Taiwan loses 400 historic puppets in warehouse fire

TAIPEI (Reuters Life!) - A region of Taiwan that prides itself on puppetry, an art that originated centuries ago in China, lost 400 to 500 of its best pieces to a fire, leaving just one major stash, county officials said on Wednesday.

The fire, which is under investigation, burned most of the large, ornate, life-like and one-of-a-kind puppets in a warehouse in Huwei of Yunlin County in central Taiwan, officials said.

The blaze spared only a few that had been taken out for a performance.

“This is a big part of the county’s culture, so we value its survival,” said Chang Chia-hao with the county culture office’s performing arts section. “Each puppet may have had only one or two likenesses, so there’s no way to replicate them.”

Taiwan newspapers called the fire a “burial” and listed names of the more famous burned puppets, which belonged to locally renowned puppetry master Huang Chun-hsiung.

Yunlin’s puppetry, a tradition dating back about 300 years to Fujian province of southeast China, has kept Taiwan artisans busy and dominated street festivals that are popular with locals as well as foreign tourists.

Officials from the rural 735,000-population county had planned to promote puppetry via films and a new museum to put their hand-powered celebrities into the international limelight.

Reporting by Ralph Jennings, editing by Miral Fahmy