Monday, February 14, 2005

History of Taiwan Geizai

Jennifer say:

taken from:

Singing songs (ge zih 歌仔) from songbooks (ge zih ce 歌仔冊) was the most important form of entertainment in Taiwan's early agricultural society. Some were songs sung by busy farmers working in the fields; some were ge zih or Taiwan za nian 雜念 sung by ordinary folk. There were also nian ge 唸歌, sung by the blind and buskers, and begging tunes (ci shih diao 乞食調) sung by beggars. This genre of song was known collectively as jin ge 錦歌, a continuation of a minor form of Ming dynasty music based on the folk songs of southern Fujian province on the Chinese mainland. First sung by amateurs and ordinary folk, jin ge quickly spread in popularity and was soon being performed by travelling entertainers.

Taiwanese opera was a major form of entertainment in early Taiwan society.
The first recorded instance of Chinese opera being performed in Taiwan was in 1624. Introduced into Taiwan from the neighboring provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, Chinese opera is classified into thirteen distinct categories: six traditional operas (li yuan si 梨園戲, gao jia si 高甲戲, luan tan si 亂彈戲, che gu si 車鼓戲, sih gong si 司公戲, and ke jia san jiao cai cha si 客家三腳採茶戲, or Hakka Tea-picking operas); four regional operas (Fuzhou si 福州戲, Putian-Sianyu si 莆仙戲, Siping si 四平戲, and Chaozhou si 潮州戲); and three puppet operas (kuei lei si 傀儡戲, or marionettes; bu dai si 布袋戲, or glove puppets; and pi ying si 皮影戲, or shadow puppets).

An audience enjoys an outdoor performance of Taiwanese opera at the Tian Hou Temple in Tainan as part of celebrations during the Lunar New Year holidays (Photo by Li Jhih-hong)
The singing of jin ge 錦歌, or ge zih 歌仔 in Taiwanese, was combined with the operatic form of che gu si 車鼓戲 (literally, "cart drum" opera) in Ilan to create what is later known as traditional Taiwanese opera (lao ge zih si 老哥仔戲). The repertoires, music, and body movements from many other styles of theater were absorbed as Taiwanese opera began around 1925. After liberally incorporating props, stage sets, and performance material from the Fuzhou and Shanghai styles of Beijing opera, Taiwanese opera began to grow in popularity.

The incorporation of props, stage sets, and performance material from Beijing opera helped boost the popularity of Taiwanese opera.
In general, Taiwanese opera can be considered a vernacular opera. The style spread not only throughout Taiwan, but also to Fujian province and other Chinese areas in Southeast Asia. At the peak of its popularity, Taiwanese opera was being performed on both indoor and outdoor stages, on the radio, in movies, and on television. It was an important part of temple festivals, special celebrations, and even the daily lives of ordinary people.

However, beginning in the 1970s, rapid development transformed Taiwan from an agricultural society into an industrial and commercialized economy. Consequently, entertainment trends also changed, and Taiwanese opera rapidly declined. However, thanks to the enthusiastic efforts of many scholars, patrons of the arts, and modern drama workshops, Taiwanese opera has once again gained popularity in recent years. Today, it can be seen on both national and international stages. The regeneration of Taiwanese opera is evidence of the genre's ability to adapt and transform, a characteristic that has been demonstrated at every stage of its development.

Infused with new life and energy, modern Taiwanese opera can be seen on international stages. (Courtesy of the Ming Hwa Yuan Theater Troupe)
The foundation of Taiwanese opera music is jin ge 錦歌, which was derived from folk rhymes, folk songs, wailing dirges that express sorrow and dejection, and music incorporated from other types of opera. This repertoire was gradually expanded to include new songs, either created by musicians or adapted from popular tunes of the times.

male lead siao sheng

female lead siao dan

male jester siao chou
Taiwanese opera makes use of a wide range of traditional musical instruments. Stringed instruments include the ye hu 椰胡, a two-stringed Chinese mandolin with a sound box made out of a coconut shell; da guang sian 大廣弦, a large, two-stringed Chinese mandolin; jing hu 京胡, a two-stringed high-register Chinese mandolin; nan hu 南胡, a two-stringed low-register Chinese mandolin; yue cin 月琴, a four-stringed Chinese mandolin with a full-moon-shaped sound box; san sian 三弦, a three-stringed plucked instrument; and gu jheng 古箏, a 25-stringed plucked instrument similar to the zither. Wind instruments include the suo na 嗩吶 horn as well as horizontal and vertical bamboo flutes. In the percussion section one finds the bang zih 梆子, a rectangular, hollow wooden block percussion instrument; shuei yu 水魚, another type of percussion instrument; large and small gongs; opera and northern-style drums; large, regular, and small cymbals; double bells; clapper boards; and hardwood clappers.

Actors and actresses in a Taiwanese opera troupe apply make-up before a performance.
Later, Western musical instruments were also incorporated into Taiwanese opera, including jazz drums, electric pianos, electric guitars, saxophones, and cellos. Taiwanese opera is not restrictive, and any musical instrument capable of producing a lovely, melodious sound is likely to be used.

Originally, Taiwanese opera only had three classifications of characters: namely, the male lead (siao sheng 小生), the male jester (siao chou 小丑), and the female lead (siao dan 小旦). Later, as Taiwanese opera began to incorporate more styles from other major operas, it gradually expanded to include eight major characters. In addition to the siao sheng 小生, there was also the supporting actor (fu sheng 副生), which was further divided into the subcategories of villain (fan sheng 反生) and martial artist (wu sheng 武生); the sorrowful female character (ku dan 苦旦); the primary supporting actress (fu dan 副旦 or hua dan 花旦), which included the subcategory of female villain (yao fu 妖婦); the secondary supporting actress (da hua 大花); the elderly woman (lao po 老婆 or lao dan 老旦); the third-tier supporting actress (san hua 三花); and the female jester (cai dan 彩旦 or san ba 三八). With this variety of characters, Taiwanese opera vividly portrays both comical and special events from everyday life.

Musical instruments of Taiwanese opera include two-stringed low-register Chinese mandolin, a four-stringed Chinese mandolin, northern-style drums, hardwood clappers, and other percussion instruments.
Modern drama has significantly influenced Taiwanese opera. Originally, traditional Taiwanese opera themes involved historical events, tales of gods and spirits, famous legends and myths, auspicious occasions, and stories of swordsmen and heroes. Later, contrived and mystical romance stories, love and hate themes, and farces, were creatively applied to make Taiwanese opera more lively and unrestrained. Even the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, Giuseppe Verdi's opera La Traviata, Hamlet, The Phantom of the Opera, and The Imperial Watchdog have been performed as Taiwanese opera.

Taiwanese opera is part of daily life in Taiwan, reflecting the thoughts, feelings, and aesthetics of the people. Taiwanese opera expresses incomparable energy, and, as it adapts and introduces new performances, it will continue to be a favorite folk art in Taiwan.

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