21 Jan 2021

Water puppetry is widely known as one of the most significant traditional art stages among both Vietnamese and international tourists when coming to Vietnam. So when did Vietnam water puppetry come into existence? What cultural values does it carry? Let's find out more about this special form of art.

Table Contents
  • I - What is water puppetry?
  • 1 - The origin and development
  • 2 - Historical and cultural values
  • 3 - Best water puppet shows in Vietnam
  • II - The art of water puppet performing
  • 1 - Water puppet theatre & music
  • 2 - The art and the artists
  • III -  Famous water puppet shows in Vietnam
  • 1 - In Hanoi 
  • 2 - In Hoi An 
  • 3 - In Ho Chi Minh City 
  • IV - Further information
water puppetry in vietnam
Source: VnExpress

I - What is water puppetry?

1 - The origin and development

Water puppetry is a traditional art form in Vietnam. It was recorded to originate more than 10 centuries ago since 1010 (Ly Dynasty). Besides, it is closely associated with the working life of the people in the Red River delta since the day of its beginning. 

water puppetry show in vietnam
Source: Internet
The water element shows the ingenuity in art creation of the working-class by bringing the natural factors into the artistic life in order to reflect their emotional feelings.  In the northern Vietnamese villages in general, puppetry is an inevitable part to be held on major festivals such as village festivals and Tet holidays. Up to now, Vietnam water puppetry shows have been passed down from generation to generation, at the same time, it is constantly being innovated and developed by professional plots and plays combined with unique ethnic music.

2 - Historical and cultural values

Before the August Revolution, it was not properly appreciated in terms of its cultural, spiritual, and artistic values. It was simply considered a folk game for farmers in the countryside. Nevertheless, since the August Revolution,  Vietnam water puppetry's position has been rapidly promoted from a folk art form to a traditional art due to its unique and unique identity. Nowadays, it is ranked alongside comparable to 'cheo-tuong' - an art form ranked at the top position in the Vietnamese theatre.
Each puppet play has its own certain meaning. By watching it, you may understand more about the historical legends, customs, or traditional values of Vietnamese people which are handed down from generation to generation. Moreover, the tales of water puppetry full of convergence of thrilling and fascinating elements, comedy as well as sarcastic laughter might impress you. It is a fact that most of those who watch the shows once have to praise the ingenuity and sophistication in this Vietnamese way of educating the next generation.

3 - Best water puppet shows in Vietnam

There are some typical shows for you to consider if you tend to experience these shows once:

tran co loa thanh water puppet shows in vietnam
Source: Internet
‘Tran Co Loa Thanh’ which won several awards at the 1st International Marionette Festival held in Hanoi in 2008.
‘Huyen Thoai Tien Rong’ which won the silver medal at the 1st International Marionette Festival held in Hanoi in 2008.
‘Linh Thieng Hai Tieng Dong Bao’ which won the gold medal at the 3rd International Marionette Festival held in Hanoi in 2012.
‘Ho Thien Nga’, which won the gold medal at the 4rd International Marionette Festival.
‘Tre - Coc' of The Vietnam National Puppetry Theater which won the gold medal at the 4rd International Marionette Festival in Hà Nội in 2018.
Besides, a number of other attractive water puppet shows are also performed frequently in Thang Long Water Puppet Theater ( 57b Dinh Tien Hoang, Hanoi) or Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater (55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City).

II - The art of water puppet performing

1 - Water puppet theatre & music

What distinguishes water puppetry from other forms of puppetry is the use of the water surface as a performance stage. The water puppet chamber is erected in the middle of a pond or lake decorated with fans, flags, umbrellas, paper gates which accurately simulate the communal house in rural areas of Vietnam. Meanwhile, the stage, located in front of the chamber, is only truly completed when the show officially begins and disappears as soon as the final performance is over. This is also a point of interest that cannot be found in other performing arts of Vietnam.

theatre of  water puppet show in vietnam
Source: TIPC
In terms of music, this is an outdoor performing art so it needs a strong sound to keep the rhythm and promote a vibrant atmosphere. Thus, folk guilds use ethnic percussion instruments such as the bamboo tocsin, the drum, tomtom, the horn, the firecracker to create strong influence in the hearing of both viewers and performers. Water puppetry requires not only the ingenuity of controlling the puppets, but also the well association of music rhythm. Depending on the rhythm of the music, the artist will control the movement of puppets which can be quick or slow. Therefore, the French have recognised it as "the soul of Vietnamese countryside".

