Li Tien-lu

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Li Tien-lu
Traditional Chinese李天祿
Simplified Chinese李天禄

Li Tien-lu (24 December 1910 – 13 August 1998) was a Taiwanese puppeteer. He is best known to the international audience for playing principal characters in several Taiwanese films directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien.


Born in Taiwan in 1910,[1][2] Li Tien-lu had been trained in glove puppetry by his father since the age of eight.[1] He founded the puppet theatre troupe Almost Like Life in 1932, aged 22.[2] The group ended performances in 1937, soon after the Second Sino-Japanese War began and Japanese authorities censored Taiwanese Hokkien entertainment.[2][3] Almost Like Life returned to the stage in 1941.[3] Li's troupe premiered one of its most famous performances, 300 Years of Qing Dynasty — Keng Yao, in 1948.[4] They became even more well-known under the Kuomintang government.[2] In 1962, Li's puppet troupe became the first to be featured in a television show.[2] Li considered retirement in the 1970s, as the popularity of glove puppetry lessened.[2] However, both Jacques Pimpaneau and Jean-Luc Penso visited Li from France,[2] and Penso remained in Taiwan to learn the art of glove puppetry.[5] Penso established the Theatre du Petit Miroir troupe in Paris in 1975.[5] Penso later recalled Li's intense and challenging teaching style, and stated that Li refused tuition payments, as he had taught his children glove puppetry for free.[6][7] Other students of Li included his sons Chen Hsi-huang[8][9] and Li Chuan-tsan,[10] as well as Huang Wu-shan,[11] Madeleine Beresford, and Margaret Moody.[10]

Li also performed Peking opera, Taiwanese opera, and Hakka opera.[3] He received Taiwan's National Heritage Award in 1985,[3] and the National Cultural Award in 1991, which was bestowed with the title of "living national treasure."[12] In 1995, the government of France named Li a knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.[2] The Li Tien-lu Hand Puppet Historical Museum is named after Li and opened to the public in 1996.[13][14] He died at the age of 87 on 13 August 1998.[3]


Li featured in the role of the grandfather in Hou Hsiao-hsien's 1986 film Dust in the Wind and 1987 film Daughter of the Nile. He also played the patriarch of the extended Chinese family facing the events surrounding A City of Sadness (1989). The Puppetmaster (1993) 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. Li was posthumously featured in the 2001 documentary Tug of War: The Story of Taiwan.[15]


Li Tien-lu was the subject of a Google Doodle on the occasion of what would have been his 110th birthday on 24 December 2020.[16]


  1. ^ a b "Li Tian-Lu(李天祿)Hand Puppet Historical Museum as in "Puppetmaster" (戲夢人生) (1993) directed by Hou Xiao-Xian (侯孝賢)". North Coast and Guanyinshan National Scenic Area. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Han Cheung (26 August 2018). "Taiwan in Time: The puppet master heads west". Taipei Times. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Puppet Master | Li Tian-lu". Ministry of Culture of the Republic of China. 18 November 2015. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  4. ^ "Events and entertainment". Taipei Times. 20 November 2009. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Legacy Series II: Li Tian-lu and his disciples". Ministry of Culture of the Republic of China. 26 September 2016. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  6. ^ Bartholomew, Ian (13 July 2008). "Bringing new life to puppets". Taipei Times. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  7. ^ Yu, Pei-ju; Chin, Jonathan (9 January 2016). "Exhibition puts spotlight on puppeteers Li, Penso". Taipei Times. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  8. ^ "Festival invites performers to spark life into puppetry". Taipei Times. 30 September 2017. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  9. ^ Mo, Yan-chih (11 April 2010). "City government honors traditional folk arts masters". Taipei Times. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  10. ^ a b Bartholomew, Ian (11 July 2008). "Master of puppets". Taipei Times. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  11. ^ "Troupe sends gift to young patient". Taipei Times. 18 February 2008. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  12. ^ Bosco, Joseph (April 1992). "The Emergence of a Taiwanese Popular Culture". American Journal of Chinese Studies. 1 (1): 51–64. JSTOR 44289179.
  13. ^ Hyon Joo Yoo (2012). The Trans-Pacific Imagination: Rethinking Boundary, Culture and Society. World Scientific. p. 201. ISBN 9789814324137.
  14. ^ "Li Tian-lu Hand Puppet Museum". Ministry of Culture of the Republic of China. 27 November 2015. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  15. ^ Yu, Sen-lun (7 November 2001). "Taiwan made for a US audience". Taipei Times. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  16. ^ "Li Tien-lu's 110th Birthday". Retrieved 2020-12-26.