Traditional Art

How many years must go by before we can talk of "tradition"? This is the first issue to think about when we consider traditional Hakka art!

According to the Preservation Act traditional art "refers to the traditional crafts and arts of an ethnic group or area, including traditional crafts and performance arts." This clearly defines the Hakka position on traditional arts. But the Hakka traditional arts of the past, just like the fate of the Hakkas themselves, has remained in obscurity! The appearance (or image) of Hakka culture in Taiwan has and remains an object of bias. For example, although traditional Hakka arts forms part of the National Center for Traditional Arts, a careful look at the collection of Hakka arts reveals a rather paltry representation. It would appear the Hakka are represented only as a sample: mountain songs and traditional instruments, of course, these are precious pieces of the Hakka cultural heritage of traditional art but in addition to these there are countless other traditional arts.

Where is the crux of this problem? From a certain angle, the National Center just represents an overall Taiwan view of traditional arts and the sparse representation of Hakka traditional arts can simply be attributed to the longtime neglect by Taiwan society of the culture of disadvantaged groups.

In recent years the Hakka movement has arisen from the people and has gradually begun to take a new direction, receiving more support from government agencies, and there now is every opportunity for it to produce an even more brilliant and rich panoply of traditional Hakka arts.

As for traditional Hakka music, aside from the well-known instrumental ensemble and the "northern pipe" style music, there is also Taoist music, Buddhist music, Christian music, Catholic music, music drama, amateur chentou music groups and in recent years the increasingly lively folk music developed by Hakka folk music classes. On the musical instrument side, there are many areas to mine: instruments using animal skins, copper, wood, string instruments, wind instruments and others (mouth harp, bow harp), and Western instruments. In addition, there are the traditional hand-copied music, lyrics and musical relics.

For traditional opera, in addition to the well-known tea-picking, three-foot tea-picking and Hakka grand opera, Hakka have participated in nanguan, pingju, liyuan, kaochia, ketsai, puhsi, puppet theater, shadow plays, niuli, chegu and tzuti opera. Also, Taiwan Hakka are often seen in modern theater productions and on the experimental theater stage.

In the area of chentou (amateur groups), folk sport and acrobatics: famous are the lion dancers, the Miaoli City firecracker dragons and welcoming dragons, the Chupei Six Clan Hsinwawu Flower Drum Troupe; and groups expert in jump rope, shuttlecock, bell pulling, top spinning, hoop rolling, dragon boat punting; Hakka boxing (free style boxing), knife, spear, club and sword play, seizing, neikung and waikung.

For traditional folk dancing there is the tea-picking dance, the dance of joy, and the opera dance. Hakka also participate in competitions for Taiwan and other national folk dances. In modern theatrical dance there is the ring of dances that combines modern dance with Hakka traditional culture and that is quite creative.

In art and drawing there is Western painting, Chinese shui-mo, gouache, calligraphy, seal cutting, block print, engraving, color drawings, and Budda face carving; stone, wood, bamboo, leather, jade, bone carving, sculpture, inlay, and integrated modeling. The practical arts include two- and three-dimensional design, illustration, cartoons, and the media arts (photo, video, multi-media). In the technical arts there is pottery and ceramics, lacquer, gourd, paper, bamboo paper, rattan, bamboo, embroidery, wooden, stone, metal and glass categories, etc.

Traditional arts encompass a myriad of things and the Hakka in Taiwan devote great effort to them. The question is not how long a history Hakka arts have, it is whether we have the ability to appreciate and affirm them. (text: Chen Pan)