In pre-industrial times, Min-nan farmers living in the Taiwan – Fujian region would sweep clean a spot in the village, perhaps under a tree, and perform simple operas during the non-growing season. This form of cultural production organized for villagers’ amusement was called lo-deh sao, meaning “to sweep the ground.” Along with the development of temple festivals, where statues and life-sized puppets of deities were paraded through villages, lo-deh sao became traveling performances featuring walking, performing and singing. Villagers often joined these traveling performances.
In our increasingly atomised and alienated capitalist society, I believe lo-deh sao still has the power to inspire. In addition to being farmers, those performers took on the different identities of mythical figures or other characters they portrayed. Not only were farmers creating art during these performances, but more importantly, they were afforded an opportunity to transcend their identities; or it could be said that the multiple identities of farmer, performer (artist) and mythical figure converged in one individual. Furthermore, the performance spot became a mobile site of intersecting times and places. In China’s history of peasant uprisings, these performances were often used to rally the masses for revolution.