Li Tien-lu: Google Doodle celebrates the 110th birthday of the Taiwanese puppeteer

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Google Doodle celebrates the 110th birthday of Taiwanese puppeteer Li Tien-lu (李天祿; 李天禄) on December 24, 2020.

Who was Li Tien-lu (李天祿; 李天禄)?

Li Tien-lu (李天祿; 李天禄)

Li Tien-lu was born on December 24, 1910 in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei. He is most popular with international audiences for playing the main characters in a few Taiwanese films directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien.

Li Tien-lu had been trained in glove puppets by his father since he was eight years old. He embarked on a professional career as a puppeteer in his youth and in his mid-twenties started his own troupe: I Wan Jan.

Li Tien-lu founded the Almost Like Life Puppet Theater Troupe in 1932, at the age of 22. The group ended their performances in 1937, shortly after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and Japanese authorities censored Hokkien’s Taiwanese entertainment. Almost like life returns to the stage in 1941.

Li’s group debuted in one of their most famous performances, 300 Years of the Qing Dynasty – Keng Yao, in 1948. They became much more notable under the Kuomintang government.

Li Tien-lu (李天祿; 李天禄) brought together elements like Peking Opera and Taiwanese music from Beiguan to create a new form of glove puppet called Wai Jiang Pai and the troupe enjoyed tremendous success from the 1950s to the 70s.

In 1962, Li’s puppet troupe became the first to appear on a TV show. In 1973, a French researcher looked into the art of Tien-lu and asked him to teach a few of his students. In a short time, Tien-lu had students from all over the world who thus brought worldwide popularity to Taiwanese puppetry craftsmanship.

Li Tien-lu thought of retirement in the 1970s, as the notoriety of glove puppets waned. Nonetheless, Jacques Pimpaneau and Jean-Luc Penso visited Li from France, and Penso remained in Taiwan to learn about the art of glove puppetry. Penso created the Théâtre du Petit Miroir troupe in Paris in 1975.

Penso then reviewed Li’s intense and stimulating teaching style and said that Li refused to pay the tuition fee because he taught glove puppets to his children for free. Various Li’s students incorporated his children Chen Hsi-Hsiang and Li Chuan-tsan, as well as Huang Wu-shan, Madeleine Beresford, and Margaret Moody.

Li Tien-lu (李天祿; 李天禄) highlighted the role of the grandfather in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s 1986 film Dust in the Wind and the 1987 film Daughter of the Nile. He also played the patriarch of the extended Chinese family in the face of the events surrounding A City of Sadness (1989).

Li Tien-lu has also performed a Beijing show, Taiwanese opera, and Hakka opera. It was awarded the Taiwan National Heritage Award in 1985 and the National Culture Award in 1991, which received the title of “Living National Treasure”.

To honor his aesthetic contributions, Tien-lu was honored as a “Living National Treasure” by the Taiwanese government, and in 1995 he was knighted by the French government.

Li Tien-lu spent the rest of his life traveling the world promoting this art form and starring in films like “The Puppetmaster” (1993), a biopic about his life. The Puppetmaster tells the true story of Li’s life as a master puppeteer, spanning the years from Li’s birth in 1910 to the end of Japan’s fifty-year occupation of Taiwan in 1945.

In 1995, the French government appointed Li Tien-lu Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Li Tien-lu Historical Hand Puppet Museum is named after Li and opened to the public in 1996.

Li Tien-lu died at the age of 87 on August 13, 1998.

Li Tien-lu was posthumously featured in the 2001 documentary Tug of War: The Story of Taiwan.

On December 24, 2020, Google celebrates Li Tien-lu’s 110th birthday with Google Doodle.


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