Taiwanese opera (Koa-he) was created in Taiwan by merging various forms of opera from the Southern Fujian area of Chinese mainland. Greatly influenced by local folk customs, it became popular musical plays with unique Taiwanese characteristics. The new form was subsequently brought back to the Fujian region, and called "Xiang" opera. Through the touring performances by troupes from Taiwan, it also caught on among Minnan Chinese immigrants in Southeast Asia, especially in Singapore and became known there as "Taiwanese Opera".

In the early days, there were few entertainments available in Taiwan, therefore, Taiwanese Opera already became popular by around 1930. The audiences of Taiwanese opera were of ordinary people, not of the ruling class as was for Chinese opera, creating a friendly environment. Especially when it is played in an outdoor platform, the sounds of drums and gongs from the stage mixing with shouting voices of audiences from a very intimate atmosphere. People enjoyed themselves in such a noisy environment which fully reflected a peaceful agricultural society.

In Taiwan, Taiwanese Opera originated in Ilan, and extended to other parts of the Island within ten years. At the onset of Sino-Japanese war, it was banned by the Colonial Japanese regime. After the WW II, Taiwanese Opera revived and gained momentum. In three years, there were more than five hundred troupes, including over three hundred professional ones.

Sadly, Taiwanese Opera soon faced stiff competition from movies and television, and in turn turned to television or outdoor performances.

Since Taiwanese opera is sung in Taiwanese, it is discouraged and allotted limited and unfavorable television time segments by the government. In recent years, however, with the changing political climate and economic conditions, interests in indigenous culture are being revived.

Efforts are being made through individual efforts to raise the standard of the Taiwanese opera, and to adopt modern theatrical technology to transform it into a quality indoor performing arts accepted by all groups of people.

To achieve such a goal, it is necessary to cultivate quality performers. However, without organized schools, it is still being achieved by one-to-one individual transfer of the skills at present time.

Ms. Chiung-chih Liao is one of the concerned living pioneers in this field. She started her Taiwanese opera career at the young age of fifteen and soon became famous at age twenty. She performed throughout the island and Southeast Asian countries. She left the stage at one time, but returned to engage in the task of teaching the younger generation.

In 1988, she became the first artist in the area of Taiwanese Opera, to receive the National Culture and Arts Award from President Lee Teng-Huei. At present, she is the only accomplished artist to have performed over twenty plays in Taiwanese Opera.

In 1990, Ms. Liao established the Cultural Propagation Theatrical Group, and the Liao Chiung-chih Taiwanese Opera Foundation For Culture and Education in 1999. The purpose of both organizations is to teach and propagate the art of Taiwanese Opera.


Chen-san and Wu-nyang

This is one of the four grand plays in Taiwanese opera.

Chen-san, a casanova from a rich family, was deeply attracted to Wu-nyang's beauty, when they unexpectedly met on the crowded street decorated with various lanterns for a celebration on the Lantern Festival Day. In order to win Wu-nyang's heart, Chen-san disguised himself as a bronze-mirror polisher and peddled around the neighborhood. As expected, one day he was called by Wu-nyang's servant, I-chung, for a polishing work. Chen-san intentionally broke Wu-nyang's mirror after he had polished bright. The "poor" man could not pay for the mirror and willingly sold himself as a servant to Wu-nyang's. What a smart excuse to stay with her. Under I-chung's match-making effort, Chen-san and Wu-nyang eventually married, but not before going through a series of setback.

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