“Then it occurred to me that maybe opening a bookstore featuring Taiwan-themed books could be the answer to both problems, because it could serve as a comprehensive platform where people interested in learning about Taiwanese cultures could find useful and mind-enlightening materials,” Wu said.
With the assistance of Yeh Chu-lan (葉菊蘭), the widow of democracy movement pioneer Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), Taiuan-e-tiam opened in March 1993.
A year later, Wu decided to resign from his teaching post at a public university to dedicate more time to the bookstore’s operation.
The bookshop later became a magnet for culture enthusiasts after Wu joined hands with folk singer Chen Ming-chang (陳明章) to produce an album featuring traditional songs of the Bunun tribe (布農) in 1999, and collaborated with comic book legend Chiu Row-long (邱若龍) in designing a T-shirt depicting Atayal (泰雅) customs.
It was also frequented by college professors at home and abroad until the nation was battered by the outbreak of SARS in 2003.
“The outbreak caused a public spending freeze that reduced the number of customers to the bookstore to only a few dozen a day,” Wu said.
Wu said the bookstore’s business took another dip after the KMT returned to power in 2008, citing the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) hasty shift toward China that has made the local publishing industry more “China-oriented.”
“Because of the industrial change, books published in recent years are no longer inspirational enough to readers, leading to a dramatic decline in sales, Wu said.
The store’s average daily turnover is only about NT$8,000, which is not enough to cover its overhead, Wu added.
Wu also voiced concerns over the controversial cross-strait service trade agreement, which, if ratified, is set to open to Chinese investment 64 Taiwanese industries, including publishing.
“The potential impact of the treaty is tremendous, since the ulterior motive behind China signing the accord is not to undercut Taiwanese workers, but to obtain the right to interpret Taiwanese cultures,” Wu said.
Pointing to a book on the shelve titled The Photographic Book of all Butterflies in Taiwan (台灣蝴蝶大圖鑑), Wu said there are two groups of butterfly researchers in Taiwan: one favors classifying the insects by their common names, while the other prefers doing so by their scientific names.
“The two groups of researchers have coexisted and worked harmoniously in the past. However, if Chinese publishers were allowed to do business in the country, chances are China’s system of nomenclature will replace that of Taiwan and gradually wipe out the diversity of our culture,” Wu said.
Wu also singles out the Book Republic Publishing Co, which published hundreds of Taiwan-themed books before deciding to follow “market trends,” deciding to publish Chinese writer Xu Zhiyuan’s (許知遠) The Protestors (抗爭者) last month.
“The Protestors subjectively interprets and distorts the history of the 1990 Wild Lily Student Movement without giving readers a detailed account of the causes of the demonstration,” Wu said.
“It also depicts [former Democratic Progressive Party legislator] Lo Wen-chia (羅文嘉) and [former Presidential Office deputy secretary-general] Ma Yung-cheng (馬永成) in a gloomy manner. He [Xu] does not seem to understand Taiwan’s social movements at all,” Wu said.