Education About Asia

The Lion’s Roar in Taiwan: Genealogy of a Traditional Dance

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The colorfully dynamic spectacle of the Lion Dance is now a seemingly requisite part of celebratory events in Chinese communities around the world. Documentary evidence for the performance of dances featuring lions can be traced back over a thousand years. But since lions have never been a part of China’s natural environment, how did they come to be such iconic inhabitants of the Chinese cultural landscape? In this article, I will focus on changes and developments in the Lion Dance in response to social and political conditions in Taiwan during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Due to Taiwan’s political separation from mainland China, the style and practice of the Lion Dance in Taiwan has diverged from its original Chinese form.

Immigrants from mainland China began arriving in significant numbers in Taiwan in the seventeenth century, and the island was governed by Japan in the early twentieth century. In 1949, Taiwan was established as the seat of the Chinese Nationalist Party, or the Kuomintang (KMT), after the Chinese Civil War ended, and with rapid economic growth began to be affected by globalization in the 1980s. Like many traditional arts, the Lion Dance faces the impacts of globalization and replacement by foreign traditions, such as ballet or opera. These ongoing challenges have dramatically influenced the socioeconomic status of dancers, their performing styles, music selections, and the social function of the Lion Dance.