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2016 Taipei Culture Award celebrates cultural integration, holds cultural events

By Carol Hsieh
Staff Writer

1. Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je speaks at the Taipei Culture Awards ceremony on Nov. 20. (Photo by Carol Hsieh).

This year’s Taipei Culture Award, with the theme “A city of splendid multicultural identities”, was presented to Sun Rong-hui (artistic director of the Yi-Shin Taiwanese Opera Troupe), Liu Qing-zheng (renowned dragon boat maker), and the Godot Theatre Company. The recipients are outstanding advocators of cultural diversity and integration in the arts industry, promoting cultural sharing and helping to enhance Taiwan’s international reputation.

The annual Taipei Culture Award was begun in 1997 to honor individuals or art groups for extraordinary and enduring contributions to the culture industry and for helping to shape Taipei’s cultural identity. Major fields include literature, arts, dancing, and historic architecture, and each year focuses on different themes and values.

At the awards ceremony on Nov. 20, Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je presented each of the winners with a statuette. This year saw 45 nominees for the Taipei Culture Award. Mayor Ko praised the three winners for their artistic mastery and selfless devotion to the arts promotion and education, and also expressed his gratitude to all 55 individuals and groups who have won the prize over the past two decades. Ko said that they have built a firm foundation on which their successors can continue to create and perform.

2.Sun Rong-hui poses in full traditional Taiwanese opera costume. (Photo courtesy of DoCA)

Opera champion Sun Rong-hui
Sun is the founder and artistic director of the Yi-Shin Taiwanese Opera Troupe. The award-winning troupe is well known for its innovative, in-depth content and presentation of the traditional art, as well as its efforts to pass on the cultural legacy. The troupe consists of performers of all ages, and Sun’s children have even taken on key roles, making breakthroughs both on and off stage, producing and performing Western plays cross-culturally adapted for traditional Taiwanese opera. These include The Unrestrained Soul, adapted from Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, and Where is Mackie?, based on Bertolt Brecht’s Die Dreigroschenoper (“The Three Penny Opera”).

Widely praised as a “champion of opera”, Sun grew up in a family with a traditional opera background. Despite that his parents’ efforts to dissuade their children from getting involved in traditional opera because it requires such arduous training in acting and martial arts, Sun developed a strong interest in the art and began learning from his father, Sun Gui, from the age of five. According to Sun Rong-hui, his father was much stricter with him than with others, recalling in an interview later that his father “taught others with words, but taught me with a stick.” Even though his father was so demanding, in the hope of intimidating him into quitting, Sun’s determination was unwavering and he has remained a devotee of the art all his life.

“My father said, ‘If you are determined to learn opera, you have to learn it properly and be outstanding. You can’t stop halfway.’ So while the others practiced something for 15 minutes, I did it for an hour,” said the 70-year-old master. “It was tough. I had to work hard to learn more and be able to play whatever role was needed on the stage at any time.” Sun built a solid foundation and great determination through years of strict training, toured with the Chinese Performing Arts Groups around the world early in his career, and has acted as martial arts advisor for several blockbuster movies. But his heart has always been set on the art that nourished him from his childhood—Taiwanese opera—so, eventually he set up a troupe.

Liu Qing-zheng paints the head of a dragon boat. (Photo courtesy of DoCA)

According to Sun, the troupe was name Yi Shin, meaning “one heart”, in honor of his father, who performed all his life and dreamed of starting his own troupe. By including all troupe members in the running of the troupe, Sun hopes to continue contributing to society and propagating his traditional profession.

Dragon boat master Liu Qing-zheng
Over his 60-year career building boats, Liu Qing-zheng has hand-crafted more than 200 intricately designed and vividly colored dragon boats, many of which were sent overseas for exhibitions and competitions. Interestingly, like Sun Rong-hui, Liu Qing-zheng chose his career path as a result of family influence.

Liu was born into the fifth generation of a boat-building family in Sanjiaodu, Taipei, and began learning to build and fix boats from his father at the age of 15. Three years later, he had accumulated the necessary skills and knowledge to complete his first-ever wooden boat.

Once in Taiwan, any wooden boat painted with dragons and phoenixes could be considered a “dragon boat”. Then, in 1958, the Lius received an order specifically requesting a dragon’s head on the bow and a tail on the stern, a model that eventually became the prototype for modern Taiwanese dragon boats. Later, Liu made adjustments to improve the boat’s structure and detailing, and his sophisticated dragon boats were soon known around the world.

Over the last three decades, Liu has enthusiastically supported government promotion of Taiwanese culture by attending international dragon boat events or gifting dragon boats to overseas organizations. His hand-crafted vessels have reached the shores of the US, Australia, Japan, France, Canada, Germany, and South Africa. The annual Taiwan Cup dragon boat tournament in Hamburg was initiated in 1989, when Liu gave the city two boats for its 800th anniversary celebration.

“When I receive an order for hand-made dragon boats, often I also have to teach the buyers how to row, steer, and drum,” Liu said cheerfully during the award ceremony. “I believe dragon boat rowing is a cultural activity that shows how you work as a team. And boat-building techniques have to be passed down,” he added.

In 2001, Liu established the Sanjiaodu Dragon Boat Culture Development Association, which holds educational workshops, camps, and training programs in the hope of reviving the fading local culture through communal participation and interaction.

4.Publicity photo for the Godot Theatre Company production of Little Town of Tamsui. (Photo courtesy of DoCA)

Godot Theatre Company
With 28 years of history, Godot Theatre Company has produced more than 70 theatrical works and given over 1,500 performances to 2.5 million viewers in more than 50 cities worldwide. But it is in Taipei City, Godot’s base, that the theatre group has always put on most of its plays and seen its largest audiences.

“Over the years, our plays have recorded the growth, progression, and splendor of Taipei City. We are deeply proud of this great, magnificent city, and we hope that even greater theatrical works and venues will be created to celebrate it,” said Liang Chi-min, founder and artistic director of the company, during the awards ceremony.

The theater has created many original contemporary plays infused with classical and modern elements of both western and eastern cultures. With the goal of “sharing the wonders of the world”, Godot has worked hard to create human warmth and shed light on human goodness in their plays. “Each of Godot’s works originates in the will to explore human nature,” said Godot’s co-founder and CEO Mag Lin Ling-yu.

“We’re well aware that our works are for made for an audience and that every work that touches the human heart transcends boundaries and presents human nature’s most basic yearnings. This is Godot’s creative philosophy,” she added.

5.Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je (4th from right), DoCA Commissioner Chung Yung-feng (2nd from right), Liang Chi-min, artistic director of Godot Theatre Company (3rd from right), Sun Rong-hui (4th from left), and Liu Qing-zheng (3rd from left) with judges of the Taipei Culture Award ceremony, Nov. 20. (Photo by Carol Hsieh)<br/>

Godot aims to accomplish three things: to interpret the world’s greatest plays, to perform Chinese classics from a modern perspective, and to create original plays. Some of its most popular plays include Little Town of Tamsui, Tuesdays with Morrie and The Angel Never Sleeps. In recent years, the theater has focused on discovering and fostering talented young performers, and facilitating interaction between generations with their “History Alive” project.

Three free events will be held from late November to mid-December to introduce the public to the winners of this year’s culture award and to promote the cultural work that they represent. The events will take place against a backdrop showing the city from past to present, and will consist of a workshop on the topic of Godot’s “History Alive” project on Nov. 25, a presentation on Sun Rong-hui’s martial arts training and the conservation of traditional opera on Dec. 11, and a riverside dragon boat cultural tour at Sanjiaodu Jetty on Dec. 18. To register or for further information, please call 02-2361-7231 #757.