LETTERS: Exporting Taiwan's culture

Sun, Feb 03, 2008 - Page 8

Feng Chien-san's opinion piece encouraged future leaders to pursue "video culture" ("New leader should take culture into video media," Jan. 31, page 8). There is a lot to be said on this subject and I'd like to add to the debate by calling for digital recordings of traditional Taiwanese performing arts with English subtitles.

Politicians have often promised to "export Taiwanese culture." But the tremendous talent of Ming Hua Yuan (明華園) and other Taiwanese opera troupes are still not available with English subtitles. There is a successful Puli puppet show (霹靂布袋戲) series in local video shops, but it is not subtitled in English. Other talented puppet troupes, opera companies, shadow puppet groups and Chinese-language theater companies have tremendous potential to impress foreign audiences.

But without subtitled recordings, these fine companies will remain invisible abroad.

Many digital recordings of fine performances do exist. None, to my knowledge, are subtitled in English. The argument that foreigners would not be able to appreciate the recordings does not hold, since the Taiwanese enjoy an immense amount of foreign cultural material, subtitled in Chinese. The problem is that marketing is inadequate. It's a large project, but not a particularly expensive one compared with sending performing companies abroad for limited engagements. Competent translators and native English-speaking editors would need to be hired to prepare subtitles, after which these recordings could be marketed abroad.

The first step is to target the descendents of Taiwanese abroad, who may be interested in learning more about their heritage, but may not have the language skills necessary.

Recordings of works in Mandarin, Hakka and Taiwanese could all find enthusiastic audiences abroad. A vast number of theater programs at English-speaking universities would buy the recordings. Various governments and private foundations are interested in promoting the cultures of China and Taiwan and could promote these programs. Taiwanese performing arts could be shown at film festivals and theaters. Once Taiwanese programs have been introduced and found large enough audiences, they could be offered by mainstream video rental outlets.

The value of this project is two-fold. The artists would be able to support themselves through increased sales of digital recordings, which would promote acting and puppetry as professions, attracting young people to make careers in threatened art forms. Beyond this noble objective, Taiwan's reputation -- as a valuable and unique part of world heritage -- would gain a great deal.

English should of course be the first language to create subtitles in, but we can assume that French, German, Spanish, Russian and Japanese subtitles would quickly follow.

Once Taiwanese performing arts can delight the whole world, the whole world will support Taiwanese arts. Subtitling Taiwan's masterpieces would be to everyone's benefit and is a project that should be undertaken at once.

Christopher Logan