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Chinese Puppetry

Across different times in the history of Hong Kong, Chinese puppetry played an indispensable role in the community’s entertainment and sacrificial rituals.

In as early as around the 1870’s, Cantonese rod puppetry already enjoyed massive popularity in Dongguan, which is in close proximity to Hong Kong. As such, there were always puppetry troupes coming to Hong Kong to perform.

In a performance of Cantonese rod puppetry, artists support and move puppets that consist only the upper body, and sing meanwhile. This is rarely seen in Hong Kong nowadays. As the leader of Wah Shan Traditional Puppet Chinese Opera, one of the most active troupes currently, CHAN Kam-to has performed shengongxi in various places of the city in the past thirty years or so. However, as audiences have mostly lost interest in puppetry in recent years, he now performs predominantly in Jiao festivals in New Territories, and scarcely in other occasions.

In addition to Jiao festivals, temple fairs, consecration ceremonies of temples and festive occasions, the seventh month in the lunar calendar, which the Yu Lan Ghost Festival falls in, used to be also the peak season for puppetry troupes. For instance, Sham Tseng Village invited troupes to perform Chiu Chow iron stick puppetry in the 1960’s. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, iron stick puppetry was prevalent in Hong Kong. As society became more affluent, the general public has grown to favour shengongxi featuring real artists onstage, resulting in the dissolution of numerous iron stick puppetry troupes.

Master WONG Fai from Fujian is an experienced artist in Chinese puppetry. He recalls how overwhelmingly popular traditional Chinese performing arts were in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, when a lot of tourists from the West would like to experience Chinese culture in Hong Kong. In those years, he performed the classic play Tai Ming City every evening in the ballroom of The Mira Hong Kong as part of the Winning Glove Puppets Art Troupe, receiving applause from guests coming from all over the world.

Master LI Yixin, an expert in Fujian hand puppetry, has been performing in shows organised by the Hong Kong government for three decades. With a decreasing number of shows, not only is his livelihood affected, but also the puppetry artists he spent years of hard work nurturing are quitting one after another. Sadly, this is a situation that we can do very little about.

Producer: Michelle TANG

Hong Kong Heritage

  • Video
  • English
  • Culture
  • Completed
Hong Kong has inherited traditional Chinese cultures. Situating at a unique geographic position while having a special role historically, for over a century, Hong Kong has always been an important hub for Chinese people to travel abroad as well as the new home for them to settle down. People of different races and nationalities from all over the world gather in this place. Cultures, customs and skills of all kinds can be passed on, evolved and integrated as a result, and thus enabling this small city to preserve its rich cultural heritage. Following the implementation of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage which was put into effect by UNESCO, the concept of “Intangible Cultural Heritage” has been increasingly popular while the local community has been placing more emphasis on the conservation of cultural heritage.

This programme is set in Hong Kong with the aim to present the characteristics of Hong Kong’s local culture from different perspectives, so as to let the general public have a more in-depth understanding of various kinds of cultures, as well as to enhance the awareness of the society to preserve the already endangered local culture. At the same time, different cultures have taken roots in the local communities. Not only do they bring about different social meanings, but also a cohesive force to bring various types of people together. On top of that, this programme will show specifically that cultural inheritance does not merely serve as a positive force for small communities and the society as a whole, but an indispensable element for social development in a modern society as well.

Narrator: John Culkin

Broadcast Details:
This 11-episode programme will be broadcast from 26 October 2018 on RTHK TV 31 and 31A.
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