Wed, Nov 22, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Conserving Taiwan's literary treasures

By Hsueh Li-kui 薛理桂

Nearly 1,000 of Taiwanese human rights activist and author Bo Yang's (柏楊) original manuscripts will reportedly be donated to the National Museum of Modern Chinese Literature in Beijing. If true, this will be a great loss for Taiwan, and it should also sound an alarm over the outflow of this country's cultural treasures.

The Council for Cultural Affairs (文化建設委員會), which is in charge of managing Taiwan's cultural artifacts, should make a frank assessment of how this could have happened.

Bo signed an agreement with the Chinese museum at the beginning of this year agreeing to provide it with some of his manuscripts, letters, writing desks, chairs, pens and paper weights, as well as taped interviews from his time in prison on Green Island so that they could be stored in Beijing.

Because Bo's manuscripts are related to the history of modern Taiwanese literature and Taiwan's democratic development, they are important to researchers for their historic value. If these items are sent to China, Taiwanese researchers would have to travel thousands of kilometers to read them. This makes a mockery of Taiwan's efforts to preserve its cultural relics.

The manuscripts of Chen Ying-zhen (陳映真), another of Taiwan's most prominent literary figures, will also be donated to the Chinese museum. Why is it that two of Taiwan's most distinguished contemporary writers, born and raised in Taiwan, are so inclined to send their original documents to China?

The council, which is in charge of these matters, should think long and hard about this question.

Taiwan is overcrowded with independent organizations collecting and compiling literary works. Although the council has its National Museum of Taiwanese Literature (國家臺灣文學館), there are also other organizations actively gathering authors' manuscripts, such as the National Central Library (國家圖書館), the National Tsing Hua University Library (清華大學圖書館) and the National Taiwan University Library (臺灣大學圖書館).

Although the National Central Library and the National Museum of Taiwanese Literature fought to win Bo's manuscripts, both efforts ended in failure.

The National Museum of Taiwanese Literature was established in 2003, becoming the first national repository for literary works. It now holds more than 3,000 manuscripts and more than 7,000 audiovisual items.

The museum has research, development, preservation and administrative departments, but strangely lacks the most important division of all -- a collections department. Just imagine, the museum, which has the important mandate of gathering Taiwanese authors' original documents, hasn't established a department responsible for that mission. It's as if it is passively waiting for authors to bring their manuscripts right to its front door.

The museum should re-examine how its divisions are made up and establish that all-important collection department. Its members should get out of the museum and take the initiative to gather documents from authors both at home and abroad.

In addition, this museum should be the leader among Taiwanese institutions involved in preserving important literary materials.

It should actively seek to cooperate with the other Taiwanese organizations to prevent harmful competition that could end up scattering Taiwan's important documents to the winds.

Let us hope that Bo's manuscripts will be the last ones to leave Taiwan.

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