Erenlai - Women in Asia 亞洲新女性
Women in Asia 亞洲新女性

Women in Asia 亞洲新女性

How do Asian women challenge their continent’s model of development? Sharing stories and analyses about traditional societies and contemporary ways of life.




Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The Art of Huang Min-Chi

First Encounter

I first met Huang Min-Chi at a performance art festival held at a village near the old capital of Jogja (Yogyakarta), in Indonesia, in 2007. The theme of the festival was "Spiritual Renewal" as a special consideration to the setting, which was a village that had been badly hit by an earthquake a year earlier, and was still recovering from the structural damages, and the personal ones, as life had been lost. Artists were naturally suggested to make work relevant to the process of healing. To give a little context to this, I should say that typically, performance artists go to international festivals for reasons of both exposure and travel. We zip into a country, do a work that is often not directed at the environment we are in, and zip out, and plan for the next venue. This said, I did find that many artists presented work that dealt with local issues, as the village was small, and some artists even stayed in villager’s houses. Yet, we would all depart, and move on. Perhaps the spiritual aspect remained a theme for the festival, and did not go beyond that.

I saw Min-Chi in a health centre where some of us were staying, soon after I arrived. She did not command attention, as she was rather quiet and reserved, but one noticed her because of this subtle, undemanding nature, a contrast to exuberant personalities of many performers. She was tall and perhaps hard to place because of that, but I learned later she was an artist from Taiwan. She was quietly reading what I recognized as a bible. Again, this was a slight yet significant contrast to the setting of performance art. And, it placed her more authentically in my mind into the theme of that festival. In talking with her, I found she was a Christian, and not afraid to express this to a stranger.

As I said, many artists did do work relevant to the theme, though of course some had prepared pieces beforehand. Min-Chi presented a series of short pieces that as a whole, expressed friendliness to villagers, but also acknowledged the one-stop nature of attention to suffering and plight that visiting aid and, artists in this case offer. She simply performed a series of five minute "assistances" to villagers; she massaged a villager for five minutes, helped a farmer in the rice paddy for five minutes, and helped a woman cook in the kitchen for five minutes. While perhaps it may have seemed sharply critical of the passing through of artists to this village, it was rendered rather as a lesson and a reminder. I remembered her reading her bible. I thought of the patient teachings of Christ, who often used illustration and parallel examples to make a moral or spiritual point. I understood, then, and subsequently, that Min-Chi’s commitment was ongoing; she was committed to the spirit, and to God. I learned she had been to Indonesia before, and had a deep interest in Indonesian art. She would later complete graduate work with Indonesian art as its topic, doing first hand research in the field. At least in the west, such research is usually reserved for the doctorate thesis, but Min-Chi’s interest went beyond the completion of a paper; she strived for understanding, and sympathy.

Wood Carving, Prints, Life

Lewis_Mickey_wood_02_sNeedless to say, I kept in contact with her over time. I am from the U.S, and Taiwan was very far from me, but I grew to know her through letters and e mail. During that time, she began to develop a body of work in the medium of woodcarving and printmaking. While she had done both before, she decided to devote more attention now, and I saw a flowering of vision that incorporated her travels, her life, her love of nature, her spirituality, and of course, her artistic skill. Although there is a certain convention in woodcarving, her use of line was unique in each piece, as was her imagery. Some woodcuts she made prints from, while others, in growing number, remained woodcarvings. For me, it was a conceptual choice I saw; to show something, not dirtied by ink, suspended in a clean, pure state. As with a Mondrian painting, though not similar in image, her suspended process, between woodcut and printing, suggested the image itself was ongoing, as Mondrian’s images suggested they continued beyond the edges of the canvas. So, there was this subtle conceptual expression as an entry point. And then, there was the style and content.
As this work is presently ongoing, and a progressive body of work, I think it best to speak now in the present tense. I have moved to Taiwan, and am now able to see Min-Chi’s development close at hand, and even see her working. And of course knowing her has given me a deeper understanding and sympathy for what I am discovering is a singular and focused vision of the spiritual realm. While Min-Chi is a Christian, she has examined first hand other religions, and has appreciation for the diversity of cultures. Many elements are presented in her work, and she is concerned to unify them under a kind of spiritual umbrella.

