This essay was written in Taipei in April 2014 and is based on the paper I delivered at a session of the ‘Hanart 100: Idiosyncrasies’ symposium on 17 January 2014.
(Translated by Don J. Cohn and Valerie C. Doran)
The ‘ Hanart 100: Idiosyncrasies’ exhibition, which presented 100 artworks from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, was in effect an ideological index of curators Chang Tsong-Zung and Gao Shiming’s concept of a ‘ three artworlds’ framework of literati, Socialist and contemporary art as a means of structuring Chinese art history. The exhibition was also a celebration of Hanart’s thirty-year history, and in those years the gallery without doubt has deeply impacted Chinese art circles. Given that the artworks in the show were intentionally and carefully drawn from the gallery’s private collection, the exhibition brings out several interesting questions, as for example: How do the particular interests and inclinations of a private collector influence the establishment of a historical narrative ? Can Chinese art history be rewritten via the divisions and re-integrations implicit in the three artworlds framework? Was the significance of this very ambitious framework to some degree distorted by the thematic division of the artworks in the exhibition ? And finally, by its use of the solidly rooted and perhaps even outdated paradigm of the China-Hong Kong-Taiwan triumvirate, might the three artworlds theory serve only to reinforce a stagnant history rather than liberating history from its stagnant state?
I would like to use a very personal perspective to re-examine the relations of identity politics among the ‘Chinese’ (if such a concept can even be used to refer to such a broad and ineffable regional and economic process).
祖國 Ancestral Land
An exhibition is (a) political and poetic (narrative); and the more political an exhibition is, the more poetically expressive it must be. An exhibition should follow a similar narrative logic to that used by the historian: the narrative must hold together, it must be persuasive, it must be moving, it should have a convincing opening, and an inspiring conclusion that opens up new trajectories: in this way, politics can be conveniently concealed within. One of the themes within this exhibition, division and diaspora, urges us to confront the divergences of history. The concept of division in fact derives from a politics of ‘victor’s justice’, but people cannot really be divided from the land. History is continuous: both political division and nationhood are historical consequences, not historical inevitabilities. As for patriotism, it is only a by-product of war. The rise of the new nation-state after the seventeenth century was simply the means by which kinship politics and geopolitics naturalised historical conflicts.
But let’s pose a question that cuts to the chase. What gender is a country? Germans call Germany their ‘ fatherland’, and Indians call India their ‘motherland’, but Chinese refer to China as their ‘ancestral land’ (zuguo). Zuguo simply means the place where our ancestors once lived. Human life is brief and transitory, and there is no such thing as ‘permanent residency’ on this planet. The Israel-Palestine conflict teaches us that no matter how long people have lived in a place, or not lived in a place, hereditary property rights are irrelevant, because contemporary nation- states are political entities, and have nothing to do with blood ties or shared ancestry.
At the end of World War II, the Japanese evacuated 200,000 people from Taiwan, and 200,000 people moved into Taiwan from the ‘ancestral land’. In the schoolbooks I used as a child, the map of China was shaped like a begonia: it was only after I grew up that I learned that Mongolia (referred to as Outer Mongolia in my textbooks) had been handed over to the Soviet Union after Chiang Kai-shek won the War of Resistance against Japan; and that as a result, China’s begonia shape had now changed into a chicken shape. Confucius said: ‘The man who first buried wooden images with the dead – was he himself without any offspring?’ When Chiang Kai-shek was modeling himself as the ‘Saviour of the Nation’ in Taiwan, Yu Youren (1879-1964), then president of the Control Yuan and a great calligrapher, wrote an inscription dedicated to Chiang, comprised of four characters: min zu jiu xing – meaning precisely, ‘Saviour of the Nation’. Today you can still these four characters everywhere in Taiwan. Recently, when the activist students of Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement occupied the site of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, they pulled down a plaque bearing the words ‘Legislative Yuan’ (lifa yuan) written in an elegant calligraphic hand – also the work of Yu Youren.
