Taiwan, a dragon of traditions

Wednesday May 16, 2018: Taiwan, a dragon of traditions, lecture by Constance Barreault, specialist in Asian arts and civilizations, Guimet Museum, AFAO.


Taiwan or Republic of China is located within 160 kilometers southeast of the People's Republic of China (PRC). The country includes the islands of Taiwan, Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu (the Pescadores) and other small islands and islets. With an area of ​​36 008 km2 the island of Taiwan is mainly occupied by a non-urban landscape (87% of the territory). The Republic of China is populated by 23,1 million including 84% of Taiwanese, 14% of mainland Chinese (PRC) and 2% of indigenous people, without counting the migrant workers coming mainly from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and the Vietnam (between 400 and 000). They speak Mandarin, Taiwanese (Minnan), Hakka dialects and native languages.

One of the current characteristics of Taiwan is its attachment to democracy, even if it is relatively recent: the first authorized opposition party was born in 1986 and the first political alternation took place 18 years ago. But since then, this democracy has been working and freedom of expression and freedom of the press are complete. Political life is structured by the opposition of two large party blocs, the Kuomintang (KMT), on the one hand, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), on the other. The first, rather conservative, recruits among the officials, the army, the business circles related to Communist China. The second, center-left and ecologist, is well represented among the middle classes of the private and the intellectuals. New political figures emerge who reject the KMT / DPP cleavage and are "elsewhere"; the best known is Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, a rising figure in Taiwanese politics. But democratic renewal also takes the form of citizen mobilizations. The best known was the Sunflower movement protesting a trade deal with China (negotiated in some darkness by the ruling Kuomintang) where several hundred students broke into the Parliament they occupied during 26 days in March and April 2014. The Sunflower Movement has spawned a new left-wing party, the New Power Party, which puts human rights and civil liberties at the forefront and is a genuine advocate for Taiwan's independence.
On a scale of 0 to 100 published by Freedom House (an international non-governmental organization), Taiwan obtains 89 points just behind Japan (96) for the Asia-Pacific region, with China earning only 16 points.
An example of openness is the Constitutional Court's decision to propose the legalization of same-sex marriage, making Taiwan the first Asian country to treat the case and the 25 in this way.rd in the world. The Court considers that the legalization of gay marriage would contribute to greater social stability and the protection of "human dignity".

Map of Formosa in 1896.

Fields of tea trees.

The city in the countryside.

Taiwan has also become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2002.

Despite its 23,1 million inhabitants, Taiwan is the 14rd world trading power in 2012, with US $ 301,11 billion in exports and US $ 270,73 billion in imports. It imports most of its energy needs. While the United States is Taiwan's third largest trading partner, the People's Republic of China is the largest trading partner and this trend is growing rapidly as the two economies become more interdependent than ever. The formal lack of diplomatic relations between the Republic of China (Taiwan) and its trading partners does not appear to have seriously hampered Taiwan's rapidly growing trade. Indeed, the Republic of China maintains cultural and trade offices in more than 60 countries with which it has no official relations.
While agriculture has always been a sector of innovation and has been a major concern because of Taiwan's quest for self-sufficiency, the technology industry is what makes the island live.
Before the arrival of the first Chinese "visitors", the island of Formosa was populated by aborigines divided into two communities: one of them, located in the plains, was sedentary and mainly composed of cultivators, the other , located in the heart of the mountains, was not sedentary and drew its resources from hunting and gathering, their lives being punctuated by tribal wars.

Members of the Saisiyat tribe, by Japanese photographer Kutsuyama, to 1900.

Hakka House located in Houlong. Concert hall and exhibition spaces.

Portuguese unloading a caraque. Detail of a namban screen attributed to Kanō school. 16th s.

