The End-of-year Opera

  • The End-of-year Opera

    The most famous drama in the Hakka villages in Taiwan is the end-of-winter opera, also called the peace opera. This is the biggest event after the autumn harvest in August. The show originated from the traditional concept of “Praying in spring and showing gratitude in autumn.” In spring, farmers prayed to gods of heaven and earth for sufficient rainwater and rich crops. After the harvest in autumn, they had to repay for the blessings from gods. Aside from an abundance of offerings, they also hired opera troupes to make outdoor performances to show their thankfulness and sincerity. The people in the past may have really believed in the solemn significance of making prayers and expressing thankfulness to deities through these performances, yet, more importantly, the villagers had the opportunity to enjoy some dramas. As most Hakka people were busy all year round, naturally they learned to cherish this wonderful time that came only once a year.

    Having solemn significance yet providing satisfying entertainment, troupe that performed end-of-year operas often traveled to one town right after another. It could take as long as one to two months to make a complete round through one township or one worship circle. Obviously this was arranged on purpose to maximize the function of these shows.

    Even today, one of the deepest childhood memories in a Hakka can easily be going to different places with grandfather or grandmother to see a play. It might have as well been a long TV series in which Hakka farmers followed the troupe from one village to another. When, a month or two later, the theater season finally came to an end, the farmers would then begin to do the post-harvest work in the field. 

    After the retrocession of Taiwan, under the policy of so-called correcting folk customs, end-of-year operas were criticized as wasteful and they were to be performed uniformly in one day. The folks were suddenly deprived of the one-to-two-month show watching and their enthusiasm for the post-harvest thanksgiving greatly dwindled. After 1970s, new kinds of entertainment emerged one after another and took away the audience from outdoor opera troupes. Temples continued to hire some performances once in a while but they were no longer the source of entertainment for the town folks.

    Since its creation, this council has made arrangements for end-of-year operas to be performed at annual Hakka Arts Festivals in major Hakka towns with the aim to revive Hakka culture. The council has hired outstanding troupes to perform at different places in turn. They have been well received by Hakka folks everywhere.