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    Wu Ying Shadow Puppet: Modernizing Traditional Shadow Puppetry Print
      Update Time:2018-11-29 14:24

    Written by Kevin YM Liao

    ◎English translation by Hou Ya-ting

     Few people are aware that only four traditional shadow-puppet troupes remain active in Taiwan, and that all four are based in Kaohsiung City. It is no exaggeration to say that Kaohsiung City is a stronghold of traditional shadow puppetry. This performing art is lucky that Mr. Li Guan-sian, Mr. Chen Bo-hong, and Ms. Li Yi-ping – all of whom study in Cheng Shiu University's Department of Modern Living and Creative Design – have teamed up to create Wu Ying Shadow Puppet, a set of portable shadow puppets, along with a pop-up shadow puppet stage, because they hope to rejuvenate shadow puppetry.

     Mr. Chen, a native of Kaohsiung's Linyuan District, has happy childhood memories of watching shadow-puppetry shows. He hopes that generation after generation will appreciate similar fascinating performances. When a shadow-puppet master is at work, the audience is captivated by the puppets' silhouettes, the movements that tell stories, and the interweaving of light, shadow, and music.

     When Mr. Chen and his partners were doing research for their project, they visited Kaohsiung Shadow Puppetry Museum in Gangshan District. The team concluded that one reason why modern audiences have been losing interest in the art form is that the puppets are traditionally made of leather and manipulated with heavy wooden sticks. The team therefore set out to simplify the way in which puppets are assembled and manipulated, so as to make shadow puppetry more accessible. They wish that even kids can easily operate a shadow puppet.

     The main themes and characters of Wu Ying Shadow Puppet were inspired by the Yiya Culinary Festival because the team hopes to present a little-known facet of Kaohsiung. The team discovered that the Yiya Temple in Kaohsiung is the only temple in Taiwan dedicated to Yiya, a deity venerated as the founder of the culinary profession. The temple is located on Yahua Street in Cianjhen District.

     Legend has it that Yiya was originally a mortal who lived in the State of Ci (sometimes spelled Qi) when it was ruled by Duke Huan (685-643 BC), during China's Spring and Autumn Period. Each year, Yiya Temple organizes contests for catering professionals and culinary students around the deity's birthday (the 28th day of the sixth month on the traditional lunar calendar).

     After multiple modifications, the team created a more accessible form of shadow puppets. They are made of plastic and easy to assemble. An additional manipulation stick has been added, so the puppeteer can smoothly accomplish maneuvers such as rotating. In addition, the team has enhanced this traditional art form with modern strokes and colors while preserving the elegant ambiance of traditional puppets. Wu Ying Shadow Puppet now offers two versions: basic and deluxe. The former comes with a kraft paper box. Customers only need to cut out shadow-puppet figures from the kraft paper box. Assembling shadow puppets is very easy, like assembling a paper doll. Puppets' body parts are operated through a two-legged pin. This basic version includes a portable theater stage. The deluxe version, by contrast, has a carved wooden suitcase with a shoulder girdle. Inside the wooden suitcase there are puppets and a shadow-puppet illustration story book. The team hopes that these portable shadow-puppet kits will revive the art form.

     The team has taken Wu Ying Shadow Puppet to various exhibitions around Taiwan and received an enthusiastic response. They wish to promote other unique local customs through shadow puppets, such as Kinmen's Wind Lion God statues. Eventually, they hope to showcase Wu Ying Shadow Puppet overseas. Team member Mr. Li Guan-sian has endeavored to illustrate more shadow puppets.

     It is not hard to understand the charm of shadow puppetry. Performances are able to engage many different audiences. Thanks to the portable Wu Ying Shadow Puppet, the team is making progress in their mission to revive traditional shadow puppetry. Hopefully, watching a shadow-puppet show will remain a deeply embedded cultural experience across Taiwan's generations.

    Wu Ying Shadow Puppet Facebook (Chinese-language only) :