The ancestral land that our fathers fled also had a ‘Saviour of the Nation’ – Mao Zedong. If you search up Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong on the Internet, these two ‘Saviours of the Nation’ are always mentioned in tandem. The first two exhibits in the ‘Hanart 100: Idiosyncrasies’ show were a calligraphy scroll by Yu Youren and the design drawings for the Monument to the People’s Heroes commissioned by Liang Sicheng. You could say that Yu and Liang each had their respective ancestral land, since the original had now become divided in two; or to put it another way, the term ‘ancestral land’ was being arbitrarily bandied about by the political regimes on each side of the Taiwan Strait.
不同的國家有不同的藝術傳統，例如，西方風景畫（landscape painting）由可以入畫的景色所框，美景是適合入畫的，是擬畫（picturesque）的方稱自然。中國文人畫則由人寓居于中，由個人經驗體會畫中美景意境，而非畫的主題與形式。文人畫是傳統中國文人世界的再現似乎毫無疑問，然而，台灣農村不是西方風景畫，也非中國文人畫的，是發展中國家普遍的生產型農村，客廳及工廠，全島都是加工廠（如陳界仁作品），八零年代之後，李登輝主導的「農地開放買賣」讓農地碎裂化地捲入都市過程，從此沒有自然沒有農村，沒有古典主義意義下的農村與社會關係，台灣的農村不入藝術，不入畫框。如英國文化研究學者Raymond Williams所說的：「A working country is hardly ever a landscape」（勞動的鄉村從來都不是風景）。1
Each culture has its own artistic traditions. For example, in Western landscape painting, any beautiful landscape can be contained within the frame, for the picturesque is seen as being equal to nature. In Chinese literati painting, one lives inside the landscape, and the appreciation of the poetic realm embodied therein comes through direct individual experience. Taiwan’s farming villages today are not the stuff of Western landscape painting, nor are they suited to Chinese literati painting. Rather, they are part of a rural landscape devoted to agricultural production, just like that of any other developing country. Over time, living rooms and factories, in fact, the entire island, have been transformed into one huge assembly line; as is reflected, for instance, in the work of the artist Chen Chieh-Jen ( figs 1 and 2). After 1980, the policy introducing the open purchase of farmland under then-President Lee Teng-hui resulted in the fragmentation of farmland and its gradual incorporation into the urban landscape. From this point on, the classical relationship between the agricultural landscape and the larger society disappeared from view. Taiwan’s rural landscape has no place in art; it no longer fits into any frame. To quote Raymond Williams: ‘A working country is hardly ever a landscape.
But pastoral scenes do exist in Taiwan: they can be found, for example, in the paintings of Taiwanese artist Chen Chengbo (1895-1947). Chen’s landscapes are usually devoid of human figures, and if they are present it is only as a decorative element. Born in Taiwan in the small city of Chiayi, Chen went abroad for graduate study. After completing his studies at Tokyo Art University, he taught in Shanghai at the Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts and the Changming Art Training School, and was named as one of the twelve leading artists in China. In June 1929, his painting Clear Stream (fig. 3) was selected to represent the Republic of China at a major exhibition in Chicago. Chen returned to Taiwan in 1933. In 1947, in the wake of the February 28th Incident, Chen was assassinated by the Kuomintang at the Chiayi train station on March 25th, not far from the subject of his painting, The Street of Chiayi (1) (fig. 4), which was the first painting by a Chinese artist to be exhibited at an Imperial Arts Exhibition in Tokyo (the seventh edition in 1926). 2My mother was born two years later in what was then the modest fishing port of Wuqi in Taichung.
I was born while the Cultural Revolution was taking place in China. In the military courts of both Taiwan and the PRC (again, one thinks of the works of Chen Chieh-Jen), the governments on both sides of the Taiwan Strait became mathematical prodigies, solving the tricky calculations posed by the February 28th Incident and the Cultural Revolution.
My father was drafted into the KMT army at the age of 14, leaving behind the village near Wuyi Mountain in Fujian province where he had grown up. His daughter, my half-sister, was born on the Mainland just as the KMT army was retreating to Taiwan. My father never had the chance to see her. His fatherland was in his ancestral land, where his relatives lived in a village nestled amidst the rolling hills of northern Fujian province, with farmland, a tea plantation and fruit orchards, and an elegant ancestral hall of the Huang clan which, so he said, was scarred with two bullet holes from a battle between Japanese and Communist forces during the War of Resistance. My father’s motherland was also within his ancestral land. His grandmother was said to have been a great beauty from Pucheng county. But perhaps my father’s memories were coloured by his nostalgic longing, and so all the things of his past appeared more beautiful and more heroic than they really were.
