I Wan Jan is an acclaimed hand-puppet troupe that turned a declining traditional folk art into a popular art form in Taiwan. Troupe founder Li Tian-lu incorporated performance elements from Peking opera and Beiguan into its performance, establishing a new school of glove puppetry known as"Wai Jiang Pai (外江派).”
Li started to learn puppetry at the age of nine from his father, and founded the troupe when he was 21. I Wan Jan soon became one of the major troupes of its kind in Taiwan. Though the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 forced the troupe to take a hiatus, it soon returned to the stage in 1941.
By 1945, glove puppetry was gradually dwindling in Fujian Province, the origin of the traditional art, but it gained rapid traction in Taiwan. From the 1950s to the early 1970s, I Wan Jan reached its peak with its unique presentation of Wai Jiang Pai style, and established its reputation after winning first prize in glove puppetry competitions in Taiwan for two consecutive decades.
In 1978, I Wan Jan switched tracks from being a professional performing troupe to become an educational group focused on promoting, preserving, and passing down the traditional art form. The troupe members became pioneers in introducing and teaching glove puppetry in schools in Taiwan, which helped to raise public awareness.
In addition to promoting glove puppetry in Taiwan, I Wan Jan also developed a silent form to tell a story by movements instead of using Taiwanese dialogue. This helped to make glove puppetry more accessible for foreign audiences.
"A Chance Encounter Leads to Marriage (巧遇姻緣),” the first silent piece produced by I Wan Jan in 1985, has since been performed in the United States and France. The silent form has allowed the troupe to adapt both Chinese and western repertories in its productions.
Over the past decades, I Wan Jan has been invited to perform in festivals based in countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, Morocco, and the United States.
Traditionally, a puppet troupe was 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.