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Movement of the Western Modern Drama in Taiwan and Its Modernity

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Modernization of Asian Theatres
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During the age of Japanese rule, nontraditional theatrical forms appeared in the 1910s, and dramas with nontraditional theatrical forms were often performed in the 1920s in Taiwan. Due to the influence of the Tsukiji Sho-Gekijo, Taiwanese and Japanese people living in Taiwan began to participate in shingeki in the 1920s. In the 1920s, dramas based on Taiwan’s culture were produced in conjunction with sociocultural movements. In the 1930s, shingeki was performed by Japanese adults and high school students. Kominka-related theatre was also positively performed during the period of the kominka movement (1935–1945).

On the other hand, the effect of the New Literature Movement on shingeki in Taiwan, derived from the May Fourth Movement that occurred in 1919 in China, is not negligible. Information on the New Literature Movement was directly and indirectly transmitted to Taiwan through Taiwanese intellectuals who studied, travelled, and lived in China and Japan, respectively. They succeeded the tradition and history of theatre in China, which refers to the tradition after the 1930s and does not include left-wing directors and dialogue dramas.

Shingeki in Taiwan was significantly affected by China and Japan, and European dramas were often known by Taiwanese through their translation into Japanese or Chinese. The above-mentioned two shingeki movements in Taiwan affected each other greatly.

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  1. 1.

    Wu Mi-cha, The Study of Modern Taiwan History. Taipei: Dawshiang, 1985, p. 81.

  2. 2.

    The first shingeki performance in Taiwan was in 1911; Kawakami Otojiro brought the “Syosei Shibai” to Taipei’s Asahi Theater. Later, Japanese in Taiwan established companies with Taiwanese actors, such as Toyojiro Takamatsu’s Taiwan Seigeki Study Group, or two productions in 1919 presented by Taiwanese students Chang Shen-chieh (1904–1965) and others. Those productions are sometimes regarded as the beginning of Taiwan shingeki but actually have only limited influence.

  3. 3.

    The beginning of modernization of Taiwan had been started before Japanese colonial period. After the Mutan Village Incident (1874), the court of Ching Dynasty had noticed the strategic importance of Taiwan and started to improve coastal defence. However, due to the political infighting of the court, modernization of Taiwan did not last long.

  4. 4.

    Chen Chien-chung, Taiwanese Writers in Japanese Colonial Period: Modernization, Localization, Colonization, Taipei: Wunan, 2004, p. 4.

  5. 5.

    Ku Chung-hwa, “Modernization of Taiwan: Whose modernization? What kind of modernization?”, Contemporary, vol. 221, 2006, p. 74.

  6. 6.

    Raymond, Williams,Keywords–A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Liu Chien-chi trans., Taipei: Chuliu, 2004, pp. 248–249; see also Huang Ko-wu, “The beginning of the conception of modern and the reflection of history study”, Contemporary, vol. 223, 2006, p. 76.

  7. 7.

    Huang, “The beginning of the conception of modern and the reflection of history study”, pp. 76–77.

  8. 8.

    King Yeo-chi, From Traditional to Modernised. Taipei: China Times Publishing, 1997; see also Ku, “Modernization of Taiwan: Whose modernization? What kind of modernization?”, p. 67.

  9. 9.

    Chen Feng-ming, Colonial Modernity: Historical and Literary Perspectives on Taiwan. Taipei: Rye Field, 2004, pp. 9–19.

  10. 10.

    Lo Shih-yun, Yu Da-fu in Taiwan: Process of acceptance from Japanese Colonial period to Postwar period. Master thesis, National Chengchi University Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, Taipei, 2009, pp. 58–61, pp. 66–68.

  11. 11.

    Nai Shuang (Cheung Wai-yin ), “Brief History of Taiwan Shingeki Movement”, Taipei Cultural Relics, vol. 3–21, 954, pp. 83–91.

  12. 12.

    Cheung Wai-yin , “My theatrical recollection”, Taipei Cultural Relics, vol. 3–21, 954 Aug., p. 105.

  13. 13.

    Shima, Rikuhei (Atsumu Uchiyama), “The Youth and Taiwan 2: Idea and Practice of Shingeki movement”, Taiwan News, vol. 197, 1936 Apr. 1st. Tu Cui-ha trans., Huang Ying-zhe ed., Taiwan Literary Criticism in Japanese Colonial Period: Magazine vol. 1, pp. 468–479.

  14. 14.


  15. 15.


  16. 16.