Some time after my father died, the government eased restrictions on travel to the Mainland for people with relatives there. So my mother and I flew to the Fuzhou airport, and travelled on a bus for four days and four nights over the hilly landscape of northern Fuzhou province, until finally we arrived at the Huang ancestral village in Zhongxin township, Pucheng county; and I saw those farmlands spread out at the foot of the mountain, and the Huang ancestral hall that was split into the lines of separated families. I met my half-sister and other relatives formerly unknown to me, and it wasn’t long before we were calling each other by affectionate family names, sitting together and drinking sweet osmanthus tea, and raising cup after cup of strong rice wine. Under the influence of the wine I found my rigid self-control relaxing; and suddenly the fatherland that had always seemed so alien and amorphous to me began to take on a shape. But the memory etched most deeply in my mind is that first ride through the majestic, undulating landscape of northern Fuzhou, glimpsing the clusters of villages with their buildings in the native architectural style nestled in the hills. And then there was the uncanny way that, with my newly awakened leftist awareness, I sensed that our ancestral hall had imploded into the fragments of countless struggling families. Blood ties after all are inferior to textbooks in evoking ‘China’.
My father’s fatherland (fuguo) is located in his ancestral land, but my own fatherland is my father’s home in Taiwan, as it exists right here, right now. Everything he pined for from afar I can see by just lifting my head. My motherland exists in the homes of my mother, her mother and my aunts. I live on my mother’s land.
During the Cold War, the alliance among the United States, Japan and Taiwan turned Taiwan into an obstacle to Chinese reunification. Before ‘Sino’-American diplomatic relations were severed, Chiang Kai-shek had discussed the idea of two coexisting Chinas with the U.S., but these discussions were inconclusive. Yet there was never an express declaration against the idea of some kind of resolution between the Nationalist and Communist Chinas, no sense that this was a case of completely irreconcilable differences. Yet my father and the tens of thousands of aunts, grandmothers and others who fled to Taiwan at the same time as he, all had abandoned their homes on the Mainland because of the lies the government told about ‘irreconcilable differences’. Before long, this notion of ‘irreconcilable differences’ between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait turned into a deep resentment and even hatred, soon colouring their lives with bitterness.
After the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it withdrew all military advisors and financial aid from the island. My neighbourhood gradually became a ‘district,’ and the name used to demarcate the area covered by the local Grant Relief Unit replaced the historical name of my neighbourhood. Thus both the neighbourhood and the country were named and declaimed.
我不懂離散，我沒見過祖父母。我母親就是我與土地的所有聯繫，但我從小長在一個不同於此土地的村子。眷村。全台灣近九百個，約三成外省人四十餘萬人住在眷村。藝術家侯淑姿描繪一種分斷的安居，新故鄉。爾後，再度離散。〈鍾文姬與黃克正〉的故事裡，一個本省客家人嫁給了外省軍人，結婚後一家四口都住在四坪大小的房間裡七年，爾後又從台中搬到左營復興新村，再搬到崇實新村。丈夫出外帶兵常常一、兩個月沒回家，全靠鄰里排解寂寞。後來小孩大了，鐘文姬則到南梓加工區上了二十幾年的班，住在左營也快四十年了，幾乎就是她的第二故鄉，眷改條例的兩個選項他們都沒有選，與國防部打了四年官司，也不知未來何去。簡單的文字與八幅作品就照映出眷村的普遍歷史意義。〈尚久菊與陸鐸〉則是兩個來自不同省份的人在台灣相識相遇。〈殷陳城蘭〉以女性敘事，獨照、屋景、樹景、巷弄角落，一如前者，除了以公共空間取代了客廳外，其餘相同。攝影主題的相似，餘韻反覆，完成了地方空間的辨識體系，彰顯了眷村生活的整體性，住過眷村的人都知道什麼是公共生活，就是當你家客廳就是別人家的巷弄之時。眷村的孩子，記錄也見證保質期內的「中國」，是中國的此存在（ça a été）和兩岸空間的指標性關係（indexical relation）。
I don’t understand diaspora. I never met my paternal grandparents, never paid my respects at their graves, nor do I own any land of my own. My mother is the only real connection I have to the land, but from childhood I grew up in a village that was unconnected to my mother’s land: A military dependents’ village, to be precise. There were almost 900 of these villages all over Taiwan, and thirty per cent of all mainland émigrés, that is over 400,000 people, lived in them. The artist Lulu Shur-tzy Hou has created a series of photographs, some of them overwritten with texts, narrating some of the stories to be found in these settlements born of division, these new hometowns. Hou’s work points out the universal significance of the history of these villages, which are now gradually being demolished.
