Arts & Illustrations
A Story on the Origin of Shang Culture

The main character of the story is the King in the Shang kingdom. He stands smiling before the newly-built grand mausoleum. Though forgetting just how long the construction has taken, he is sure a lot of manpower and money went into it. He smiles not only at the grandeur of the mausoleum, but also for his absolute power and authority. He remembers how a month earlier some wretched servants protested at being buried alive, but in the end he saw to it that they were entombed in the mausoleum. Of course, this is the whole point of the caste system: position prevails.

Wandering Light and Roaming Clouds – Autobiography

Five thousand years ago, the idea of Chinese text came like a bolt of lightning. Since its advent, the Chinese text was destined to be an unpredictable spectacle. From stone drum inscriptions, clerical script, seal script, running script, to standard script, the Chinese text evolves like the galloping Yellow River, whose flow is unrestrained and all-inclusive. It has been not only a tool to convey meanings and emotions, but an artistic expression. Therefore, even though the full meanings of the text may have become difficult to comprehend over centuries, we can still be touched by the writers’ true feelings expressed through their writings without the help of any spoken language.

Through the “Four Treasures of the Study” (brush, ink, paper and inkstone), ancient stories from across time and space come alive. We are fortunate to have these classic masterpieces of calligraphy in the National Palace Museum. But how can we appreciate tens of thousands of such treasures within a limited period of time?
Drums Resonating Across the Mountains: U-Theatre

 Article by: Liao Zhixian



This article is provided by the Taiwan Digital Archives Request-for-Proposals Project, the subsidiary project of Taiwan Digital Archives Expansion Project

Artistic creation is tremendous and demands assiduous attention to detail. It preserves the footprints of times, it shouts and shakes, it expresses anxiety and uneasiness, it shocks—all play out as a vivid performance in front of the audience, forming a sort of spiritual, silent mutual understanding. The artist’s memories and life story trigger inspiration, and when images burst from the depths of memory and the spirit begins to soar… everything starts to flow.

It’s not before the moment the teacher marks the countdown to the College Entrance Examination on the blackboard that you realize it is time to start flipping through the textbooks you have previously thrown into the recycle bin. Not before the moment you are applying for your first job that you are frantically searching for your university diploma at three in the morning. Not before the moment you run into an old flame and are captivated by their true beauty that you realize you should not have tossed away those love letters the day you broke up. 

Cleaning out the closet, trading new lamps for old, lacking storage space or simply being impulsive decisions; things, be they furniture, antiques, or simply old letters and cards, all risk falling victim to hard choices before long. We all share this experience. Even though a life story is as rich as a museum, no matter how careful we are when choosing what to keep, we most certainly will end up regretting.


Arts, Coexisting with Spirituality

What happened years ago is not easy to recall, especially when it comes to filing and archiving work. Now, after the end of their performance, U-Theatre is faced with the urgent challenge of archiving what they have done. In 1988, Liu Ruoyu founded U-Theatre. For the next twenty-two years, leaping across a millennium from the 20th into the 21st century, the company would make its base in the natural theater of the mountainous Muzha region. 

The first sound of their drums always comes from the mountains. Tian Liqing, U-Theatre’s current director of archives said, “U-Theatre has a mountain playhouse. It is one of the few performance companies in Taiwan that have an outdoor venue for rehearsal.” Liu Ruoyu, artistic director of the U-Theatre, was trained under Jerzy Grotowski (1933-1999) in the United States and learned to search for a spiritual life in nature. Hence, she chose the mountainous area for the rehearsal site when she founded the company. 

In the early days, the members always started training, performing taichi, meditation, etc. in the early morning. There was no running water or electricity. They had to leave when it got dark, and get their water in buckets. It was a pure, spiritual endeavor, melding life with the arts—and this same spirit still remains.

Starting in 2006, annual performances in the mountains have been organized, rain or shine. This mountain is the starting point of every performance of the U-Theatre. To preserve this kind of art developed from the interaction between humans and nature, in 2007 the Taipei City Government officially designated U-Theatre’s Mountain Theater in Laoquan Village  as part of the cultural landscape. 

The U-Theatre’s training, besides going into the mountains, also involves coming down into the towns. In 1996, U-Theatre started a tour in Kenting. They played their drums at night and walked during the day, passing through twenty-five towns on the west coast of Taiwan within twenty-eight days. The next year, their tour extended to 800 kilometers over thirty-five days, reaching the east coast of Taiwan. They played a proactive role in local cultural festivals. Their third tour took place in 2008. During this fifty-day, 1,200-kilometer journey they made an entire trip around Taiwan, visiting 100 towns and villages and performing thirty times. U-Theatre believes that the round-the-island tour was in itself a spiritual act to reconnect with the life force of the land.