2 - The art and the artists

The puppets are carefully sculpted from fine wood, usually fig wood, then honed, polished and finally painted to reflect the shape and personality of each character. Puppets' shape is often very funny, colorful and especially very familiar to Vietnamese villagers. The more careful the puppets are made, the easier the artisans can control and perform successfully. The very typical character in water puppetry that has to be mentioned is the narrator - Uncle Teu. With a round body and a witty smile, Uncle Teu has become one of the most popular characters in most of the shows.

characters in water puppetry in vietnam
Source: VnExpress
A complete water puppet consists of two parts which are the body and the base. The body floats on the surface of the water and represents the characters in the story while the base submerges under the water surface and keeps it afloat as well as holds a movement controller of the puppet. The artists standing in the chamber manipulate a pole or a string system to create movement for the puppet. The performance of the shows depends heavily on how successful the artists use it to describe the character's charisma in the story. As a result, the artisans also are the real artists. Their skillful hands surely make a great success for this special art form. 

III -  Famous water puppet shows in Vietnam

1 - In Hanoi 

If you are looking for the most attractive show in Hanoi, you can go to Thang Long Water Puppet Theater at 57b Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District. You should book in advance for the best experience. Ticket prices range from 100,000 VND to 200,000 VND / person depending on the class of seats. Performance time is at 13.45, 15:00, 16.10, 17:20, 18:30, 20:00, 21.15 from Monday to Saturday; or at 09:30, 13:00, 15:00, 16:10, 17:20, 18:30, 20:00, 9:15 on Sunday only. In addition, you can go to the Vietnam Puppet Center at 361 Truong Chinh Street or the Lotus Water Puppet Center at 16 Le Thai To Street.

vietnam lotus water puppet center
Source: Fb Lotuswaterpuppet

2 - In Hoi An 

Water puppet show is one of the very attractive tourist services in Hoi An. While traveling there, you pay a visit to Hoi An Theater at 548 Hai Ba Trung Street, Hoi An city. The show begins at 18:30 pm from Monday to Saturday. The entrance fee is 80,000 VND for adults and 40,000 VND for children.

3 - In Ho Chi Minh City 

There are some famous water puppet theatre in Ho Chi Minh City that should be taken into account namely Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater at 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai with ticket price about 290,000 VND / person; Vietnam History Museum at No. 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem Street with quite reasonable ticket price of only 50,000 VND / person in 9am, 10am, 11am and 14pm, 15h, 16pm. Or you can also enjoy water puppet shows at Thao Dien Village every Saturday from 19:30 - 20:00 at Ngon restaurant, 195 Nguyen Van Huong Street.

IV - Further information

Along with water puppetry, puppetry on land is also a very popular traditional folk art form, widely developed throughout the country. The name of this puppetry varies across regions. In the North, Kinh people call it 'Loi', 'Roi', 'Oi', 'Oi Loi', or 'Tro'; Nung people call it 'Moc thau hi'; Tay people call it 'Sluong patlap'; Muong people call it 'Mua roi'; while In the South area it is called 'Hat hinh' or 'Hat go'.

onland pupetry in vietnam
Source: VnExpress
Puppetry on land has many different genres. Most of them use the rhythm of  'Ca tru', 'tuong cheo', or  Vietnamese court music during the performance. Let's take a look at some of the current types of puppetry in Vietnam:
- Stick puppetry is quite common. Puppets's size ranging from 30 to 35 cm. Most of them are carved from wood and controlled by bamboo sticks or iron rods.
- Hand puppets are rarely used on stage but often seen in temples and village festivals. To control these puppets, the artist inserts his hand into the hollow inside the head of the puppet or holds a long handle connected to its neck.
- Machine puppets are more common even on stage. Each part of these puppets' body is carved out of wood, then connected by a loose joint and painted in color. They are normally controlled by rod and wire.
- String puppetry is an art form originated in the Cao Bang border area. Head and hands of the puppet are made of wood, bodies from rattan. It is controlled through bamboo, soft hemp rope or silk string.
- Mask puppets made of paper, wood or foam and paints according to the character's shape. When the artists perform, they use their hand to control or directly wear it on.
In conclusion, we have already briefly informed you about Water Puppetry in Vietnam. Up to now, this art form is still being preserved, maintained and developed incessantly, therefore, not only Vietnamese people but all friends around the world can have the chance to learn about this unique art form.
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Hi, welcome to Vietnam! I am Bich - a passionate traveler. I do love exploring the amazing beauty of nature and experiencing the rich culture of my beloved country. Having the chance to share all my experience & travel information to you is so great!

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