Sun, Nov 23, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Casting light on the Sino-French War

The National Taiwan Museum's displays of artifacts illustrate the lopsided nature of the conflict

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

A comprehensive collection of artifacts from the Sino-French War at the National Taiwan Museum enlightens a critical event in late-Qing history.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL TAIWAN MUSEUM

Those with a curiosity about military history and a moderate level of Chinese-language ability should find the recently reopened National Taiwan Museum's (國立台灣博物館) inaugural exhibition, 1884-1885: The Sino-French War and Taiwan (西仔反?清法戰爭與台灣) of some interest.

Organized by the museum and with the help of the France's Musee National de la Marine, Service Historique de la Marine and the Service Historique de l'Armee de Terre, the exhibit sets out to tell both sides of the bloody story.

The territorial conflict, which was fought from April 1884 to March 1885, saw troops of France's colonial army face off against Qing dynasty forces over Tonquin, or what is today Vietnam. While much of the fighting took place in Vietnam, French troops managed to occupy parts of Fujian and northern Taiwan at one time or another during the conflict and the naval forces of the two powers clashed regularly in the Taiwan Strait.

By late 1884 Taiwan was effectively cut off from the Chinese mainland and the Taiwan operations of the Sino-French War came to an end in October 1884 after the northern port towns of Keelung and Tamsui were ceded to the French. The bloody year-long conflict cost the lives of 10,000 thousand Chinese and roughly 2,100 French troops.

Chronologically arranged with over 300 artifacts, uniforms, maps, charts, photographs and news clippings as well as interesting interactive elements and an accompanying 41-page booklet, the exhibit gives visitors a simple, yet first-rate account of the causes and effects of the Sino-French War.

Visitors are first given a brief introduction to Taiwan and its people at the end of 1800s in a display titled "Prologue to War," which is a predominantly text-based display, before marching into the War Rooms.

The first war room gives visitors a blow-by-blow account of French naval forces. Along with an interesting chart in which the French ships' names, fire power and man power are listed, a huge painting of French ships and marines clashing with Qing troops at Kim Pai (金牌) in Fujian Province on Aug. 28 1884 makes for pretty eye-popping viewing. Looking at the comparisons between the iron clad French ships and wooden-hulled Chinese vessels it's no wonder it was such a one-sided campaign.

The mismatched nature of the conflict continues to be apparent when looking at the weaponry on display in War Room III, where a selection of Chinese matchlock rifles look like toys when compared to the Mausers of the French army. And when visitors learn that Qing troops armed with spears were pitched against French Legionnaires equipped with Winchester repeating rifles, well, enough said.

It might lack the grandiose scale of an exhibition at one of the world's larger museums, but the National Taiwan Museum's "1884-1885: The Sino-French War and Taiwan" makes for an interesting and educational 45 minutes. And, more importantly, visitors will probably leave the exhibit knowing something they didn't before they went in.

"1884-1885: The Sino-French War and Taiwan" (西仔反?清法戰爭與台灣) is on display until Jan. 25. The National Taiwan Museum (國立台灣博物館) is located at 2, Xiangyang Rd., (台北市襄陽路2). For further details, call (02) 2382 2699.

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