Wen-ji Jung and Ke-jeng Huang 01 (2012) tells the story of a Taiwan-born Hakka woman (Jung) who married a solider (Huang) from the Mainland (fig 5). The couple and their two children first lived in a tiny flat in Taichung for seven years, before moving to the military dependents’ village in Zuoying District in southern Taiwan. Huang was away from home for one or two months at a time on military duty, and his wife relied on her neighbours to assuage her loneliness. Once their children were grown up and out of the house, Jung took a job in the Nanzih Industrial Zone in Kaohsiung, where she worked for the next twenty years. The couple lived in the military independents’ village in Zuoying for nearly forty years, and for Jung the place became a second ‘hometown’. When the official policy governing military dependents’ housing changed, Huang and Jung rejected the two choices of new residences they were offered, and after a four-year lawsuit with the Ministry of Defense, were still in a state of limbo. Another work in the series, Shang Jiuju and Lu Duo, narrates how two people from different parts of China met in Taiwan and shared their lives. Yin Chen Cheng-lan is a story told from a woman’s point of view (fig. 6). The similarities in the photographs’ subject matter – individual portraits, domestic interiors, shots of trees and corners of tiny alleys – and the repetitions of the rituals and customs of daily life complete the recognition system of this particular kind of local space, and reveal the integrity of life in these villages. Anyone who has ever lived in such a village knows what communal life is all about, especially when your own family’s living room is another’s family’s alleyway. Children who grew up in military dependents’ villages remember and bear witness to a ‘China’ which is still within its expiration date. This is China’s ça a été (that-has- been, à la Roland Barthes), reflecting the indexical relationship between the spaces on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
In my relations with my father, crying and whining were rare occurrences. As I recall, we exchanged in total fewer than twenty sentences in our lives. You’re looking at a fifth-grade primary school pupil who wasn’t afraid to strike back when attacked, a first- year middle school student who, as an unfilial son, shed not a single tear as he stood by your dead body all night in the hospital (draped in a green shroud, like the kind of netting that was used to keep flies off cold dishes on the kitchen table when I was young) as family members filed in. What I saw was a lonely old man, even though you had once put me on a bicycle and pushed me the entire distance from Yongchun Street to Number 823 Army Hospital, without saying a word, as if this road were on a hillside in northern Fujian, and the person on the bike was the daughter you never knew, my half-sister by your first wife.
Since you wouldn’t have recognised her even if you saw her, what was there to say after all? There I am standing before you, but you show no love for me. Our relationship was one of misplaced affection, but time ran out before you had a chance to learn how to love, and when you could have loved, there was no one there for you to love. While you sat alone, playing intently on your Chinese fiddle, I spent a happy summer at my maternal grandparents’ home in Taichung. I went fishing with Grandpa in the ocean, split open live oysters, and listened to Grandpa tell me how he had to eat shark meat every day for two months when he was a boy. When I was in sixth grade, you lost your voice, and your fiddle playing became louder and fiercer. I hated the way you played the same tune over and over. Whether or not you believe me, it’s taken me a long time to understand your twilight landscape.