Lewis_Mickey_wood_03_sThe first thing one notices of her work is the quality of line. She works for many many hours, cutting very small details as well as large deep spaces. The images vary from realist in parts to stylised in others, where plants, animals and herself often take on a dreamlike quality, or hints of spiritual darkness and light. She often depicts herself partly or completely nude. On many levels it is autobiographical. She is an artist’s model. So this is often how she and others see her. But while an artist may render her, and know her exterior form, she shows herself as a person, or spirit. And, as a spirit, her form can pass - and merge - with matter. One sees her, nude, with her body growing into the trunk of a tree, a sloth clinging to her as if to its mother. Her expression is one of tenderness, and sympathy. In the background are mountains, jungle, volcanoes. There is contrast even within nature. There are the gentle creatures she sees as her children, and her, their mother. And there is the earth, which can be violent, and impersonal to the individual. Indeed, on a subsequent visit to Indonesia in 2008, she climbed a volcano and almost perished in the effort. A more recent hike into the mountains in Taiwan for fifteen days left a fellow hiker injured, and again, she was reminded of her fragility at the hands of the earth. Yet, in her work she also embraces the earth. In one carving, her body in part turns to stone - she is in a tunnel, offering a flower to a mole. Looking for the point where fragility and strength of nature converge or are harmonized, which the mind naturally desires, I find I always settle on two things; her rendering of herself, and, the image of the cross. Her body and facial expressions vary. Sometimes she seems sad, imploring the viewer for something, or innocent, as the small creatures she places centrally and around the edges of her panels. But in my eyes, she always appears as a child. Her nudity is not sexual; it is pure, innocent, and natural. The crosses when they appear are roughly hewn, as if made from rough stone, or a tree has naturally grown into that form. It is here, between her body, and the rendering of the cross - where the bridge between a pagan world and the transcendental spirit of creation is given. It is a nature, and a connection to the world that this work strives for, a moral purity, and her physical form, as she renders it, aspires to a cleansing of spirit. Her own self challenges, as she puts herself often in harm’s way in travels and climbing in mountains, become a sort of tribulation, which, as so far she has survived, she shows to us the viewers, as this offering of herself to fate, and to the world, to be more completely made - a part of it.

Lewis_Mickey_wood_05Min-Chi’s art springs directly from her life. More than most art I have seen, she synthesizes her experiences slowly, and at some point, she will have an image that is a kind of vision, and she will draw it on a board. It will often change somewhat, but it seems to come to her complete, and all at once. And, the experience, whatever it is, will have been transformed into a language of her inner life. She works sometimes doing research in Taiwan National Park and Aboriginal areas, and her experiences there enter freely into her work. One image comes to mind. She was witness to the rather cruel killing of a goat in a village. I think, the image horrified her for some time, but she knew it would emerge as a carving beneath her hand. It is a small three panel piece, but the image is cut deep, and pushes beyond the edges of the boards, which seem too small to contain it. The first panel shows the butchering of the goat, and she has coloured the panel a sickening tone. The second panel depicts the suffering of the goat as it bleeds blood and white tears, which fall as a rain, and merge with the tears of her own eyes in the third panel. A "ritual" of a killing is hardly seen as anthropological - it is seen as cruelty to an innocent creature. I think she saw herself in this death, again, the offering, the tribulation. And of course, this is Christian iconography, the suffering of the cross, the violence of which is easily read in the three little panels. While man may be cruel, and even nature may be indifferent when it destroys human and creature life, there is an overall love and sympathy for all creatures, and, even destructive nature, the force that God represents as a power over all, a sympathy, and a forgiveness which I read in the childlike expression when Min-Chi renders her own face, the expressions of purity.

In an earlier carving, she rediscovered the "Pieta." But, instead of Mary holding the body of Christ her son, Min-Chi shows a kindly faced robed Christ, as if a risen Christ, holding Min-Chi’s own nude and starved body in much the same pose. He looks down at her with pity and love. Again, she has placed herself as the offering, for the viewer, for the world she so clearly loves and cares for, down to its smallest atom. I remember seeing the image for the first time, and being moved to tears, and not knowing precisely what it was I felt. I think over time, I gradually have come to understand why: it is because, I have found myself in the presence of a spiritual person, an artist who is honest, not a careerist, not an art maker as such, but a kind of healer, who envisions the world through a religious commitment and who does what she is compelled to do, by her belief, her faith, and by her gifts. Her art continues to grow. The works accumulate on a wall, like so many stained glass panels in a church, with stories that lead the eye from panel to panel, from confession to offering. I consider it an honour I can see this life unfold, and expect others will be honoured too, as the evolution of this art brings the world to it.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

孤老 , 並不可怕




Saturday, 19 December 2009

Grandma Li: Stay young by helping others

Grandma Li lives in the countryside of Taiwan, in a small town near Chiayi City called Dalin.

