Over the Lunar New Year period, I once more took stock of the four townships within the constituency I serve and discovered that the only one with a written history was Huwei Township (虎尾鎮), two volumes with a total of 800,000 words that were printed five years ago.
Of the 76 villages and boroughs within those four townships only 25 or so have any written records of their development. Only seven of the rural and urban townships of the 25 in Yunlin County have written histories, while of the 392 boroughs and villages within the county, only 100 or so can lay claim to a local written record of their development.
It appears that the history of Yunlin is largely lost to us, save for what is etched into individuals’ memories, which will soon be lost to us over time. How, then, will the local histories of Taiwan be written?
Everyone knows that they are responsible for protecting their own country. By the same logic, everyone is equally responsible for making sure the stories of the places in which they live are written down.
It is in this spirit that the idea of “community building” in Taiwan was first promoted more than two decades ago, the first stage of which was to take stock of the local culture, history, industry, land and topography: that is, to come to understand one’s home and to write down what one finds. Through in situ fieldwork and making an inventory of local resources, one would then bring together all aspects of community life — the people, academia and industry — and develop the special characteristics of that locality, to become the pillars of local innovation and environmental sustainability.
However, given the circumstances in Yunlin County, it is difficult to see whether the theory and practice of this community building initiative have borne perceptible fruit, or whether the county remains stuck in the time before the initiative began.
This is why four years ago I began proposing to the council the publication of a Yunlin County history, compiled by the county government, together with complementary proposals, such as a bilingual international edition with an English translation, and the establishment of a dedicated county museum, a Chhoa Chhiu-tong Literary Hall named after Taiwanese writer Chhoa Chhiu-tong (蔡秋桐), a Favorlang Story House (虎尾人故事館), a Ko Tieh-hu Story House (柯鐵虎故事館) and a Chen Liang Story House (陳良故事館).
The proposals included renaming the Yunlin County section of Provincial Highway 19 from Central Highway to Favorlang Boulevard and organizing a commemorative event in 2021 to mark the 400th anniversary of the 1621 arrival in Taiwan of the Ming Dynasty Chinese pirates Cheng Chih-lung (鄭芝龍) and Yan Siqi (顏思齊). The purpose of all this was to awaken the county residents’ historical awareness, to promote their understanding of local culture and to bring new life to the locations where these historical events took place.
This forgotten history is a valuable gift, one that should be recorded for posterity and kept within the memory of each and every person living there.
In the same way that funds for the recording of local histories were allocated as part of the community building initiative, I would urge the newly reshuffled Cabinet, the Ministry of Culture and local governments throughout the country to make available the budget to encourage local areas to compile or revise histories and then to create an online resource with which people can discover facts and figures about every corner of Taiwan.
Lin Wen-ping is a Yunlin County councilor.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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