    Yan-Feng Theatrical Study Group was established by Chang Shen-chieh in Cautun, 1925. There are some distances between the two towns Cautun and Wufeng, although both of them belonged to Taichung City. Since the two families Lin and Chang were having close relationship, and Lin Yun-long (1907–1959) from the famous Lin family in Wufeng might have been chairman of the study group, “Yan-Feng in Wufeng” was more well-known than in Cautun.

  17. 17.

    Chiu Kun-liang, “Concept, Assumption and Interpretation: The Chapter of Taiwanese Modern Theatre under Japanese Rule”, Taipei Theatre Journal, vol. 13, Taipei: TNUA, 2011 Jan., pp. 15–16.

  18. 18.

    In the early years of colonial period, in order to encourage sports, police superintendent general Kumaji Oshima established sports club (including martial arts, horsemanship, bicycle, baseball, tennis, football, bowling, and gymnastics), holding contests and inviting local Taiwanese to join in. Tennis players’ passion about shingeki shows that for middle class at the time, shingeki was regarded as a part of modernization. See Lin Ting-kuo “On-the-island and Outside-the-island Competition Performance of Tennis and Baseball of Taiwan During Japanese Colonial Period”, Taiwan Historical Research, vol. 16–4, 2009 Dec., Taipei: Institute of Taiwan History, Academia Sinica, pp. 37–80.

  19. 19.

    “Tennis Column I”, Taiwan Daily News, 1909 Apr. 3.

  20. 20.

    In the 1920s, famous Taiwanese tennis players include Chang Yu-chuan, Chang Ju-ling, and Wang Hsiu-chuan in Taipei; Yeh Yun-chang, Chang Jin-lu, and Sung Yan-ti in Taichung; and Shiu Chiu-feng and Shiu Jin-shan in Tainan.

  21. 21.

    In Russian, while speaking about “walk”(idti/poidti), people usually use past tense “shli/poshli”; therefore “walk among people”(idti/poidti v narod)would become “shil/poshli v narod”,and its meaning can be turned into “popularize”. The name “Xu Li” may come from Russian.

  22. 22.

    Cheung Wai-yin , “My theatrical recollection”, p. 106.

  23. 23.

    Chiu Kun-liang, Kyugeki and Shingeki: Study of Taiwan Theatre in Japanese Colonial Period (1895–1945), Taipei: Independence Evening Pose, 1992, pp. 318–319.

  24. 24.

    Their achievements included Eugene O’Neill’s Ile and Dunsany’s Glittering Gate, staged by Ryoujin-za in early 1925; in November 26 and 27, 1928, at the Theatre Bureau in the Taiwan Governor-General Railway , Taihoku High School staged their original work Train of the Steal, Rijo Tyutei’s Hatsusyoujinn, Tamiji Okamoto’s Kyoraku Ranba, Youbunn Kaneko’s Saka, Komatsu Kitamura’s Fang Ta-yi, Kan Kikuchi’s Jyunnbann, and Dunsany’s Gods of the Mountain.

  25. 25.

    Kaoru Osanai was born in Hiroshima, 1881. After he graduated from Imperial University of Tokyo, he started to participate in theatre and begin his writing on poet and novel. In 1909, after studying in Europe, he established the Jiyu Gekijo with Kabuki actor Sadanji Ichikawa II, imitating Western realism drama and created the Japanese shingeki. In 1924, he established Tsukiji Sho-Gekijyo with Yoshi Hijikata, who was rushed back to Japan after the Earthquake of Tokyo. This theatre becomes the foothold of shingeki movement.

  26. 26.

    Masatsune Nakamura (1901–1981) playwright and novelist was born in Koishikawa, Tokyo. He was a student of Kunio Kishida and made his debut by the play Makaroni, 1929. His works were characterized by humour and nonsense; main works included Innseki no Nedoko, Boa-kichi no Kyuukonn, and Futari-You no Shinndai. Hiroichiro Maedako (1888–1957) was born in Sendai. He went to Tokyo in 1905 and became one of Roka Tokutomi’s students. He went to America in 1907 by Tokutomi’s financial support. He was a diplomat, gardener, and reporter; main works included Pray: Play Collection, Koshiraerareta Otoko, and Third-class Passenger.

  27. 27.

    Appendix 1.

  28. 28.

    Zhang Geng, “Qu Yuan ”, Taiwan People News, 1924 Aug. 1st, vol. 2 no. 14.

  29. 29.

    Tao Yao, “Jue Ju”, Taiwan People News, 1924 Sep. 21th, vol. 2 no. 18.

  30. 30.

