While history is mostly presented through text and images, is it impossible for audio, as ephemeral as it is, to be a part of history? It was this question that drove the Changhua County Government’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs to launch its “sounds of history” digitization project.
“There is usually less emphasis on history preserved in sound, but it is an element that could complement our understanding of history from text and imagery,” bureau Director Chen Wen-pin (陳文斌) said.
Using radio stations as an example, Chen said the voice and tone of radio hosts offer a glimpse into the unique atmosphere of an era, while the advertisements shed light on the social and economic conditions.
Photo courtesy of the Changhua County Cultural Affairs Bureau
One of the great sources of preserved audio is the Radio Taiwan International (RTI) branch in the county’s Lugang Township (鹿港), he said.
While the branch is now shuttered, its location on the coastline and relative proximity to China made it an ideal place from which to broadcast psychological warfare programs and gather intelligence following its establishment in 1966, Chen said.
The station holds the world’s only extant recording of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) speech after he swam across the Yangtze River on July 16, 1966, in which he urged young people to “train themselves in the rivers and sea,” he said.
Photo courtesy of the Changhua County Cultural Affairs Bureau
China has even contacted Taiwan to purchase the recording, Chen added.
Orders for Taiwanese intelligence agents operating in China were also broadcast from the station, often as numerical codes, he said.
As such, the station was deemed a military compound and assigned a military garrison, Chen said.
“Hopefully the building that housed the station could be converted into a museum about the Cold War, playing the sounds and voices recorded as the station was broadcasting to the region,” he added.
Another source of preserved audio is the 65-year-old Kuo Sheng Broadcasting Station in Changhua City, Chen said.
The station’s archives hold tens of thousands of vinyl records and tape reels, many of which contain interviews with celebrities and advertisements, he said, adding that the center is a veritable treasure trove for archived audio material.
Changhua County, home to many troupes that have existed for more than a century, is an established center for Beiguan and Nanguan music, and the recordings of the troupes should be digitized and preserved for future generations, he said.
Recordings of interviews with White Terror era victims should also be preserved, Chen said.
As Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) is the primary language spoken around the county, the unique dialects in different areas should also be preserved, he said.
The ease of travel has led to the withering or outright disappearance of some local dialects, such as the Lugang dialect and the dialect in the Yongjing Township (永靖) area, he added.
Some dialects only exist in the memories of elderly people, and if they are not recorded soon, they will disappear forever, Chen said.
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