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Mon, Sep 10, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Debate on opera's origins rages on

CONTROVERSY Some scholars maintain that the art form originated in Ilan, while others contend that Ilan is too isolated to have played such a significant role


In February of last year, the first Taiwanese Opera to narrate the love story of a young Han immigrant from China with an Aboriginal girl of the Ping-pu tribe was brought to the stage at the National Theater. The opera, roughly translated as When the Carol Tree Blossoms (刺桐花開), was written and performed to depict the common history of native Taiwanese people.

"Beforehand, Taiwanese Opera depicted only ancient Chinese stories and had never seriously dealt with Taiwanese history. Since Taiwanese Opera is a native [pre-World War II] performing art, we should add more localized elements into the play," Lao said, commenting on the new opera.

Script writer Yang Sing-chi (楊杏枝) echoed Lao's views. "There are already too many imported elements in the artistic area. We should nourish Taiwanese Opera with more native history and stories. It shouldn't be a political tool but it should be used to express our humanitarian concerns," Yang told the Taipei Times.

Before Han immigrants began to arrive in Taiwan, the Ping-pu were indigenous people who lived on the western plains and along the western coast.

Dubbed "ripe savages" by Han immigrants, the Ping-pu were peasants and fishermen who lived on the plains -- in contrast to people living in mountainous areas, who were known as "raw savages."

Since Han immigrants were mostly desperate and unmarried, many young Han men intermarried with the Ping-pu in order to exploit the tribe's land and property.

The social structure of the Ping-pu tribe met the ambitions of Chinese immigrant bachelors perfectly.

To marry a Ping-pu woman was an obvious solution for most of these immigrants. The Ping-pu tribe was a matriarchal society in which property was inherited by the daughter.

Through cultural interaction and interracial marriages, the Ping-pu tribe finally disappeared in the early 20th century. The blossoming of the carol trees were used by the Ping-pu as a functioning calendar to mark the beginning of another year.

The eternal star

During the 1970s it was a national pastime to watch TV when Taiwanese Opera programs aired.

In the Qing Dynasty, women were forbidden by law to perform on stage. All roles in the opera were played by men. After 1911, women quickly replaced men and dominated the stage.

The real stars in a troupe are the female performers who play the lead male roles. These women are usually slim and have deep voices.

Among all of the opera performers who have appeared on TV, perhaps the most famous was Yang Li-hua (楊麗花), who has studied Taiwanese Opera since his childhood.

In 1983, she married orthopedist Hong Wen-tong (洪文棟), who later became a legislator. When the wedding ceremony took place at the Grand Hotel, the hotel was filled with celebrities, invited guests and crowds of fans.

One of the presiding witnesses was then-provincial governor and now retired president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝).

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