to have been recognized by the Ministry as an important preserver of both traditional glove puppetry techniques and the art of creating classical glove puppet clothing and headwear props. In 2012, the veritable master of Taiwanese puppetry was also honored by National Cultural Heritage Preservation Awards from the Bureau of Cultural Heritage.
Established in 1980, the Executive Yuan National Cultural Award (NCA) is the highest-level recognition of lifelong achievements by outstanding art and cultural figures in Taiwan. The list of recipients are approved by the Premier, and as a gesture of respect, winners receive a medal, award certificate, and prize money.