Sun, Oct 19, 2003 - Page 17 News List

Putting local literature in its place

With the opening of the National Museum of Taiwanese Literature it is hoped that anyone will be able to discover the country's rich literary heritage

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Designed by Japanese architect Moriyama Matsunosuke and completed in 1916, the building is now home to the National Museum of Taiwanese Literature, which opened last week. Originally used by the Japanese colonial government, the striking building was the headquarters for the ROC Airforce until the early 1970s and it was the Tainan City Hall until the 1990s.

PHOTO: GAVIN PHIPPS, TAIPEI TIMES

After six years of planning and redevelopment the National Museum of Taiwanese Literature (國立台灣文學館) in Tainan is finally opening its doors to the public and giving visitors the chance to flip through the historical pages of Taiwan's literary past.

Set to coincide with the 82nd anniversary of the nation's oldest literary group, The Taiwan Cultural Association (台灣文化協會), which was founded on Oct. 17, 1921, the museum's opening is seen as milestone for both the preservation and promotion of local literature.

Located in what was until the late 1990s Tainan City Hall, the museum is Taiwan's first national center solely dedicated to the celebration of local literature.

Along with offering patrons a photographic blow-by-blow account of the history of Taiwanese literature, the building will also house the nation's largest literary library -- boasting 30,000 publications -- restoration rooms, laboratories, lecture theaters, photo studios, a computer center and an auditorium.

"The establishment of such a museum means that research, as well as the promotion of Taiwanese literature can be centralized," said museum director Lin Juei-ming (林瑞明). "And as the nation's sole center of literary excellence it will also serve as a hub for exchange programs and seminars."

Final touches to the museum's plush new interior may have only been completed last week, but the center has already played host to a series of seminars.

Since early August, when the then partially completed museum had its soft opening, half-a-dozen local literary figures have given lectures covering a wide range of literary topics. Seminars on the translation of Aboriginal works and the position of female writers in Taiwan and Hakka literature have proven hugely popular with both scholars and laymen alike.

Professor Chen Heng-chia (陳恆嘉) of Tamkang University Chinese Department (淡江大學中文系) believes the opening of the museum couldn't be more opportune, especially at a time when Taiwanese literature has become more significant to the country.

"For a long time our literature was considered to be the same as China's. Whether the writer was born in Taipei or China, their works were thought to be simply Chinese," Chen said. "But because [Taiwan's] society has developed on its own, our writing has also developed and taken its own direction. Not many people are aware of this."

A solid wall dividing literature from Taiwan and China there may be, yet local literature is still not as widely recognized as some scholars would like it to be. According to Lin over the past couple of decades there has been a marked decrease in the awareness and comprehension of local literature. All of which is something that he hopes the establishment of the museum will change.

"If you mention Shakespeare's or Keats' name to any Taiwanese they will immediately know who are talking about. They may not have read any of their works, but they will be familiar with the names," Lin said. "And while there are and have been copious amounts of Taiwanese writers, very few enjoy the same amount of fame. We want people to know about authors such as the contemporary Atayal writer, Wallis Naqang."

While in agreement for the need to promote local literature, the choice of Tainan over the capital as the site for the nation's foremost museum of

literature has been criticized. Chen believes that the choice of the southern city could leave the institute out in the cold and possibly ignored by the masses it is designed to attract.

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