A friend of mine told me that when he was a child, he once won first place in a speech contest. When he presented the award after returning home, his father threw it to the ground, shouting that it was useless.
All his father valued was top performance in exams — nothing else mattered.
This obsolete ideology, which prevails in many families in Taiwan, is arguably a legacy of the civil service examination system in imperial China.
At a recent cultural conference, film director Wang Hsiao-ti (王小棣) said: “When the Ministry of Culture reports during the Interministerial Meeting on Cultural Matters convened by the Executive Yuan, other ministries look at them with distain.”
Minister of Culture Lee Yung-te (李永得) reportedly said in response that “it is because the entire government has been focusing on economic and technological development as its core strategy for the past 50 years, and the Ministry of Culture is seen as a spender.”
However, the output value of South Korea’s cultural and creative industry in 2017 was equivalent to NT$3.3 trillion (US$110.8 billion at the current exchange rate), surpassing the NT$2.6 trillion of its highly polluting semiconductor industry.
The South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism would never be underestimated by the country’s other ministries.
Taiwan’s semiconductor output value is similar to South Korea’s, which has made the Ministry of Economic Affairs complacent, while its cultural and creative industry output value is only one-quarter of South Korea’s NT$800 billion. No wonder the Ministry of Culture is being looked down on, and no wonder there is a “South Korean wave,” but no “Taiwanese wave.”
Wang is the director of the animated feature Grandma and Her Ghosts (魔法阿媽). To finance the film, she mortgaged her property.
However, the film was eliminated from the 1998 Golden Horse Awards, as the judges said that it was “weird” and “promoting superstition,” and no prize was awarded in its category.
On the other hand, take a look at the themes at the National Cultural Congress’ forum this year — including “enhancing local cultural history” and “the application of Taiwanese cultural values” — would it not be easier to review culture from the perspective of “Taiwanese style”?
Obsolete ideas of this kind can also be seen in how another film was deprived of the opportunity to be released in Taiwan.
Created by Taiwanese anime artist Chen Uen (鄭問) and coproduced in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea in 1994, The Story of Confucius (孔子傳) said that Confucius (孔子) was an illegitimate child — which was unacceptable to some Confucius enthusiasts.
However, the Japanese producers cited a description in the Records of the Grand Historian (史記) as saying that “Confucius was born from a wild union,” to support the animation’s stance.
However, the movie was never released in Taiwan.
These events of more than 20 years ago might seem fleeting, but this is not the case.
The Golden Horse Awards judges’ discussions about Grandma and Her Ghosts were in 2016 published on the Professional Technology Temple bulletin board system, prompting users to decry the unjust decision. The debate was so heated that even Wang was shaken.
In other countries, appeals can be made unless it is stated in advance that they would not be accepted.
In Taiwan, “procurement errors” made during government tenders must be corrected. The Ministry of Culture should apply a similar method and review its decisions to ensure that the cultural and creative industries will not be stifled.
Lu Ching-fu is a professor in Fu Jen Catholic University’s applied arts department.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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