The first wave of immigration was made by the Hakkas, around the year one thousand, from Fujian and Guangdong, and their fishing and trade led them to occupy the South of Formosa, pushing the native populations back to the mountains. . They grow sugar cane, rice, tea and trade actively with the continent.
However, under the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), other Chinese communities than the Hakkas decided to emigrate to Formosa. These migrants come from the nearby mainland province of Fujian. Arrived on the island, they in turn push the Hakkas back to the middle of the land and settle massively in the plains of the West. During the 15rd and 16rd centuries, Formosa becomes the privileged haven of pirates and traders of mainland China and Japan. The island fully satisfied their needs: its industrious population produced foodstuffs and other goods in large quantities, and above all, it administered itself.e through clan and village lineages. As it was close to the trading centers and shipping lanes of China, Japan and Hong Kong, while escaping their political control, Taiwan became a haven for pirates who engaged in trading if the economy was favorable or lived of rapine in the opposite case.
At the beginning of the XVIIrd century, Taiwan can therefore be considered a strategic location, an island at the crossroads of the China Sea. It is not surprising then that at this time, the contenders for its domination multiply. The attempts at conquest against Formosa are therefore no longer the sole fact of mainland China. Proof of this is the attempted annexation by the shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1603, an expedition was organized in order to drive out the Japanese pirates installed on the island: the operation was a success, the Chinese succeeding in conquering Formosa. It was from 1612, that is to say a few years after the Chinese conquest, that the term Taiwan was officially used in Chinese writings to designate the island. But the island excites the lust of Europeans, indeed, the Portuguese, the Spaniards and the Dutch claim to its domination. In the end, it was the Dutch who managed to impose their domination and occupy Formosa from 1624 to 1661. Obtaining an agreement from the Chinese government, the Dutch East India Company obtained exclusive trade rights to the island and began to import opium from the nearby island of Java (which was then a Dutch colony). In addition, the United Provinces encourage the arrival of Chinese peasants, which allows them to implement a real colonial policy, based on two fundamental concepts: on the one hand, to derive large profits from the trade in sugar, indigo and dried fish, and on the other hand, subjecting the Chinese populations of Formosa to taxes and drudgery.
In 1661, a Chinese adventurer named Koxinga seized the island of Taiwan and drove out the Dutch, thus becoming the undisputed master of the island and Taiwan became an autonomous principality. This man is today considered by the Taiwanese as a true national hero. Being loyal to the Ming, the island becomes a loyalist enclave to fight against the Manchu Empire. Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga) then worked to develop all areas: he improved the means of communication and agriculture, he made Tainan a real economic and political center. He built reservoirs for irrigation. Rice being the main production at the time. He also imported 43 vegetables from China, such as leeks, garlic and Chinese cabbage. Koxinga is also concerned about Chinese culture: with the help of many scholars, masters and artists, he restores the laws, institutions and traditions that prevailed under the Ming. But in 1683, the Chinese Empire decided to put an end to the loyalist actions of the Zhengs, by organizing a military expedition which put an end to twenty-two years of Taiwanese independence. It was therefore in 1683 that the island was “recovered” by the Qing and was officially attached to the Celestial Empire. Formosa then becomes a prefecture (“Fu” in Chinese) of the province of Fujian. The great European powers are increasingly interested in the fate of the Far East because they see it as business opportunities and hope to support the activities of Western missionaries more effectively. It seems in fact that the West had noticed that the Chinese central power in Beijing cared little for the fate of Formosa, and moreover, there was little authority. It was in this context that in 1869, the English bombed Anping and the United States led a punitive expedition against an aboriginal tribe, following the assassination of sailors.

Portrait of Koxinga. Silk painting. Middle of the 17th century.

Japanese soldiers entering Taipei in 1895. Oil painting.

National Memorial Hall (former Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial). Taipei.

But alongside this climate of violence, foreign trade is growing on the island. Camphor, tea, rice, sugar and wood are exported more and more, while opium is the main import. In 1872, the Japanese, who are beginning to build an industry and a modern army, claiming the revenge of fishermen, decide on a raid on Formosa. But thanks to the Chinese resistance on the one hand and the European mediation on the other hand, in 1874, Japan must backtrack. Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan is confirmed. In 1884-1885, the French war fleet is blockading the island following the war between France and China. But in June 1885, China is finally forced to sign the Franco-Chinese Treaty of Tianjin, where it renounces all rights to Vietnam and accepts changes to the borders for the benefit of the latter. France then withdraws from Formosa and Taiwan becomes a Chinese province. In 1894, begins the Sino-Japanese war, which will continue until the beginning of the year 1895. The Japanese will receive full ownership of Taiwan and the Pescadores. Despite an effort of resistance, the Japanese army landed on the island in June 1895 and took control of Formosa for fifty years. Japan will promote a significant improvement in the production of rice, sugar and sweet potatoes by introducing a systematic modernization of agricultural techniques. The 25 October 1945, while the second world war ends and Japan comes out defeated, Taiwan is back to China. Chiang Kai-Shek and the Guomindang arrive in 1949, creating the Republic of China that will attract new waves of immigration that will triple the population in three years.

