Sun, Sep 01, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Resistance by theater

A group of young Thespians made a daring move in 1943 by including banned Taiwanese folk songs in their play ‘Castrated Chicken’

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A scene from a 2008 production of Castrated Chicken by Tainaner Ensemble.

Photo courtesy of Tainaner Ensemble

Sept. 2 to Sept. 8

When the choir started singing Diu Diu Deng (丟丟銅仔), the ecstatic Taiwanese audience clapped, danced and sang along to the traditional folk song they had missed so much.

It was a bold decision by the Housheng Drama Research Group (厚生演劇研究會) to include the tune in its play, Castrated Chicken (閹雞). This was Sept. 2, 1943, a time when the Kominka Movement was in full swing as the Japanese colonial authorities sought to assimilate the Taiwanese and suppress their culture.

Although the costumes, setting and music were distinctly Taiwanese, the theater troupe followed the rules by having the actors speak only Japanese. The addition of two Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) folk songs delighted the audience, who pleaded for the show to go on despite a brief blackout, using flashlights to illuminate the stage.

“Folk songs are the voice of the people,” writes Lu Chuan-sheng (呂泉生), who scored the production. “The Japanese had suppressed all Taiwanese songs, and when they suddenly heard the sounds that were so dear to them, they were so moved that their hearts exploded.”

The authorities were not happy, summoning Housheng’s leader Wang Ching-chuan (王井泉) to the police station for a chat.

“They don’t want us to sing, so be it,” Wang reportedly said. “One day, we will be able to sing our hearts out!”

The play was allowed to continue the next day with Japanese songs, but the government shut down the theater group at the end of the year before it could put on the second half of Castrated Chicken.

CENTRAL FIGURES

During the early days of Japanese colonization, the government let Taiwanese publish their own literature and stage their own plays, many of which promoted Han Chinese nationalism and anti-colonial ideals. This all came to an end in 1937 when the colonial masters launched the Kominka Movement.

Despite the oppressive environment, writer Chang Wen-huan (張文環) launched in 1941 Taiwan Literature (台灣文學), a magazine that sought to counter the Japanese-run publication Literary Taiwan (文藝台灣) that promoted Kominka ideals. The government banned one issue for “only writing about ordinary people, local culture, rural affairs and daily life, contributing nothing to the war effort.” The magazine was allowed to continue if it included one or two pro-war pieces in each issue.

Chang’s novella, Castrated Chicken, appeared in Taiwan Literature in July 1942, telling a tragic love story set in 1920s rural Taiwan. It was critical of capitalism, patriarchy and colonialism.

A few months later, a 23-year-old Lin Tuan-chiu (林摶秋) made the headlines in Tokyo by becoming the first Taiwanese playwright to have his work shown in Japan. The production, Okusansha, was set in a remote Aboriginal village.

Due to a labor shortage as Japanese men were sent to war, Lin had the opportunity to work at Toho, a film production company that would later be known for creating Godzilla in 1954. In early 1943, Lin returned home to visit family before heading to Japanese-occupied Manchuria for his job.

He immediately immersed himself in the cultural scene and directed the play Alishan (阿里山), which was so well-received that the cultural authorities ordered him to stay.

Shih Wan-shun (石婉舜) writes in Study of the 1943 Housheng Drama Research Group Taiwan (1943年台灣的厚生演劇研究會) that if Lin was the brains of Housheng, Wang was the heart. Wang was a restaurateur who was an avid supporter of the arts, which was used as the main vehicle for passive anti-colonial resistance. His banquet hall, Shanshuiting (山水亭), was a gathering place for all sorts of cultural figures, and he also served as a core member of Taiwan Literature.

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