As I entered her house in the morning, her welcome really touched my heart. She is a very cheerful old lady, whose generosity and kindness reminds me alot of my own grandmother. Although she could only speak Taiwanese, which I do not understand, she tried all day to remember some Chinese to converse with me. Grandma Li offered the most beautiful and grateful smiles to Oliver and my camera as we photographed her.

Grandma Li spent her whole life taking care of her family. After her children left home, she took care of her sick husband until he died a few years ago.

Unlike alot of old people in Taiwan who are quite isolated and spend their days alone at home, Grandma Li decided to make her life more entertaining by participating in Hongdao Association activities.

Indeed, the whole day we spent with her was punctuated by her activities with the Hongdao Association.

In 2008 Grandma Li earned the Golden Award for her voluntary work at the Hongdao Association.

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Monday, 30 November 2009

Rachel's Performance

Rachel’s family has a long and rich history of both art and activism in Yogyakarta and she has been with Performance Klub since it’s naissance. She has a fiery personality and a heartwarming concern for the local people and the future direction of Indonesia; so much so that she is often heavily self critical and unsatisfied when their projects have some shortcomings. As well as performing, she is also the Project coordinator and Festivals Secretary for Performance Klub and as such played an important role in the organisation of Perfurbance#3 festival.

Here we see her performance piece at the festival, and she talks us through it.

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Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Roses in full bloom

In Taiwan, the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS), has been fighting for the rights of former prostitutes since 1999, In 1997 the previously legal profession was criminalised under Chen Shuibian.
Li Jun, who turned to legal prostitution after her divorce, set up the organisation to struggle for the now jobless (or illegal) prostitutes after the law took effect in 2006, struggling for a longer buffer zone period for retraining for different jobs.

Having been delegitimised, the girls often had nowhere left to turn, many of them were far from earning sufficient savings to retire and most were old enough that it would have been difficult to change profession with only 2 years of legality. Furthermore, as in many societies, they are one of the most looked down on and marginalised groups in society and as such suffer the butt of much of societies prejudice. Most of the girls have bravely withstood and scrapped through difficult pasts before and during their prostitution.

Hence the Chinese name for the group is based on a local name, Ririchun (日日春) for the Catharanthus Roseus (Rosy Periwinkle) which survives formidably in the forests of the harsh climate in Taiwan. Thanks to Li Jun the girls now have a collective of sex workers and supporters to turn too, always on the front line struggling for a better future for the girls. No matter what weeds and torrential conditions they’re exposed to, the Rosy Periwinkles always blossom...
COSWAS’ website

Attached media :
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Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Chao-yun's dialogue with the pipa

From Classic to Improvisation
I was born in Taiwan on Feb. 27, 1974. I received my Master’s degree in pipa performance in the Chinese instruments department at Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. I am a pipa soloist, and have performed solo recitals, concertos, multimedia-performances, improvisation performances, as well as master classes, lectures and workshops in Asia (Taiwan, Beijing, Singapor), and also in Europe, the United States, and South America.
I chose to learn the pipa, because it is very suitable to do sound experimentations. I also play the ruan as my minor instrument. I compose my own music and most of the time I like to improvise. I started with classical Chinese music, then got the opportunity to cooperate with musicians from all over the world. I was introduced to different kinds of music, such as world and electronic. I also could observe different ways of composing and playing. This influenced me and I started to compose and improvise my own music, which seemed like a more direct way of expressing my feelings. I have also played experimental music within Shinchu, with Audrey Chen, an American musician who plays cello and ‘electronic voices.’ This experiment was interesting, since most of the audience had no musical education and had never learned how to play an instrument. However, they really enjoyed the music, whereas the audience with a classical background didn’t receive it so well.

An international experience
I have participated in all kinds of projects all over the world. I like to experiment in different styles of music and meet musicians from different cultures. It is one of the aspects I like the most about my life as a musician: the possibility to travel a lot and discover new cultures and people. One of my most recent projects is a joint effort with local dancers and musicians from Bali, Jakarta, and Yogyakarta.

About my collaboration with Turkish musician, Erdem
I met Erdem in 2008, when I had a stop-over in Istanbul. A musician friend from Costa Rica helped to put us in contact, and we immediately decided to record an album together. The songs chosen for this issue of Renlai are taken from that album. We recorded during three days at Erdem’s studio in Istanbul, and Erdem managed the latter part of music balance and sound fabrication. We also spent some time to discuss the titles and track order. Our inspiration was world new music.


