Sun, Apr 29, 2001 - Page 17 News List

Hakka identity gets a boost with museum

Kaohsiung County's Hakka museum wants to be a repository of cultural artifacts and also a community center

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Meinung Hakka yesterday celebrate the opening of a museum in Kaohsiung County which focuses on their culture.


Its been nearly seven years, but finally the NT$120 million Hakka museum in Meinung township officially opened yesterday in a colorful ceremony at which President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) put in an appearance. Hakka culture, like many other minority cultures around the world, is receiving greater recognition by government agencies, and while this museum is far from the first to be devoted to Hakka culture, it is remarkable for its effort to become an integral part of the Hakka community in Meinung.

President Chen used the opening of the museum to emphasize the government's efforts to preserve Hakka culture and give it the recognition it deserves. Hakka people represent about 15 percent of Taiwan's population, and in townships such as Meinung, Hakka people make up over 90 percent of residents. The Hakka, who traditionally have emphasized education even more than most Chinese, are disproportionately represented in the upper levels of academia and government, and current legislation is being reviewed that will create a central government agency for Hakka affairs.

The museum, designed by the Hakka architect Hsie Ying-jun (謝英俊) is a modernized representation of a traditional tobacco smoke house. These buildings, which used to dominate the landscape in Meinung, have now largely fallen into disrepair, as the government tobacco monopoly has reduced its purchases of local product. Nevertheless, smoke houses are a potent symbol of Meinung, for it was the tobacco industry which provided the economic foundations for earlier generations of highly-educated Hakka people.

A number of smoke houses have been converted to recording studios, the best known of which is probably the one owned by Labor Exchange (交工樂隊), a local folk rock group.

Wang Hsiu-mei (王秀美), who has worked with the museum over the last three years in its preparation phase, said that an important aspect of the museum's concept is as a community museum. The exhibits, dedicated to all aspects of daily life in Meinung, has a slight feel of a beleaguered community protecting its identity, not that this makes the show any less interesting.

Margaret Wang (王長華), director of the Kaohsiung City Government's Cultural Bureau and head of the museum, pointed out that the Hakka of Meinung, with their almost obsessive respect for education and the written word, have maintained exhaustive records of their community, providing a uniquely solid foundation for the work of cultural preservation. Unfortunately, it is this emphasis on the written word that makes the museum hard going, and tends to emphasize its role as a cultural preservation project. But for those with the time and inclination, the combination of audiovisual elements, with extensive texts and photographic material, along with a comprehensive collection of local publications on Hakka culture, make it an invaluable resource.

The museum's association with Meinung differentiates it from other Hakka cultural centers around the island. "The Taipei and Kaohsiung Hakka cultural centers are cultural facilities forcibly grafted into an alien environment," Margaret Wang said. "Here we are an organic part of the environment."

The museum is located among uncluttered fields, and provides a focus for the scattered tourism attractions of the Meinung area, such as old smoke houses and Butterfly Valley (黃蝶翠谷). "We hope it will serve the role of an information center for the area," Margaret Wang said. Another role the museum aims to play is that of a Hakka community center, were Hakka people will have a chance to get in touch again with their culture.

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