Photographs and Information about Taiwan's Culture, Nature and People by Rich Matheson

Guanjiang Shou (Senior Officers) 官將首

Carrie Kellenberger over at My Several Worlds kindly published my article about Guanjiang Shou (sometimes called Senior Officers). If you want to read the article check it out there. Sadly, there was little room for photos so I have posted some here so readers may better understand the features of Guanjiangshou, differences between Jiajiang troupes (家將團), and especially some — often subtle — differences between Bajiajiang and Guanjiang Shou.The easiest ways of differentiating Bajiajiang and Guanjiang Shou is the fake teeth  , sideburns and large shoulder pads (armor) worn by Guanjiang Shou but very rarely seen on Bajiajiang. That said, it is that much harder to tell Guanjiang Shou when they are not wearing teeth and shoulder pads; as in the above two pictures. One can really only be certain by asking.

Next we will look at the differences between Generals Sun and Zeng.

General Sun, the Guanjiang Shou leader, has a green base for his face paint.

Green-faced General Sun.

It is often easier to tell General Sun by his trident.

General Zeng has a red based face paint — above and below pictures.

Red-faced General Zeng

Further, the second General Zeng often has a blue face.

Blue-faced General Zeng.

Sometimes it is difficult to tell which one is green and which one is red.

Viewed together, however, the difference usually becomes clear.

Only in the past year-or-so have colored contact lenses become common. No doubt copied from cosplay; and to great effect, I might add.

A fairly standard three-member Guanjiang Shou Troupe

Note the green-faced General Sun with trident, and red- and blue-faced General Zengs.

Chio-Tian Folk Art Troupe is one of the most professional and dedicated folk art troupes that this writer knows. Pictured is a beautiful General Sun with firestick (火籤) and manacles. One book I read equates  Erlang helmets (二郎盔) with a troupes quality as, in that author’s view, the helmets are prohibitively expensive to lesser troupes. The author also states that helmets are used interchangeably between Bajiajiang and Guanjinag Shou troupes and some troupes use straw farmer hats. One of the best Bajiajiang (Shenjiajiang actually) troupes I have ever seen wore straw hats, they followed many traditional taboos that I had not seen among other troupes before or since.

A common member in over three member troupes is the easily recognizable Tiger General (虎將軍), also notice the Salty ‘Guang’ Cake (鹹光餅) strung around his neck. Guang cakes were worn by military on marches as they could be conveniently carried while marching. It is said they were made famous by Ming General Qi Jiguang, and are now believed to bring luck and fortune to the consumer of the cakes.

A closer view of Tiger Generals weapon, the ‘Hutouzha’ (虎頭鍘), an ancient Guillotine type weapon.

Accompanying the Tiger General pictured above was this Eagle General. Never before seen by me, I asked who he was. After much discussion, they told me he was Eagle General.

A difference not really possible to illustrate through photos, but a surefire way of distinguishing the two is: Bajiajiang are said to be yin (隱) with soft and graceful actions; whereas Guanjiang Shou are yang (陽), possessing strong, powerful movements.

I’m not entirely certain that this is a Guanjiang Shou troupe, I didn’t have time to ask. Strangely, the green-faced general is carrying two three-pronged claw-like weapons rather than tridents. Their makeup was gorgeous.

Complicating matters even more, some Jiajiang troupes have fake teeth, sideburns and similar clothing but are not Guanjiang Shou. This is one of the ‘gui’ in a Zhongkui Wugui (鐘馗五鬼) zentou from Banqiao. Only by seeing the whole zhentou together, especially Zhongkui, does it become obvious that he is not Guanjiang Shou.

A Bajiajiang for contrast:  This Bajiajiang can be recognized as such by common face-paint pattern for General Liu. All Bajiajiang have fairly standardized face paint patterns that are fairly easy to recognize, Guanjiang Shou don’t have a specific pattern for each role.

In the article I wrote, ‘Further, tools held in the hands have differences, for example, Bajiajiang have fans, Guanjiang Shou do not.’ This is not always true. This is the leader of a Guangjiang Shou troupe from Tainan. He carried a trident as well as a fan, and had no face-paint. Had I not asked, I would have assumed he was not Guanjiang Shou.

Taichung’s Chio-tian Folk Art Troupe had a novel and highly acrobatic Guanjiang Shou performance in Kaohsiung’s K-Arena. Pictured is the ‘demon’ they chased down and killed in a very literal performance that clearly demonstrated the Guanjiang Shou’s role.

Finally I would like to draw to attention my final paragraph: ‘In reality, Guanjiang Shou are not so easily categorized or explained. With the large number of troupes spread throughout Taiwan and no ‘rule book,’ there are naturally many variations. Many contemporary performers often have no idea what traditional role they are playing and that there even are special roles. If one asks them if they are General Sun (as this writer frequently does), the most likely result is a questioning stare. A troupe leader or face painter may know the traditional roles, but most of this writer’s information is from books. In the end, Guanjiang Shou are part of a complex, highly syncretic folk religion with no creed or canon, so each troupe is defined by their own individual cultural, geographic and historic influences. ‘

As a final note, I would like to express my gratitude to all the troupe members and festival-goers who answered my, at times, inane questions and that all mistakes made herein are completely their fault and not my own. Ha, just joking. It’s a blog man!

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2 responses

  1. Pingback: The Seven Links Project: Seven Old Blog Posts Revisited « Liefintaiwan

  2. Pingback: General Sun « Liefintaiwan

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