Traditional Glove Puppet Theatre

The glove puppet theatre is the most popular form of puppet theatre in Taiwan. The small traditional glove puppet originated in Fujian Province in China. They are some of the smallest and most beautiful puppets in the world. These traditional small puppets are only performed by a dozen of companies in Taiwan, and no longer in China, where the puppets have been enlarged. The genre is called budaixi (potehi in the local dialect), which means “cloth-bag-theatre”, as the puppet resembles a little bag, when it is upside down.

The plays are mainly historical tales of a martial nature, and the audiences for the puppets shows were mainly male, as too, are the performers. There are usually two puppeteers.
Glove puppet makers are keen observers of society and any type of person could be incorporated in the glove puppet theatre.

There are hundreds of different characters, and although based on the traditional opera division of characters: male (sheng), female (dan), warrior/painted face (jing) , older males (mo) and clowns (chou), as well as mythical characters, animals etc., we do not find in the actors’ opera.

The music is very important and an orchestra of four or more people are seated behind the stage: one for the drums and one percussionist of the gongs, a string instrument (erhu) musician and a trumpet (suona) player.

The “Colourful Mansion” (cai lou) An early 1900s traditional glove puppet stage carved of camphor wood. Two performers (the master, who would do all the voices) and his assistant would perform the puppets from behind the stage. They could see the movement of the puppets through the openings of the two wooden carved panels.

View of the exhibition: Traditional glove puppet stage

View of the exhibition: Backstage with instruments and a puppet box

A traditional wooden puppet box of Master Chen Xihuang of the Xin Wan Ran company in Taipei (1970s)

Unmarried young lady (1980s; carver Huang Yiluo)

Bai Kuo, old man in his eighties (early 20th century)

Old lady, carved by Master Jiang Chaoxuan (late 1970s)

Xu Wen, an elderly statesman (early 20th century)

The local temple of the City God in Dadaocheng, the old part of Taipei period. A glove puppet theatre performance is usually part of a temple festival. The stage is placed opposite the temple entrance and the performance is an offering to the Gods. During the performance people pray, eat and watch the performance.