Taiwanese master of glove puppetry. This centenarian master was admired for his artistic longevity and deep understanding of dramatic art and the classical literature that he adapted for his repertoire. Huang Hai-Dai founded his theatre, Wu Jou Yuen (Wuzhouyuan, Garden of the Five Continents), at Yunlin in Central Taiwan in 1918. For over sixty years, he trained a large number of puppeteers who themselves created schools; as a result, he is the godfather of more than three hundred troupes of glove puppetry (budaixi) in Taiwan’s Chinese diaspora community.

Since the 1970s, the sons and grandsons of this maestro took over the troupe and moved performances into Taiwanese television (see Television). Master Huang Hai-Dai created a new performing style for budaixi, drawing audiences of all ages and social classes. He broke the stereotypes of traditional performance with his new themes and sound effects. One of his sons, Huang Tsun-Hsiong (Huang Junxiong), promoted further innovations in performance, which are continued by Chris and Vincent Huang of the next generation.

In traditional puppetry, characters are usually introduced by a “five line poem”, which allows viewers to identify the character entering the stage. Instead of this practice, representative music and bright costumes came to be used. Rather than following the traditional, difficult literary language of the past, dialogues came to be improvised based on succinct plots; and Minnanhua, the most popular local dialect, became the norm. The daily performances by Pili (Peal of Thunder) TV have subtitles in Chinese characters. Finally, traditional music was replaced by all kinds of tunes, from local pop songs to variations on Mozart melodies to create a movie-like TV sound track.

As for the repertoire, the family freely adapted traditional stories drawn from Chinese popular culture featuring, among other motifs, bandits, avengers of wrongs, acrobatic fights, complete with plenty of special effects and humour. Immensely successful, the troupe gives two two-hour performances a day in a packed five hundred-seat studio theatre. The daily television episode dominates the ratings in its time slot. Sheng Shi Chuan Shuo (Legend of the Sacred Stone, 2000) is a feature film that combines special effects, kung-fu tropes and puppetry. The troupe has at least four hundred puppets and can create giant puppets to play in special large-scale performances. The troupe includes, besides two masters, four puppeteers, five musicians, a set designer, a scriptwriter, and a props master.