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Glove puppet theater troupe brings rare Hakka performance to L.A.

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Founder of Taiwan's Shan Puppet Theatre Huang Wu-shan (黃武山) demonstrates how to manipulate a glove puppet at a worshop in Los Angeles on Monday. CNA photo Aug. 10, 2022
CNA photo Aug. 10, 2022

Los Angeles, Aug. 10 (CNA) Taiwan's Shan Puppet Theatre (山宛然劇團) entertained Los Angeles with a rare Hakka interpretation of the classic Chinese novel "Water Margin" (水滸傳), during a recent performance at the city's Taiwan Center.

The story performed by the troupe, "Wu Song Kills a Tiger" (武松打虎), is one of the best-known parts of "Water Margin," and tells the tale of a wayward protagonist who wins over a town by single-handedly slaying a tiger.

Unusually for a traditional Taiwanese glove puppetry show, the story was performed mainly in Hakka with a smattering of Taiwanese Hokkien, Mandarin, and English.

Huang Wu-shan (黃武山), a founder of the Shan Puppet Theatre troupe, told CNA that despite first learning the art of glove puppetry in Taiwanese Hokkien, his mentor Li Tien-lu (李天祿), a national puppet master in Taiwan, encouraged him to perform in his mother tongue Hakka.

"The master told me: 'You're a Hakka. You can perform puppet plays in your native language,'" Huang said.

Huang said that given Hakka's minority status in Taiwan, he felt compelled to pass the culture on to a new generation by modernizing its revival.

To achieve his goals, the puppeteer learned folk songs from Hakka diva Lai Pi-hsia (賴碧霞) and blended Hakka music, language, and stage art with a contemporary sensibility in his own puppet show.

Shan Puppet Theatre, founded by Huang in 2002, is one of only a few Taiwanese troupes to perform puppet plays in Hakka.

The troupe was invited by Taiwan's Ministry of Culture to stage a tour of six shows plus workshops in several U.S. cities over August, including Los Angeles, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Detroit, and Ann Arbor.

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