What you need to know
The government has engaged in a conscious effort to raise awareness of Southeast Asian cultures and traditions, writes Wei Chun-ying.
By Wei Chun-ying
The long-anticipated Culture White Paper 2018 was officially published last December following the National Cultural Congress in 2017. I had the privilege to serve as member of the advisory committee in congress and would like to share some observations during the process, along with some relevant content concerning the Culture White Papers.
In the previous Culture White Papers published in 1998 and 2004, both had mentioned cultural exchange and promoting culture. This is instrumental for Taiwan’s cultural diplomacy. The 1998 Culture White Paper stated that the principle of the Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA) should be to ‘nourish new culture, establish the new Central Plain, re-construct new society’. This slogan demonstrated an enduring recognition of Chinese culture.
In terms of ‘cultural exchange’ (wenhuajiaoliu), the CCA claimed the arts and culture should be the means to participate actively overseas. Therefore, the main objective was to introduce Taiwanese culture to international audiences, and foster understanding among Taiwan’s allies.
The rhetoric of ‘national competitiveness’ mentioned in this Culture White Paper implied that culture has the potential to be an asset enabling Taiwan to ‘compete’ with others. I argued that although the term soft power was not used in the document then, the government recognized culture as an important asset.
Subsequently, the priority in the 2004 Culture White Paper became constructing Taiwanese cultural identity and branding Taiwan. During Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁)’s first administration (2000-2004), the cultural policy in Taiwan shifted to recognizing the importance of establishing Taiwanese cultural identity. In terms of the new agenda on external cultural policy, the 2004 Culture White Paper addressed the challenges and opportunities to cultural industries after Taiwan joined the World Trade Organization. Meanwhile, there were three aspects of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s cultural policies: emphasis on the economic value of the culture industries, the theorization of Taiwanese subjectivity and branding Taiwan as a cultural product.
After more than a decade, the National Cultural Congress in 2017 reflected the changes of Taiwan’s cultural spheres and civil society. Unlike the previous National Cultural Congresses, which guests were mainly by invitation, the 2017 Cultural Congress was open to the public and operated based on its ‘five core values’– cultural citizen, public participation, diversity and equality, deliberative thinking and collaborative governance.
The Ministry of Culture (MOC) worked with the executive team from National Taiwan University of Arts and Taiwan Association of Cultural Policy Studies. Six core themes were outlined in the agenda of National Cultural Congress: Democracy, Creativity, Vitality, Sustainability, Inclusivity, and Progress. Across six months, 15 regional cultural forums and four thematic forums (including a National Cultural Youth Forum, a Forum on the Cultures of New Immigrants, a Forum of Cultural Heritage, and a Forum of Culture and Technology) were held around cities in Taiwan and the outlying islands.
Throughout the forums, members of the public could raise new issues that were close to their heart. Participants could directly have face-to-face conversation with officials and answer their questions. Meanwhile, with the advancement of information and communication technology, all the forums were live-streamed on the Congress Youtube channel and transcriptions were available on their website shortly afterwards. Along with the MOC staff, the advisory committee reviewed opinions collected through the forums for drafting the new Culture White Paper.
Policy proposals related to cultural diplomacy and cultural relations were placed in the theme ‘Inclusivity’ with the goal of ‘championing equal cultural rights, diversity, and international cultural exchange.’ Issues such as national language law, accessibility to culture for the disabled, youth, and immigrants were addressed in the process.
It is particularly worth noting that the policy on Taiwan’s cultural diplomacy has moved beyond the visibility of Taiwan. The cultural relations within domestic life– for instance, the immigrants from Southeast Asia and their cultural rights were one of the topics discussed in the Inclusivity forums.
The MOC already has initiatives that encourage collaboration among cultural organisations and artists, for instance, the Emerald Project provides funding to encourage cultural relations with Southeast Asian countries. The discussion in the Inclusivity forum showed increasing awareness toward migrant workers and their cultures, such as fasting in Ramadan, a practice that many immigrant workers observe.
These changes were not merely part of the New Southbound Policy proposed by the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) government. From my point of view, these changes responded to a more conscious attitude towards immigrant workers’ culture. Compared to the time that the ‘new residents’ or the migrant workers have spent in Taiwan, discussions of their cultural rights comes long overdue. The awareness of Southeast Asian immigrants and workers did not emerge overnight. Social, and cultural campaigns as well as movements have painstakingly brought these issues to light.
In addition, the strategy of cultural diplomacy illustrated in the Culture White Paper 2018 has emphasized the mutuality and collaboration. This is different from the notion of ‘let the world see Taiwan’ or ‘to promote Taiwanese cultural internationally.’ The government has gradually come to realize that inter-cultural communication on equal terms should be the strategic guideline.
Through the National Cultural Congress, practitioners in arts and culture also raised problems that practitioners face in cultural exchange. Bureaucratic regulations, such as the requirement of a work permit, can be problematic for artists who work on a bona fide basis or provide in-kind services. Other issues in the practice of cultural diplomacy such as the shortage of staff numbers in Taiwan’s overseas cultural centers, and the need for research in cultural diplomacy are noted and further solutions were provided in the Culture White Paper.
To conclude, the new strategies of Taiwan’s cultural diplomacy and relations illustrates how the Culture White Paper is turning toward in-land intercultural exchange and understanding, while echoing the strategy to further foster understanding in the Southeast Asian countries. Mutual understanding and reciprocity are in this vision. This reflects current trends of cultural diplomacy and represents the government’s vision. The fulfillment of policies will take some time, but they are worth anticipating.
Dr. Wei Chun-ying received her PhD from Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship in Goldsmiths, University of London. She has researched on Taiwan’s cultural diplomacy and cultural policy. Currently, she works as a project researcher and board member of Taiwan Association of Cultural Policy Studies (TACPS).
The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The piece was first published by Taiwan Insight, the online magazine of the University of Nottingham’s Taiwan Studies Program. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The News Lens.
TNL Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)
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