Tue, Mar 17, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Cultural development is necessary

By Han Pao-teh 漢寶德

Governments are trying to find ways to weather the difficult times as the global economic downturn and rising unemployment make everyone insecure.

Overcome with worry, it seems we can only look on from the sidelines and wait for a gifted leader to save us. But can we really not see a light at the end of the tunnel when we are at the lowest point in our lives?

Politicians tend to spend money where it is needed most, which includes not only necessary construction projects, but also what helps them win votes.

Therefore, in the past several years, many freeways and interchanges have been built across the nation that were unnecessary as they did not actually help improve people’s living standards.

Living standards are often defined as accessibility to arts by the cultural sector, and performance and exhibition venues are often viewed as an index.

I wonder if this is correct. Would the government be able to kill two birds with one stone if the expenditure aimed at increasing employment were invested in culture?

We should take advantage of the recession to slow down and adjust our living standards. In times of high growth, everybody rushes to make money without thinking of improving standards of living.

When it comes to construction relating to living conditions, money always takes precedence. As a result, luxurious houses are everywhere and many households have an expensive car.

A humanistic urban environment and ecological landscapes are lacking. Compared with 30 years ago, we have become much wealthier and our horizons have expanded. However, excessive self-satisfaction and self-confidence has meant that we have not worked hard enough to enhance our aesthetic abilities.

The first touchstone of a country’s living standard is the urban street system, including sidewalks and curbs.

To this day, the streets in Taipei are badly repaired and bumpy. When it rains, pedestrians have nowhere to go as cars splash water everywhere. We are so used to poor living standards that we don’t know that puddles are not seen on streets in well-built cities.

The second touchstone of a country’s living standard is access to drinkable tap water. After World War II, the US was one of the few countries where water could be drunk directly from the tap.

In 1967, I stopped in Europe on my return to Taiwan from the US. In Europe, I found the lack of drinkable tap water inconvenient. But by the 1970s, tap water was drinkable in almost every developed country. Although Taiwan is now an advanced country, it has never been able to achieve this goal. Whatever the reason, the government lacks the ability to solve the problem.

Building spectacular theaters designed by foreigners could increase the visibility of Taiwan, but it does not increase public living standards. It is very difficult to imagine how a few buildings of a kind that are rare even in Europe and the US would improve the spiritual standard of living in such a disorganized environment. From a cultural perspective, all this fails to touch on the root of the problem.

If we could calm our minds and stop reaching for what is beyond our grasp and instead implement construction projects based on people’s daily lives, practical, advanced aesthetic standards would develop among the public. If we could take this opportunity and spend the next few years improving our mindset and become a spiritually advanced country, we could turn misfortune into a blessing. I hope those in power give this some real thought.

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