Wed, Aug 15, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Family helps keep ‘Great Hero’ puppet maker’s dream alive

By Liao Shu-ling and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Lord Yen Hsuan, a puppet made by Hsu Chine-jhang, is displayed at Taliwu Cultural Park in Yunlin County’s Dounan Township on Wednesday last week.

Photo: Liao Shu-ling, Taipei Times

Most Taiwanese would recognize the name Huang Chun-hsiung (黃俊雄), creator of the TV show The Great Hero of Yun-zhou — Su Yam-bwen (雲州大儒俠—史豔文), but few know the artisans who helped make it the legend it is now.

Among these artisans is Hsu Yen-ching (徐炎卿), who carved the show’s puppets and made all their clothing.

The series that premiered in 1970 was adapted by Huang and his father, Huang Hai-tai (黃海岱), from a Qing Dynasty-era novel. At the peak of its popularity, it received ratings of more than 90 percent. It was canceled in 1974, but the finale was performed in 2009 on a nationwide tour.

Hsu’s second son, Hsu Chine-jhang (徐建彰), said that his father taught himself the art of carving puppets after becoming interested in hand puppet shows.

He usually practiced with carrots or yams while tending cows after school, but eventually started using longan tree wood so that his creations would last, Hsu Chine-jhang said.

After selling his first puppet in 1963, he realized that it could make money, Hsu Chine-jhang said, adding that he then became a professional puppet carver.

He started a puppet-carving business in Yunlin County’s Dounan Township (斗南) after marrying, his son said.

During the peak period for hand puppetry, the family business accepted orders from more than 1,000 troupes across the nation, Hsu Chine-jhang said.

Since Hsu Yen-ching passed away in 2003, his family, led by his wife, Tsai Su-lan (蔡素蘭), established the House of Puppets, a tourist-oriented factory, Hsu Chine-jhang said, adding that it was his father’s dream to create such a factory to help promote and pass down the tradition.

Hsu Chine-jhang said that many people are pessimistic about the future of hand puppetry, but he felt obligated to take on his father’s mantle to ensure that the craft is passed down to the next generation.

In honor of his father’s memory and in time for Father’s Day on Wednesday last week, Hsu Chine-jhang’s creation, a puppet named after his father, Lord Yen Hsuan (炎炫君), was put on display at Taliwu Cultural Park.

Hsu Chine-jhang said he hoped that hand puppetry will have its moment on the international stage and be more than only Taiwan’s cultural treasure.

The factory is hosting a summer camp on international hand puppetry from Tuesday next week to Aug. 26, he added.

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