    When Taiwan People News reprinted Shuo Bu Chu, they mistaken the author as Hu Suh, but it should be Chen Da-bei. SeeMeng Shan-shan, “Thriving of ‘Amateur Drama Movement’ during May Fourth Period”, Beijing People’s Art Theatre Magazine, 2007 vol. 3. (

  31. 31.

    Tao Xin, “Wo Bu Zi You”, Taiwan People News, 1927 Sep. 4th, no. 172, p. 8.

  32. 32.

    Constructed from specific historical experience, James Scott’s concept of hidden transcripts was to express unequal power relationship and the daily resistance of the minority. See James Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcript. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

  33. 33.

    More detail about Chinese plays on Taiwan People News , see Li Wan-ju, “Taiwan Shingeki and elites in 1920s: Focus on Taiwan People News”, Theatre and Film Studies, 2007 vol. 1, Tokyo: Waseda University Theatre Museum Global COE Programme.: Appendix 2.

  34. 34.

    Hou Yao , Fu Huo De Qiang Wei, Shanghai: Commercial Press Ltd., 1924, p. 26.

  35. 35.

    Ibid., p. 47.

  36. 36.

    He joined several film productions such as in Hypocrite as actor, Detective’s Blood (1928) as playwright, and God of Peace (1926) as assistant director (directed by Hou Yao).

  37. 37.

    Xu Gong-mei, “Fu Quan Zhi Xia), Qi Tu, Shanghai: Commercial Press Ltd., 1928, p. 10.

  38. 38.

    Ibid., p. 11.

  39. 39.

    Ibid., p. 51.

  40. 40.

    Ibid., p. 52.

  41. 41.

    Xu Gong-mei’s three plays that mentioned here all took place in China’s big cities, such as Shanghai, Beijing, or “a certain big harbor at the south”. The time background was between 1921 and 1922, just at the time of Chinese cultural transformation. In the preface of Qi Tu written by Ouyang Yu-qian, Ouyang mentioned about how grand the “Confucian orthodoxy” is, and therefore to destroy its constraint is necessary. Ouyang Yu-qian, “Preface I”, ibid., p. 1.

  42. 42.

    Cheung Wai-yin “My theatrical recollection”, p. 107.

  43. 43.

    Nai Shuang (Cheung Wai-yin) , “About Taiwan Drama: Focus on Plays that using Taiwanese”, Taiwan New Literature, 1936 Nov., pp. 35–38.

  44. 44.

    Liu Shu-chin, “The Marginal Struggle in Taiwan Literature: Taiwan Writers Studying in Tokyo in the Cross Domain Leftist Literary Movement”, NTU Studies in Taiwan Literature, vol. 3, 2007.

  45. 45.

    МОРТ was the contraction of Russian words “International Revolutionary Theater Alliance”(Международное объединение революционных театров).

  46. 46.

    Taiwan Governor General Office Department of Police, The Evolution of Taiwan Police System III, Taipei: SMC Publishing Inc., 1995 Jun., p. 67.

  47. 47.

    Shie Shuang-tian, “Poet who Start Afresh: An Interview with Wu Kun-Huang”, Central Monthly vol. 14–7, 1982 May, p. 90.

  48. 48.

    Wu Yong-fu, “Sz Shiang Chi”,Complete works of Wu Yong-fu vol. 6, Taipei: Chuan Shen Fu Yin, 1996 May.

  49. 49.

    For example, actress Chieko Takizawa who had directed the Taiwan Shadow Play Troup and Youth Drama Troup was a member of Shinn-kyou Troup, and her name was on the list.

  50. 50.

    Nai Shuang (Cheung Wai-yin) , “About Taiwan Drama: Focus on Plays that using Taiwanese”, pp. 35–38.


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Appendix 1: Productions of Taiwan Shingeki in the 1920s





End of 1923

Konjiki Yasha, Koyo Ozaki

Taiwanese students who had studied in Japan, including Chang Mu-nien, Chang Shen-chieh, Wu San-lien, and others

Had been presented in recital of Takasago Dormitory, Tokyo

December 1923

Love Affair with Conscience (five-act)

Mainly by Ding Shin She in Changhua

Affected by Xiamen Popular Education Company , Chen Kan, Pan Lu, Sie Shu-yuan established Ding Shin She


After Going Home, Ouyang Yu-qian

Ding Shin She in Changhua with Taiwanese Students League of Japan

In “A brief description of the shingeki movement in Taiwan”, Cheung Wai-yin mentioned that there was only one-act in After Going Home

Konjiki Yasha

Father Comes Back, one-act, Kan Kikuchi

Black-and-white Face (one-act)

