Mon, Feb 12, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Famous puppet master Huang Hai-tai dies

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH AP

This photo taken in 2000 shows puppet master Huang Hai-tai displaying a glove puppet in Taipei. Huang died yesterday.

PHOTO: CHEN CHIEN-CHUNG, AFP

Legendary Taiwanese puppet master Huang Hai-tai (黃海岱), who began his long career in puppetry in the 1920s when the country was a Japanese colony, died yesterday of heart failure. He was 107.

Relatives said Huang died at his home in Yunlin County weeks after coming down with pneumonia.

Hand puppetry was introduced to Taiwan by immigrants from China in the 19th century. Most puppet shows recount historical stories or feature Chinese swordsmanship.

The creativeness and innovation of Huang, his sons and grandchildren has contributed to the continuous prosperity of the art.

In the 1990s, Huang's grandchildren founded Pili International Multimedia Corporation (霹靂國際多媒體集團, PIMC), a multimillion-dollar firm that produces hand puppetry movies and TV series.

As a boy, Huang learned hand puppetry from his father, who was leader of a local puppet troupe.

PIMC's Web site said that in addition to performance skills, Huang had a vast knowledge of Chinese classical literature and used his ability to play several different musical instruments to embellish his performances.

Huang would also choreograph, sing and narrate during shows and established his own puppet troupe at the age of 25.

He skirted a ban on traditional Taiwanese art performances by giving puppet shows in Japanese.

"Although he never learned Japanese, he memorized lines in Japanese so that the Japanese couldn't ban his performances," Huang Chun-hsiung (黃俊雄), Huang's second son, was quoted by the Chinese-language United Daily News as saying.

Huang was forced to move his performances indoors after the post-World War II Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government temporarily banned traditional outdoor performances after the 228 Incident.

In the 1950s, Huang Chun-hsiung used TV to increase the popularity of puppetry.

"When I was in high school the only thing we cared about after school was Huang's puppet shows on TV," said Chien Ling-yuan (簡玲媛), a woman now in her fifties. "We'd skip class for that."

However, in the 1970s, Huang Chun-hsiung's puppet shows were banned from TV because they were produced with Taiwanese dialogue. This conflicted with the KMT's policy calling for the use of Mandarin.

Huang's two sons later took over their aging father's puppetry troupe. In recent years, Huang's grandchildren have further augmented the show by adding such innovations as orchestra music and special effects.

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