During the period 1953-1959, the authorities adopted a policy which gave priority to the development of agriculture, considered at the time as a key element of the national economy. Since 1979, ten-year economic plans have followed one another to increase the share of industry in the economy, by developing high-tech and high-value-added sectors such as information and communication technologies, electronics. , mechanical engineering and transport.
The mechanization of agriculture was not encouraged until the 1970s, when industrial development was able to absorb displaced labor, and in ways compatible with peasant production. This agricultural policy was organized and financed directly by the US government through an astonishing institutional mechanism, the Chinese American Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction (JCRR) founded in 1948. The success of this policy has been striking: between 1946 and 1976, agricultural production has increased fivefold with growing differentiation of products. The agricultural surplus played a major role in the constitution of industrial capital. Entry into the WTO has been damaging for Taiwanese agriculture; the government has therefore started to promote agricultural tourism and bio, organize festivals, museums.
In 2013, agritourism attracted around 20 million visitors and generated NT $ 10 billion (28 billion 411 million Euros).

Fields of Bundaberg farms. © teq-news.

Semiconductor factory. TSMC. © TSMC.

Advertising for paper made from stone.

The electronics and telecommunications sector is the 1er Taiwan's industrial export sector and also benefits from massive purchases and US investment. Taiwan is the world's largest supplier of computer chips and is the leading manufacturer of liquid crystal display panels, DRAM computer memory, computer network equipment, and a designer and manufacturer of consumer electronics.
Textile production, although declining, remains significant.
Taiwan is at the forefront of research in many areas: Henry Liang invents a process of making stone paper in Tainan and Jason Chen, manufactures deodorants and clothing from coffee grounds!
However Taiwan remains a country conserving traditions. The installation of Tchang Kai-Shek has brought in its wake works of art, doctors, gastronomes, martial arts masters etc. Even if the memory of the Generalissimo is tarnished, his monument, renamed “National Memorial Hall” remains one of the notable buildings of Taipei like the National Palace Museum which houses 697 Chinese works of art. An annex was opened to the public in 490, in a building designed by Taiwanese architect Kris Yao. Museums are extremely numerous on the island and some foreign architects have been called upon.
It is interesting to note that the Taiwanese have always been able to assimilate in a positive way the external contributions: in culinary matter, if the aborigines continue to make preparations with wild boar or wrapped in leaves, the contribution of the Chinese (tea, vegetables and recipes) and Japanese (seaweed, raw fish, tempura) has created a very varied diet.

The Palace Museum. Taipei.

Groom and two horses. Copy after Han Gan (mid 8th century). Ink and color on silk. Album sheet.

Chinese cabbage in jadeite with insects. Dyn. Qing. 19th s.

In architecture, CY Lee designed the Taipei 101 tower which was the world's tallest skyscraper from 2004 to 2010. Rem Koolhaas, Dutch architect, directed the Taipei Performing Arts Center, planned for 2018. It passes in the eyes of some for an important artist knowing to express in his creations, more aesthetic than functional, the spirit of our hyper modernity. In the center, in Taichung, 3rd city ​​of the country, Toyo Ito designed the National Taichung Theater, the largest stadium on the island (55 spectators).
In painting, Lo Ch'ing (born in 1948), poet, painter and calligrapher, settled in Taiwan since 1949, is one of the main innovators of the ink painting. If he deconstructs the landscapes, he tells us about the relation of man with nature, which is present since 1 000 years in Chinese painting and in his compositions, he takes again the tension between the water and the mountain in there introducing geometric shapes.

Taipei Tower 101.

Taipei Performing arts center.

The sun and moon of spring cherry blossoms s. Detail. Lo Ch'ing. Ink and color on paper.

Taiwan can be considered as the dragon head draining China and other Asian countries, in the most varied fields, ranging from politics, agriculture, through literature. The Taiwanese offer us a new vision of the world, made of flexibility, acceptance, dynamism.


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