Fu Huo De Qiang Wei, Hou Yao

November 13–14, 1924

Fu Quan Zhi Xia, one-act, human-interest play, Xu Gong-mei

Ming Fong Theatrical Company


1924 winter

The Greatest Event in Life, three-act, Hu Shi

Seng Kong Theatrical Study Group

Seng Kong Theatrical Study Group

From the end of 1924 to the middle of 1925

My Beloved, twenty-act, Chen Tiao-lu from the Hsin-tien Popular Education Company

Ding Shin She in Changhua

Ding Shin She in Changhua changed its name into “Changhua Shingeki She” and performed in Taichung, Wufeng, Tajia, Hsinchu, and Taipei

Early 1925

Ile, one-act, Eugene O’Neill

Ryoujin-za , Naichi Bungaku Seinen danntai

In the Taiwan Governor-General Railway as entertainments (“Youth and Taiwan II”)

Glittering Gate, one-act, Dunsany

October 1925

The Greatest Event in Life

Fraternity Association

Performed in New Stage for 3 days and was the first shingeki performance in North Taiwan

Clumsy Mother and Daughter, one-act comedy

You Die First, one-act comedy

Fu-Jung Chieh, eight-act

Lotus Flower in Fire, eight-act)

Ching Hai Tao

November 26–27, 1928

Train of the Steal, one-act, high school drama club

Taihoku High School

In the Taiwan Governor-General Railway , “The Night of Theatre” (“Youth and Taiwan II”)

Hatsusyoujinn, one-act, Irijyou Ryoutei

Kyouraku Midareba, two-act, Minji Okamoto

Saka, one-act, Youbunn Kaneko

Fang Ta-yi, four-act, Komatsu Kitamura

Jyunnbann, one-act, Kann Kikuchi

The Gods of Mountain, three-act, Dunsany


Six Gentlemen in a Row, one-act, Jules Romains

Taihoku High School

In high school’s new lecture room, “The night of Theatre” 2nd. (“Youth and Taiwan II”)

Domo-Mata No Shi, one-act, Takeo Arishima

Nightclub, three-act and four-act, Maksim Gorky (*should be Chinese playwright Shi Tuo and Ke Ling’s rewrite, adapted from Gorky’s The Lower Depths)

Mineworker, one-act, Marten

A Son, one-act, Youbunn Kaneko

Ayashii Kamotsusenn, four-act, Hisao Kitamura

December 1930

Fog, one-act, Eugene O’Neill


Hold their first audition in Hinomaru Kaikann, Akashi-cyou. (“Youth and Taiwan II”)

The Lighthouse, one-act, Matsuo Ito

The Burden of Liberty, one-act, Tristan Bernard

October 1931

Ile, one-act, Eugene O’Neill

Taihoku High School

“The Night of Theatre” 4th. (the third was cancelled due to students’ strike) (“Youth and Taiwan III”)

Alt-Heidelburg, four-act, Wilhelm Meyer-Forster

Sanntakuya to Shijinn, one-act, Youbunn Kaneko

The Last Masks, one-act, Schnitzler

Shinasu, one-act, Takeo Takahashi

June 1933

Hanneles Himmelfahrt, Gerhart Hauptmann

Taihoku College of Commerce

Anniversary celebration of Taihoku College of Commerce (“Youth and Taiwan III”)

The Gods of Mountain, Dunsany

August 19–22, 1933

Fei, one-act, Xu Gong-mei

Ming Fong Theatrical Company

Established in 1930

Cave Man’s Dream, nine-act, Haruo Sasa, adapted by Cheung Wai-yin

A Dollar, one-act, David Pinski, adapted by Cheung Wai-yin

An Enemy of the People, five-act, Ibsen , translated by Cheung Wai-yin

February 27–28, 1934

The Son, Kaoru Osanai

Theatrical Club

Theatre Festival, hold by Taiwan Theatre Association

The Bridegroom, one-act, Lajos Bíró, adapted by Cheung Wai-yin, performed in Taiwanese

Ming Fong Theatrical Company


Tengai Kaikaku, one-act, Hiroichiro Maedakou, performed in Japanese

Drama Study Group of Shinjin-za


The Bear, Anton Chekhov, translated by Masao Yonekaw, performed in Japanese

Taihoku Theatre Group


April 1934

Winner and Loser, three-act, John Galsworthy

Taihoku High School

7th Anniversary celebration of Taihoku High School (“Youth and Taiwan V”)