Poster for ‘Sound of Ocean’


The Digital Archive Project: The Moment to Save the Documents Is Now

Archiving is not just about showing the contrast between new and old. It is also about preserving our memories of this land. Archives record the mighty traces of times on nothing but thin, frail sheets of paper. The priorities of U-Theatre begin with creation and rehearsal, followed by advertising and finally archiving. Company members are professional performers who are good at meditation, martial arts, and percussion. The preservation of their cultural assets, however, remains an urgent challenge. 

“Muzha,” “twenty-two years,” and “mountains” are the keywords that best illustrate the obstacles they face in preserving this valuable cultural asset. Unlike the spirituality of artistic performance, archiving work is faced with temporal and spatial limitations—such as the threats of humidity and the difficulty of filing.

“The U-Theatre has been around for twenty-two years. We have moved a few times and a lot of documents were lost or improperly filed. That’s why we have to go back to our previous offices to dig out everything,” Tian said. It’s not just that matters are in disarray. Taiwan has a humid subtropical climate, and some documents had been exposed to water and become moldy. Documents such as posters, flyers, news clippings, play scripts, and so on had to be dug out and categorized—one can imagine how challenging it must have been.

“The U-Theatre is aware of how important archiving is, but there was never a driving force behind it. Now, the digital archive project pushes them to think about it,” said Professor Ke Haoren, the director of the archive project. As a specialist in the field, three years ago Professor Ke was in charge of the digital archive projects for the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and Li Taixiang. He believed that an attention-getter such as U-Theatre would be a good starting place for the next digital archive project. “The results of the 2008 National Award for Arts were released and U-Theatre was on the list, so I contacted them. We clicked right away,” Professor Ke said. 

Artistic creation is tremendous and demands assiduous attention to detail. It preserves the footprints of times, it shouts and shakes, it expresses anxiety and uneasiness, it shocks—all play out as a vivid performance in front of the audience, forming a sort of spiritual, silent mutual understanding. The artist’s memories and life story trigger inspiration, and when images burst from the depths of memory and the spirit begins to soar… everything starts to flow. Despite that both Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and U-Theatre have won the National Award for Arts, they are very different in terms of the core values they hold, not to mention sources of inspiration. Hence, the best way to digitize them must surely also be different.

Currently, the digital archive project has been incorporated to the official U-Theatre website. Updates on the company, including information on upcoming performances, are published on Facebook and Wretch (a Taiwanese blogging site). Professor Ke developed ways to increase the interactive nature of the website, and made a priority of incorporating the needs of the group into the design.


Archiving the Artistry of U-Theatre

The question was how to best present a theater in the mountains that has been built by hand, stone by stone, plank by plank. Photographers had already been to the site and taken pictures in December, 2009. Video of performances at the mountain theater were also made. “It was windy and rainy when we put on the show,” Professor Ke said. “Theater member Chen Jianxing, who is based at National Taiwan Normal University, had a bad cold on the next day. But the silver lining was the precious visual records we captured. Now all of these are showcased on the website.”

Perhaps, in addition to the archiving work, the wind and rain at the mountain theater tempered the minds of the project team members. The U-Theatre digital archive project team, besides having members stationed at National Taiwan Normal University, also has a member placed right at U-Theatre—Zhang Xu.

“Despite his lack of experience in digital archiving, he was trained in information management and knows about digitization.” Professor Ke believed the project would need someone who was familiar with the company, so he asked Zhang Xu, who had previously been a volunteer at U-theatre, to help Director Tian organize the company’s documents. Zhang went through piles of news clippings and documents, hoping for a true understanding of U-Theatre, and in particular, its core values and the messages it seeks to convey.

During the first year of the implementation of the project, it focused on showcasing the mountain theater, and in the second year, on the tours of Taiwan. With the whole team working together step by step, the project has been as successful as the tours themselves. In addition, as Director Tian pointed out, anyone interested in the U-Theatre can learn more about them through the archived materials on their website.

Poster for ‘The Return of Wenji’ (1992)

Flyer for ‘Tour of Taiwan’ (1996)

Artistic director Liu Ruoyu and drumming master Huang Chihchun  worked together to bring spirituality to members. They used percussion to explore questions deep inside themselves, a process which eventually led to the innovation and creation of the group. They probably did not anticipate the fire they sparked in the project team. The project team’s editor, for example, changed career paths and decided to work full-time at the U-Theatre’s archives office. Supporters volunteered to help facilitate the implementation of the archive project. Science and engineering graduate students started to infuse artistic overtones into web applications. Professor Ke said, with a big smile, “One of the graduate students even became a U-Theatre fan and now buys tickets to our shows.”


Artistic performance and digital archiving intersected and gave birth to an unexpected new world. Now the sound of the U-Theatre drummers resonates with cyberspace, sound translating into waves of momentum that reached out, past the theater in the mountains, past the stages in other towns and villages, and into peoples’ hearts via the archive website.



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