Zhong Kui is a folk deity renowned for his ability to drive off demons and disease and to bring blessings. When breaking ground on a new temple or opening a new stage for performance, folk custom holds that the "Dance of Zhong Kui (跳鍾馗)" must be performed first to exorcize any evil spirits and welcome in the benevolent gods, after which the venue may then be put to use.
In Taiwan, the Dance comes in two forms. In one, a master of rites performs the role of Zhong Kui himself and carries out the rite, while in the other, the master operates a marionette instead. Regardless of which form is performed, the rite is considered to generate an atmosphere of powerfully negative energies, and it is generally recommended that members of the public not be present.
The use of marionettes, and later glove puppets, in this rite in Taiwan stretches back centuries. Ching Ch'un T'ang Puppet Theatre Company founder Lin Chin-lien (林金鍊) is one of the few remaining masters of it, having begun learning the "Dance of Zhong Kui" from his father at the age of 15.
Lin also organizes special rites praying for blessings focused around the trio of Heaven, Earth, and Man, using talismans to create a protective barrier and beseeching the soldiers and generals of the heavens to stand guard over those in attendance, thus overcoming the ancient taboo against public witnessing of the Dance.
Lin's theatricalization of this folk rite has not only preserved its religious solemnity, but also made it more artistic. Having invested some four decades of his life in the "Dance of Zhong Kui," Lin says he hopes to inspire more people to take up the craft.
However, he emphasizes that those who wish to learn must rely on fate to bring them to it, as the ancient taboo against witnessing the rite means that masters cannot seek out students, but must wait for students to come to them. By exposing more of the public to it, Lin hopes to boost the chances of such students finding their way to the rite.