Bon Suke Shinnsei’s One-side Beard, one-act, Masatsune Nakamura

Human, five-act, Walter Hasenclever

From Morning to Midnight, seven-act, Georg Kaiser

Siblings, one-act, Kan Kikuchi

Karl and Anna, four-act, Leonhard Frank

April 1935

Lightening, one-act, August Strindberg

Taihoku High School

8th Anniversary celebration of Taihoku High School (“Youth and Taiwan V”)

Yoru no Yado, four-act, Maksim Gorky(*renamed by Kaoru Osanai , original title was The Lower Depth)

From Morning to Midnight

The Wolves, one-act, Romain


The Playboy of the Western World, three-act, John Millington Synge

Faith and Homeland, three-act, Karl Schönherr

June 1935

The Dead Talks, three-act, Liou Tie-jia, in Taiwanese

Taihoku College of Commerce

“The Night of Theatre” in Taihoku College of Commerce(“Youth and Taiwan V”)

Hamlet , two-act, Shakespeare , in English

Riders to the Sea, one-act, John Millington Synge

The Bear, one-act, Anton Chekhov

Appendix 2 Plays Published in Taiwan People News


Publish date



Time background

Theme and main idea



April 15 and May 1, 1923 (Taishou Era 12)

The Greatest Event in Life (one-act)

Hu Shi


Criticizing feudal system and advocating freedom of choice in marriage

First published in La Jeunesse , March 1919, China


Aug 1, 1924 (Taisho Era 13)

Qu Yuan

Zhang Geng (Qun Shan, who had been living in Japan)

About 300 BC, during the Warring States periods, when Chu Shiang Wang was on the throne

The confusion of elites and the wisdom of the bottom people

Note of the play: Wedding Congratulation to my friends Wu Hai-shui and Liu Mei-chu, Tokyo


September 21, 1924 (Taisho Era 13)

Jue Ju, short play, one-act)

Tao Yao


The conflict between old and new generations; get rid of superstitions; youth responsibilities of nation



May 1, 1925 (Taisho Era 14)

Shuo Bu Chu (“I Cannot Tell”

Hu Shi (should be Chen Da-bei)

“Any time”

Weak people should stand up against evil power in order to gain freedom



September 4, 1927 (Showa Era 2)

Wo Bu Zi You (“I Have No Freedom”

Tao Xin


The relationship between husband and wife

First published in Min Chung News, China


December 4, 11, 18, 25, 1927 (Showa Era 2)

Xin Shi Dai De Nan Nu (“Men and Women in the New Age”

Wang Jing-zhi

May 4, Republic Era 8

The specific action of knowledge youth fighting for national rights; equal rights of men and women; objection to blind devotion to one’s parents

First published in Shan Chao, China


January 22, 29, February 5, 12, 1928 (Showa Era 3)

Ying Hua La (“Cherry Blossoms are Falling”

Shao Nie

In the day of Chun-ho, 1928

People’s moral character

Note of the play: to my brothers in Tokyo Kou Kei Kai


June 3, 10, 1928 (Showa Era 3)

Jin Guo Ying Xiong (“A Brave Woman”

Qing Zhao (had been studied in China)


Freedom of choice in marriage; tragedy of cross cultural marriage; racial consciousness

Note of the play: to my friends, alumni of Tainan First Senior High School


July 29, August 5, 1928 (Showa Era 3)

Ping Min De Tian Shi (“Angel of Commoners”, one-act)

Wu Jiang-leng

Sunset time at 1 day

Racial consciousness; challenging patriarchy system

First published in Shin Chao (《心潮》), vol. 1 no. 1, Nanjing, China (January 1923)


September 9, 16, 1928 (Showa Era 3)

Honeymoon Travel

Yen Hua

Lunar calendar January

Self-consciousness of female; love tragedy

First published in Woman Magazine, China


November 18, 1928 (Showa Era 3)

Fan Dong (“Reaction”, one-act)

Feng Qiu

In City S on July, 1928

Youths devote to culture reform movement



March 3, 10, 17, 24, 31,1929 (Showa Era 4)

Hui-lan Can Le (“Miserable Hui-lan”, one-act tragedy)

Qing Zhao

Summer of 1928

Youths persist in reform movement

To dear Mo, in Nanjing Central University, February 8, 1929


March 10, 1929 (Showa Era 4)

One-act Comedy

Shiue Gu (Chiang Wei-shui)

Phone conversation from 8 to 10 pm, February 27

To ridicule on the police system


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CHIU, KL. (2019). Movement of the Western Modern Drama in Taiwan and Its Modernity. In: Nagata, Y., Chaturvedi, R. (eds) Modernization of Asian Theatres. Springer, Singapore.

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