Innovating Tradition: Pan Ruei-hua's Lion-Dance Dream Comes True／既傳統又創新 潘瑞華 舞獅也舞夢
Innovating Tradition: Pan Ruei-hua's Lion-Dance Dream Comes True
◎English translation: Peng Hsin-yi
◎Photos by Lin Yu-hung
Lion dance is one of Taiwan's most popular folk traditions. Few know, however, that the lions' heads are handmade by skilled artisans, and Artisan Mr. Pan Ruei-hua, who has won recognition for this kind of art, is considered one of the three most significant artisans in Taiwan. He comes from a family which runs a martial arts club and Songjiang Lion Dance over a century. Mr. Pan learned the art of making lions' heads from his grandfather, and his early start allows him to boast of 35 years' experience while being aged just 41. The Pan family takes the tradition very seriously; their lions' heads are still made using clay molds and papier-mache.
Mr. Pan recalls with great fondness childhood memories of his grandfather performing the lion dance. He says there were several thousand people in the streets, all wanting to see the magnificent lion. The festive frenzy the lion was able to bring out from the crowd was mesmerizing, and as a boy he wished with all his heart that one day he would impress an audience through lion dancing.
Mr. Pan began training martial arts and Songjiang Lion Dance when he was just six years old. At the same time, he started learning the craft of making lions' heads. By 1998, when he was 24 years old, he was already the club's grand master. Under his leadership, the family's Songjiang Battle Array – named The Black Heaven Master's Altar Brigade – won second place in the President's Cup Lion Dance Tournament. His lions' heads were able to blink their eyes and twitch their ears, thanks to levers inside the heads operated by the dancers. Mr. Pan's choreography was lively and energetic, deeply impressing the audience.
Mr. Pan says the lion dance and the making of lions' heads has been passed down from father to son in his family. To make a lion's head, he starts with a type of clay that has great elasticity. With it, he sculpts the facial features, then adds layers and layers of newspaper to a clay mold using a traditional glue which blends sticky rice, raw cane sugar and sweet potato starch. Each layer takes two days to dry, and there are 20 layers in all. When the paper is dry, he removes the clay mold, and the lion's head is ready. When asked why he never uses modern adhesives, he stresses that making lions' heads is a tradition, so traditional methods must be used. Perhaps he feels that he lives to preserve this tradition; his life is already one facet of the tradition he strives to maintain.
Mr. Pan feels especially inspired at night when he paints the lions' heads. He had made over a thousand heads, but has never repeated himself. He says there is no fun in making the same thing over and over again. Often, he picks up the brush in the early evening and paints through the night. He says the painting of lions' heads must be done in one sitting, or the colors will not be as beautiful. Asked how long a lion's head lasts, he points to one hanging on the wall that was made by his great-grandfather. It is still as perfect as the day it was made.
Mr. Pan enjoys making lions' heads so that he continues to produce at least 12 every year. In 2007, he made an extra large one weighing 50 kg (about 110 lbs) which is now the pride of Yecuo Community in Kaohsiung City's Hunei District, where he resides. Mr. Pan also gives lectures at community education programs and design institutes, so as to expose the general public to this art.
When Mr. Pan is hired to perform the Songjiang Lion Dance, he regards it not simply as a job, but something he does with pride. Ten years ago, he broke the mold of traditional routines, adding firecrackers to his performance and inventing the "Crackling Songjiang Array." He thus became an industry leader. The sound of firecrackers ushers in an atmosphere of festivity; people associate the noise with prosperity, and believe that the louder the firecrackers, the better business will be in the coming year. This performance is not for the faint of heart, it requires boldness and calmness in a literally explosive environment. The "Crackling Songjiang Array" has been invited to perform at important festivals and religious ceremonies, such as the pilgrimage which starts from Dajia District in Taichung City and honors Mazu, the patron goddess of sailors and travelers, and the Bombing of Master Handan in Taidong City. Each time, his performance wows the crowd.
Lion-dance performances and the making of lions' heads are important parts of Taiwan's traditional culture. Artisans like Mr. Pan are working hard to preserve them, and are proud to present them to every kind of audience.
既傳統又創新 潘瑞華 舞獅也舞夢