When the website of the newspaper I worked at was blocked by the Chinese government, people in Taiwan began to say that we were pro-unificationists. I knew many members of the Overseas Association for Taiwan Independence, I participated in student movements, and I campaigned for electoral candidates from the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party). In a military dependents’ village of 800 households, I was the first to cast a vote advocating ‘rebellion’, and acted as host for debates and music programs on an underground radio station for over two years. When protesting the way an underground radio station had been raided by the police, I was forced off the truck leading the protest with water from a fire hose. And finally, in the aftermath of the No. 14 and No. 15 Parks Anti- demolition Movement3, I parted ways with the DPP and with comrades I had known since my activist student days. I feel that I lead a joyless existence. My life has progressed without my making any of my own choices, my love is like a heap of dog shit, and even if you stick a few flowers in it, it’s not enough. Here’s my conclusion, worth less than a dog’s fart: dealing with rejection takes more courage than the pursuit, and if I put that courage into politics, at least I won’t waste my time in vulgar flirtations. But if I try it in love, I can only fail. In human relations, the one thing I have learned is to practice reticence, to keep my mouth shut. Behind this reticence is a realistic philosophy of life, something that can hardly be mastered by a 14-year-old child. But you, my father, conscripted to fight a war at the age of 14 – you probably learned all about reticence and keeping your mouth shut very early on.
Diaspora was patented for the Jewish people, although it is not exclusive to them. As early as ancient Roman times, they had to wear yellow armbands identifying themselves as Jews. They were permitted to engage only in commerce, forced to wander from place to place, and were oppressed and treated as outsiders wherever they went. Once they established their own state of Israel, they treated others the way they had been treated throughout history. Taiwan has always served as a home for ‘others’; this is its past, its present and its future. There are now 420,000 foreign workers, and over 384,000 immigrant brides in Taiwan(the indigenous population is about 480,000); and approximately 65 percent of these brides are married to Chinese nationals. Lulu Shur-tzy Hou’s work Look Toward the Other Side – Song of Asian Foreign Brides in Taiwan describes both the dreams and the hardships of these brides who have made Taiwan their second homes, who went from the homes of their fathers to the homes of their husbands, becoming tools for propagation and production. As for whether they also encountered love, that is another question.
At a primary school in the Chichin district of Kaohsiung, six of the students are of mixed blood, a signifier that Taiwan is headed towards a pluralism of both culture and bloodlines. What I have is a motherland: Taiwan and its politics, its historical circumstances; it is a generative, feminine, dreamlike, immigrant land, an exception to the ancestral land, the fatherland. If China’s sentiments towards Taiwan are not political, then tell me, on what basis does China stake its claim to be the ‘ancestral land’ of all ethnic Chinese? When can China become a homeland for ‘others’ ?
We always worship the values of the strong, and underestimate the values of the weak. We praise the history of the lion, but forget the history of its prey.
The sense of jus soli of a naturalized history, causes us to mistake the land on which we are living for the land we came from. We forget that this sense of belonging is just a sentiment born from a temporary confluence of land and private property. The reason we love our hometown or our country is simply because it (once) belonged to us. What historically progressive exhibition doesn’t use a narrative of space rather than of time in order to make the political manifest, in order to show that a particular politics is just one ideological choice among many, and not a way of dictating history?
Something that both moved me and worried me in the ‘Hanart 100’ exhibition was the fact that these artworks, so obediently organized into the three artworlds framework and then the specific thematic categories, didn’t stir things up or challenge their positions. Thus the very thing that I found moving also left me feeling numb: the politics concealed in the poetics, that in the end only resulted in a naturalisation of history. Let me conclude with a quotation from the work of a twelfth-century Saxon theologian, cited by Edward Said in his book Culture and Imperialism :
‘The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong man has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his.’4
- Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 120.
- After being shown in the Imperial Arts Exhibition in Tokyo, Chen’s Street of Chiayi was presented to the Chiayi municipal government office; but the work disappeared in 1947 after the February 28th Incident. All that now remains is a black-and-white photograph of the work presently in the collection of the Chen Chengbo Cultural Foundation.
- The No. 14 and No. 15 Parks Anti-demolition Movement was a 1997 protest movement against the Taipei city government’s decision to demolish squatters’ villages based in these two parks in 1997. The forceful eviction of the squatters erupted into violent clashes and became a contested issue. – ED.
- Quotation is from The Didascalicon by Hugh of Saint Victor (c. 1096 – 11 February 1141), composed in the late 1130s. See Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage Press, 1994) p. 335.