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City God Festival-33.9.22


1933, 紙本淡彩鉛筆, 36.5×26.5cm

watercolor and pencil on paper






    The crowd bursts into cheers as performers on stilts walk nimbly by. These spectators watch wide-eyed, not wanting to miss a single moment of the excitement. They lift their heads, gleefully watching the parade, but the painter lowers his own, gazing at his pencil as it flits across the paper.






    Sketchy pencil marks overlaid with simple watercolors reveal a glimpse of a temple festival. Sketchbook in hand, Chen Cheng-po joined the swelling crowds to take part in the 1933 City God Inspection Tour and created this rare pictorial record of his hometown’s traditional festivities.






Dintao (traditional temple performance troupes)





    In addition to parade floats, Inspection Tour processions include a wide variety of dintao troupes. These troupes, which hold a special place in traditional Taiwanese culture, are the focal points of the procession. Though their performances are often simple, the repertoire of dintao can vary greatly. The two performers depicted in the painting likely belong to a troupe responsible for energizing the crowd in anticipation of the City God’s arrival.





Cloth-horse troupe





    Donning the characteristic hat of a scholar and clutching a horsewhip, the Leading Imperial Scholar (Zhuang-yuan) “sits” astride a cloth-horse and is accompanied on foot by a servant. A familiar element in Taiwanese folk celebrations, the cloth-horse troupe delights audiences as they enact the blunders of a clumsy Zhuang-yuan or county magistrate, utterly devoid of horsemanship, and his hapless servants.  





Golden flowers





    Gracing either side of the Zhuang-yuan’s hat are “Golden Flowers,” which denote his recent success on passing the imperial examination. This character—the Zhuang-yuan walking proudly through the streets wearing a hat adorned with golden flowers bestowed by the emperor—has long been popular in traditional folk operas. Tales of Zhuang-yuan promenades are now commonly interpreted by cloth-horse troupes. 










    With the wide array of dintao troupes at folk festivals, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd, but walking on stilts does help. Usually, stilt-walking troupes do not intermingle with other dintao in the parade. The two performers in Chen’s painting belong to a “cultural stilts” troupe that presents theatrical performances combining stilt-walking with costumes and storylines used by cloth-horse troupes to captivate the audience’s attention.





Painting and calligraphy exhibition




    As the City God Festival continued to draw throngs of visitors to Chiayi year after year, other events, such as the Painting and Calligraphy Exhibition, began to crop up alongside the festivities. Upon returning home from China in 1933, Chen Cheng-po exhibited his recently completed Shanghai landscapes at one such event for the appreciation of Chiayi residents and visitors alike.










    Although Chen rose to fame for his oil paintings, he left behind a significant number of works in other media, including 408 watercolor paintings. This body of works dates back to the early 1930s and includes many portraits of female nudes completed during his working sojourn in Shanghai. Other watercolors portray another favorite subject of Chen’s: scenes populated by eclectic multitudes of colorful individuals.