Originating from the wet rice agriculture in the Red River Delta, water puppetry is a unique and typical form of folk art of Vietnamese culture. The farmers of the North Delta of Vietnam have created this art form, making it a leisure performed in the village's festivals, during Tet holidays, and in other festive occasions.
Almost researchers said that water puppetry was created in around the X century. The performance of water puppetry to congratulate the King on his longevity was mentioned in the stone stele erected in 1121 (the time of King Ly Nhan Tong) at Long Doi pagoda, Doi Son commune, Duy Tien district, Ha Nam province. To the time of Tran dynasty (from the XIII century), water puppetry continued to be popularized among the common people, at the same time served the royal palace. Despite of ups and downs, the art of water puppetry has been continuous for over 1000 years during which it has become more abundant.
Now in Vietnam, there are 16 water puppter troupes, and Thanh Hai (An Liet is another name) is one of among them. Legendary said that the troupe was born in the post-Le period (17th century) by a person from An Liet village, who went out for earn-living and had chances to see water puppetry. This person later on introduced the arts of water puppetry to other villagers and founded the Thanh Hai water troupe. The troupe locates in Thanh Hai Commune, Thanh Ha District, Hai Duong Province, where is known as one of the cradles of Vietnamese water puppetry.
For hundreds of years, the successive generations preserve this traditional art. Later, the fire of war devastated the village, sweeping away the folk art on the farmland. In 1999, a number of dedicated puppeteers gathered together, collecting donations from their neighbors to build one puppet pavilion house in their hometowns. Not only the artisans but also the people here are all happy because since the puppet troupe has been restored, people are enjoying this unique art form. Previously, Thanh Hai Puppetry was often performed in local and remote village ponds. In recent years, the wards have been touring in neighboring provinces such as Hai Phong, Quang Ninh, Ha Nam and the Central Highlands.
Among 16 traditional water puppet troupes in Vietnam, Thanh Hai Puppetry is highly regarded for its commitment to the preservation of ancient art, always seeking to incorporate both traditional and modern elements into its creations.
One of four unique features of this water puppet troupe is that the performing plays were created by the members and the head of the troupe. The main contents reflect the simple life activities of the people in the Northern Delta such as: contest down the field, mouse-running firecrackers ...
Secondly, this is the only water puppet troupe that can make firework for performances. The main secret is the fireworks can smoke and fire under the water. Currently, the troupe provides fireworks for other troupes, the Thang Long Puppet Theater and the Central Puppet Theater.
Thirdly, Thanh Hai puppetry always creates the puppets in its own way, and different plays will use different puppets so that each puppet has its own inner soul. This extremely differs from the way of other water puppets that the same puppets will be used in different plays.
Fourthly, the puppeteers use both the techniques of manipulating the puppets by string and sticks in one performing play. Often, other troupes use only one type of technique; The string technique helps to move the puppets more easily out to the stage; meanwhile it is more difficult to manipulate the puppets by stick technique, but it helps the movement of the puppets is more flexible.
Not only performing for the people in the village the troupe is often invited to perform in other provinces of the Northern Delta and other areas of the country, winning many high prizes in national performance contests. Therefore, the Thanh Hai Water Puppetry Village has attracted the attention of many researchers and cultural organizations, along with those who love the art of water puppetry in Vietnam.