Recognizing Barclay can lead to self-awareness

By Lu Shih-hsiang 盧世祥  / 

Thu, Oct 05, 2017 - Page 8

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the passing of Thomas Barclay, who died in 1935. Barclay, who was born in Scotland in 1849, arrived as a missionary in Formosa in 1875 and devoted his remaining 60 years to Taiwan.

Barclay was a newspaper man. He founded Taiwan’s first newspaper, the Taiwan Church News, in 1885, a newspaper that remains in print to this day.

He was also an educationalist. He started the Tainan Theological College and Seminary and contributed to the establishment of Tainan’s first high school, Chang Jung Senior High School.

Barclay was a linguist. He translated and published the Bible using Peh-oe-ji orthography, or church romanization, which allowed the transcription of Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese).


This text enabled illiterate people of the day to learn how to read and write in their native tongue in a relatively short time.

Still in print today, this Bible translation functions as a repository of the language as it was used back then.

Barclay stepped in to avert a massacre when the Qing court ceded Taiwan to Japan in 1895 and the Japanese army arrived here.

On the eve of the Japanese army’s advance on Tainan, Barclay and an English missionary, Duncan Ferguson, persuaded the Japanese army commander and governor of Taiwan, Nogi Maresuke, not to take punitive measures following the capitulation.

By doing so, he was able to mediate on behalf of the local elite and negotiate a peaceful takeover of Tainan by the Japanese army.

As someone from overseas who contributed to Taiwan his whole life, despite originally having no interest in Taiwan, Barclay has come to be known as one of this nation’s true benefactors.


There are many ways that Taiwan can show its gratitude to Barclay and other benefactors. The Peng Ming-min Cultural and Educational Foundation, for example, prints a calendar every year that marks the anniversaries of Taiwan’s benefactors, or those who have made a significant contribution to the nation.

In Tainan there is a road, a church and a memorial park named after Barclay, and there is also an annual event to commemorate him.

School textbooks could teach Taiwanese about benefactors such as Barclay. Taiwanese could also write biographies, make movies or produce historical dramas about benefactors, as a way of memorializing their deeds through the arts.


Using these accounts as well as period architecture, clothing, everyday items and artworks, performers could replicate Taiwanese society of the past 150 years to clarify eternal questions such as who Taiwanese are and where they come from.

This is living history — this is the kind of cultural revival, Taiwanese are really looking for.

Roman politician Marcus Tullius Cicero said that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” This is as true for the individual as it is for the collective.

By expressing their gratitude for those who have made contributions to the nation, Taiwanese can learn much about this land and their history and culture — and gain a better understanding of how Taiwan and Taiwanese have evolved over the years.

Only a nation that understands the value of gratitude can elevate itself, and create a magnificent culture and civilization.

Lu Shih-hsiang is an adviser to the Taipei Times.

Translated by Paul Cooper