Shan Puppet Theater: a group that combines Hakka folk songs with puppet theater

Chinese Name
: 山宛然劇團
Year of Establishment: 2002
Founder: Huang Wu-shan (

The Shan Puppet Theater is one of the few puppet theatre troupes in the country that can perform in the Hakka dialect. It has not only expanded the audience for puppet theater, but also applies the Hakka language, music and culture to puppet theater. The Shan Puppet Theater performs the traditional Hakka three-character tea-picking opera, and hopes to travel through small towns across Taiwan to give performances, so as to immerse itself in community life and realize the possibility of being in a roaming theater that can go anywhere and everywhere.

The Shan Puppet Theater was founded in 2002 by Hakka performing artist Huang Wu-shan (黃武山). Huang participated in the theater’s children's puppet theatre group from a young age and learned from the national treasure-level puppet theater masters Li Tian-lu (李天祿) and Chen Hsi-huang (陳錫煌), and also learned from Li Chuan-can’s (李傳燦) traditional puppet theater skills. He became one of Li Tian-lu’s first generation of students when he was in fourth grade.

In 2001, Huang added Hakka author Li Qiao’s "Cold Night Trilogy(寒夜三部曲)" to Hakka music and performed a Hakka-language version of the puppet show based on this book. This premiere also made Huang decide to commit himself to the creation of Hakka-language puppet shows.

The original source of puppet shows has all along belonged to the Minnan dialect system. But teacher Li Tian-lu once said: "Since you are a Hakka, you should speak in your own language." In the next year, Huang established the Shan Puppet Theater.  After graduating from Taipei National University of the Arts’ Theatrical Art Institute, he also studied Hakka folk songs with the queen of Hakka folk songs Lai Pi-hsia (賴碧霞), hoping to inject Hakka culture into traditional puppet shows.

Through puppet shows, the Shan Puppet Theater perfectly blends Hakka folk songs into the performances, and conveys the Hakka culture. The theater also tries to combine the Hakka dramas’ language, exquisite puppet movements, traditional Hakka music, stage art, puppet carving, Hakka traditional clothing, and props with the performance techniques of traditional puppet theater, presenting the aesthetics of the puppet show with a unique Hakka charm.

Every year, the Shan Puppet Theater presents refreshing Hakka opera creations. In addition to integrating the Hakka language into puppet shows, it also tries to combine Western arts with oriental puppet theatre. It has chosen to experiment with the famous Shakespeare play “Henry IV” to create the possibility of modernizing traditional puppet theater. In 2006, its masterpiece "Daughter Getting Married (女兒嫁)" made a breakthrough from previous performances by combining traditional puppet shows with stage plays.

At present, the troupe takes producing and performing puppet plays as the main axis and actively participates in art festival activities. The group has been invited to perform in Europe and other Asian countries. The troupe has also begun to plan classes that combine Hakka operas, Hakka puppet shows and Hakka music.

As for the development of the Shan Puppet Theater in the future, Huang intends to adapt the literary works of many predecessors and Hakka novelists, such as Chung Chao-cheng (鍾肇政) and Lai Ho (賴和), into scripts for puppet shows, and let the audience understand Hakka culture in a simple way.