Comprising three generations performing together as part of the Gongshan Association’s “infernal generals troupe,” or shijiajiang in Chinese, in Pingtung County’s Donggang Township, 75-year-old Tsai Cheng-hsiung performs the role of civil judge while his son, Tsai Ming-che, plays the second eldest Lord Shen, and his grandson, Yang Chia-en, fills the role of the “white sword general.” They participate as a family in Donggang’s ritual ceremony for welcoming the Wang Yeh gods, also known as the plague gods. But the grandfather laments that he is getting on in years and says people might not be able to see all three generations performing together as infernal generals much longer.
Gongshan Association’s infernal generals troupe was first created around 80 years ago, and was the first of its kind in Donggang. There are 12 members in all, including a civil judge and martial judge, a civil envoy and martial envoy, four generals, and four gods representing the four seasons. The scope of Donggang’s ceremony for welcoming the gods was initially quite small, and the troupe was always in charge of organizing the ceremony and protecting the gods. But as the number of people taking part in the ceremony grew, it eventually became a more elaborate event, and a large Songjiang battle formation troupe with 108 members took over the responsibility of inviting, welcoming and protecting the Wang Yeh gods. Gongshan Association’s troupe still plays an important role in the local event though.
This year the 75-year-old Tsai is performing the old general’s role, teaching newcomers how to perform their parts as generals, and passing on the local traditions of the art form. Seeing the grandfather perform as an infernal general together with his son and grandson is an extraordinary scene.
Grandfather Tsai says that when he first started performing with the infernal generals troupe as a young lad it was because he was suffering from an ailment that doctors were unable to treat at the time, so he sought help from the gods. Eventually recovering his health, he decided to fulfill his duty of repaying the gods by serving as one of the infernal general characters. When his son was a young boy, Tsai would often take him to the temple to learn how to perform, and says that his grandson started studying because he was interested, thus you have three generations performing together in one association. Being able to perform together in this year’s ceremony for welcoming the Wang Yeh gods is a rare treat indeed.
(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)