Essayist and cultural critic Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), who took over as the new Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA) minister yesterday, said she believes a nation’s strength is determined by its “soft power” and that culture begins in the most remote places.
Lung, who has lived in Hong Kong for the past eight years, said after a handover ceremony in Taipei that the cultural quality of a country’s citizenry forms the basis of its economic and industrial prosperity.
“The cultural environment we provide for a 12 year-old child determines our national strength,” she said.
She offered herself as an example, saying that she grew up in a fishing village in southern Taiwan and was therefore very much aware of the gap between urban and rural areas in terms of cultural resources.
As the new Council for Cultural Affairs minister, Lung said her first task would be to determine the extent to which a child raised in a village in eastern Taiwan lacks the opportunities available to a child in urban Taipei.
“Culture begins at the village level,” said Lung, who sees herself as an official who “will often wear dirty sneakers and visit villages.”
Lung also said she hoped that the council, which will be upgraded to a ministry on May 20, and its cultural values would “permeate all government policies and agencies.”
“I hope the council and the future ministry of culture will not be a rock in a glass of water, but sugar that dissolves in water,” Lung said, stressing the importance of support from other government agencies in promoting cultural work.
Calling it an “immensely difficult and terrifying” job, Lung said she hoped to bring progressive thinking to the council and to help government workers “regain a sense of pride” in their work.
She also called on cultural and arts circles to give her and her team time to build an “underground” and “unseen” foundation for cultural works, which she said are “100 times more important than beautiful fireworks in the sky.”
The 59-year-old writer, who holds a doctorate in English literature from Kansas State University, is best known for her poignant and critical essays on Taiwan’s democracy and society.
Lung served from 1999 to 2003 as the first director of the Taipei City Government’s Department of Cultural Affairs, which was established by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) when he was Taipei mayor.