TchenYu-chiou (陳郁秀) is a woman with a mission: she wants to use Taiwan's many cultures to create a Taiwanese identity that is inclusive. She wants to change the common misperception that Taiwan is only made up of one monolithic culture by focusing on the island's cultural diversity.
But if her goal seems difficult, there is probably no other person in Taiwan that is in a better position to influence the direction of Taiwan's culture and by extension, its identity. Tchen is, concurrently, CKS Cultural Center chairwoman, National Cultural Association (NCA) secretary-general and national policy advisor for culture to president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
"Today's creation is for tomorrow's children," she said. "If you don't create today you will never have your own culture. So I encourage artists to study and appreciate Chinese culture — the traditional culture but not only that. The most important is that you … find yourself and create your culture."
Tchen says the evolution of a specifically Taiwanese culture began in earnest with the lifting of Martial Law in 1987.
"Before that, Chinese culture predominated," she said.
Prior to 2000, Tchen worked to raise awareness of the importance of Taiwan's unique culture and create a Taiwanese culture.
During her tenure as chief of the Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA), a Cabinet-level post she held until 2004, her primary goal was to support a policy of cultural diversity, with equal attention given to Aboriginal, Taiwanese, Chinese, Asian and Western cultures. These are the same goals she brought to the NCA and are goals she says she will bring to CKS Cultural Center.
"For me, the National Palace Museum and CKS Cultural Center are just like one pair of eyes of Taiwan looking to the world. [They] should be a place for Taiwanese artists to present their creations and for foreign people to come to [see] Taiwan," she said.
Tchen will commission foreign artists to come to Taiwan through exchange programs while at the same time sponsoring local up-and-coming and established groups to perform abroad. Tchen feels that only by collaborating with foreign groups can Taiwanese artists gain a greater understanding of their own cultural roots.
"We must find a balance … and we can do this through an international language," she said.
Tchen recalls clearly how she first became interested in Taiwanese culture. When she was young she demonstrated an aptitude for music, a talent that eventually led her to study piano in Paris at age 16.
"For the first lesson my professor asked me [to] play a Taiwanese song," she said. As she didn't know any songs from Taiwan she embarrassingly responded that the only music she could play was Bach and Mozart
"He said to me 'that's not yours. You must know your music and then you can play Bach differently than your classmates.'"
Embarrassed by her lack of knowledge of Taiwan's music, she immediately began to investigate the many styles of music Taiwan has to offer. It was then that Tchen began to realize that her lack of knowledge wasn't just about the music of Taiwan, but about its culture as well.
"At the time, in the school, people didn't teach me about [Taiwan's] culture. So I didn't know it," she said.
Her increased awareness of Taiwan's culture was not initially matched by an interest in politics. But after meeting, and eventually marrying, Lu Hsiu-yi (盧修一) her ideas about politics changed.
"When I was in Paris I didn't want to touch politics because it wasn't interesting for me," she said. But Lu warned her "politics governs everybody — even if you don't touch [it], it will touch you."
Tchen says she didn't understand what Lu meant until a few years later when she was applying for a visa to enter a competition in Italy. Because Italy had no diplomatic relations with Taiwan she couldn't enter the country and therefore missed the competition.
"My husband said to me, come back to Taiwan where people need you," she said.
Arriving back in Taiwan in the early 1980s, Tchen continued to research music, and published Music Taiwan (音樂台灣) in 1984. It was also during this time that Tchen's husband was incarcerated for three years for sedition.
Tchen says that although her husband wasn't born a political animal, she understood that his years in prison had changed his outlook about Taiwan's direction. In 1986, the year he got out of prison, Lu became a founding member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DDP) and Tchen dove into learning about all facets of Taiwan's culture and history.
"[Lu] said if we don't have history and culture we are nothing, so we have to build them up."
Tchen says that back in the 1970s artists began to think about what it meant to be Taiwanese but by the 1980s they had begun to create. "When they create they say 'are we Chinese or not.' By 1987 we were saying 'we are Taiwanese,'" she said.
By the time the DPP came to power, Tchen had learned enough about Taiwan to put her theories into practice. She was duly appointed to run the Council for Cultural Affairs.
"It was the first time the DPP was in power, so for our culture it is different. Before that, Chinese culture was the main policy. But since I became minister, [though] Chinese culture [remained] important … I [focused] a lot on our Taiwanese culture, which had been ignored during the Martial Law period.
"I respect Chinese culture — like in France, you have ancient cultures, but they developed their own culture. If you have this cultural [awareness] you can develop your own culture. This is to give you the knowledge, but your own culture gives you the roots."
Tchen says that cultural policy will continue along the lines it has in the past, though not at the expense of any cultural group in Taiwan.
"We must to go back to our history and we have to go back to our culture because without that we are nothing," she said.