Taiwan must deal with its fears of China in a “wise and positive way,” Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) said in a wide-ranging address to the National Press Club in Washington on Wednesday.
She announced new ties with major US cultural organizations, revealed some deeply personal experiences and talked about her hopes for cross-strait relations.
Lung said she met this week with officials at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
Her meetings with the directors of the Smithsonian — the US’ national museum complex — were “very exciting” and included discussions on fund-raising, interesting the public in cultural events and mobilizing the private sector.
She is now negotiating for Taiwanese museum administrators to spend time working at the Smithsonian and setting up programs that would involve Taiwanese students studying at US museums.
By way of return, Smithsonian scientists may be invited to Taiwan to study Aboriginal culture and underwater archeology, she said.
Her visit to the US — she leaves later this week for Canada — has even been noted by Beijing.
During a speech in New York, Lung urged China to “let go” and realize that “culture is not a weapon.”
A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Cultural Affairs responded by urging Taiwan to provide full legal protection for Chinese spouses of Taiwanese.
“Marriage is not a weapon, so please let go,” the spokesman said.
Lung said the incident was illustrative of the difficulties in solving cross-strait issues.
“Because of the political problems, we can’t sit down over a cup of tea and discuss things, we have to talk through third parties and it is a bit awkward,” she said, urging Taiwanese to have a more “sympathetic understanding” of China.
Asked if she worried about China having too much influence over Taiwan, Lung said there was a lot of apprehension.
“People on both sides of the [Taiwan] Strait must put all their effort and heart into promoting peace — we have to do everything in our reach to prevent war,” she said.
Lung said her parents fled the Communists during the Chinese Civil War and traveled to Taiwan in 1949. She was born in 1952.
She grew up in a fishing village, but never learned to swim and feared the sea because during the Martial Law era she was told that Chinese frogmen with knives clenched between their teeth might land on the beach at night and kill everyone.
Lung recalled that when she was a teenager, her parents received a letter from China that came in a very complicated way via Hong Kong.
“It was from their own son, left behind in 1949 when he was two years old,” she said. “I did not know I had a brother. He had grown up alone, without parents. No correspondence was allowed between Taiwan and China. My brother was 16 and this was the first news from him since my parents fled China. They thought he was dead.”
“They read the letter in a back room and they showed it to me, and then they burned it and never replied. Because if you were caught corresponding with someone in China you could get the death penalty. Those were the times I grew up in,” she said.
Lung said her parents were poor and could not help their son.
Lung said that when she traveled to the US for graduate studies in the mid-1970s, she was “miraculously” able to find her brother’s address and write to him.