Chinese Folk Customs, Games, and Performing Arts
Chinese people love
excitement, and Chinese New Year and other traditional festivals are times of
special celebration and joy. Singing and dancing are everywhere. In spite of the
heavy influence of Western culture in the increasingly cosmopolitan Taiwan, the
customs and activities accompanying traditional fests and celebrations are still
observed with enthusiasm. Many of these folk customs and performances are
incorporated into the festival celebrations and competitions held on Chinese New
Year and other festivals, and have been passed down from generation to
generation. The most common of these are perhaps the dragon dance and lion
dance. Children growing up in Taiwan, even ones who have not yet taken their
first steps, have all seen one of these performances from their fathers'
shoulders or on TV at home.
There are innumerable other kinds of
festive folk performances, such as "riding in a boat on land," walking on
stilts, "carrying a youth piggyback," the clam spirit dance, and so forth.
In "carrying a youth piggyback," a young
woman straps a head-to-waist wooden mannequin of an old person to the front of
her body, giving the appearance that an old person is carrying her piggyback.
This portrayal of two persons by one is performed as a burlesque pantomime.
In the clam spirit dance, a young woman
puts on a clam shell woven out of bamboo strips. In one sketch, the clam spirit
opens and closes her shell in response to fisherman casting and pulling in his
net, but who each time gets nothing in return for his efforts. In another, a
snipe tries to peck out the clam's tasty flesh for a meal, but instead gets his
beak stuck in the clamshell. This performance inevitably draws side-splitting
laughter and roaring applause from the audience.
Popular Chinese folk games that go back
thousands of years, such as playing diabolo, kicking a shuttlecock, jumping
rope, and spinning tops, challenge and delight youngsters even today.
With encouragement and support from the
government, games, stage shows, and customs such as these have been brought into
the twentieth century in the Taiwan today. Detailed information on their
history, development, materials, technique, performance, and so forth, is widely
available in cultural centers, bookstores, and craft shops around the island in
the form of home videos and books. Elementary school students often get to try
their hand at making some of the equipment used in these various folk arts
themselves, under the guidance of an experienced teacher. in this way, these
ancient cultural treasures are kept vital and new, and a part of contemporary
life, so that they may continue to enrich the lives of China's people for
generations to come.