Thursday, 01 October 2009

Crafting the future

Chen Yanyan is from Pingwu County, where her mother was a midwife. She returned after the earthquake, deciding to contribute something to the survival (who knows, even the renewal) of the Qiang culture. She teaches women weaving and embroidery, traditionally made with goat’s wool, and she helps them organize, so as to gradually draw a profit from their work. In their works, traditional Han and Qiang themes are intertwined. All of them dream of showcasing their works through some exhibitions in nearby towns, and to draw a steady income from their skills.

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Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Roxana Saberi's Release

Roxana Saberi is an Iranian-American journalist and a friend, who was recently released from Tehran’s Evin prison - much to the relief of family, friends, online petitioners and anyone who was aware of her situation in the world. Roxana was arrested in late January this year and was initially thought to have been arrested for purchasing a bottle of wine, a Foreign Ministry spokesman later said she was detained for working in the country with expired press credentials. After weeks of detention inside Tehran’s Evin Prison, she was convicted in the revolutionary court on April 14 of espionage for the United States. They couldn’t be any further from the truth.

For six years, Saberi has worked openly as a freelance journalist in Iran reporting for outlets such as NPR (National Public Radio), FSN ( Feature Story News), and the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). From 2001-2003 Saberi reported from Iran and was revoked of her press card in 2006, obstructing her from reporting from within the country as before. Roxana then decided to instead travel to other countries in the region, contributing stories that otherwise go uncovered.

I first made her acquaintance in 2007, at a film festival whereby her partner Kurdish Iranian film director Bahman Ghobadi was invited for the screening of his films in Paris. Roxana was anything but ordinary, from her heritage to her life as a freelance journalist for the last 8 years, I truly thought she possessed the very qualities that one can only hope to achieve very late on in this career. Our acquaintance came shortly after my enrolment in a journalism school and knowing her has somewhat reinforced the love I have for journalism, and encouraged me to pursue a less conventional route in the many things I do. Roxana Saberi was to me, an epitome of an accomplished female journalist and I am confident to see her past this ordeal as courageous and determined as I remembered her, as the political games continue and press freedom declines.

In 2009, 19 journalists have been killed and 142 remain imprisoned in the world.

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Friday, 22 May 2009

Woman on a mission

I called Sister Denise Coghlan the day I arrived in Phnom Penh. I had heard about her engaging work in banning landmines from Fr. Jerry Martinson and was determined to meet this extraordinary woman who has spent the last two decades of her life in Cambodia. She invited me for dinner on a Thursday night, whereby I found myself in the midst of a private farewell party for one of the priest-to-bes. It was not until our second meeting together that I was able to get down to ask her all my questions.

Denise Coghlan is a sister of mercy from Australia. She was working in Thai Refugee Camps with the Jesuit Refugee Service before their decision to separate the crew to focus on other fractions of the civil war. It was decided that some would stay in the refugee camp and be faithful to the refugees till the end, some would work completely outside and work in advocacy with the Buddhist monks for Peace and towards the Paris Peace Talks, and another small group would instead start a small project in Cambodia.

She arrived in 1990 and began with rural development projects for the poor and people with disabilities who were the ones who most symbolised what has cause the war and the exile before. Denise became intimately involved with those injured from landmines whilst working in the refugee camps on coordinating educational services, and became one of the four pioneers in Cambodia for their organisation.

Her line of work at the moment is large and mostly based around development and poverty alleviation, particularly those in post-conflict and in the areas affected by the mines. Earlier on, Denise and some of the JSC crew were working on getting a ban on landmines and the latter years, the cluster bombs. With other JS staff, she was part of a network of non-government organisations and individuals that led to more than 100 countries signing the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, banning the use, stockpiling and transfer of landmines.

"But once you get the ban, that is not finished. For some people, it could be finished, but when you work in a country where so many have been afflicted, you still need to work on having the mines cleared, cluster bombs removed, and the people that have been afflicted, assisted and supported."

When asked about what she was happiest about in doing what she does in Cambodia, she replies that it would be the fact that her co-worker from the Campaign to Ban Landmines had received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. Denise is on the advisory board of the International Campaign, which continues to advocate for funding for survivor assistance, mine clearance and monitoring of international law.

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Monday, 16 March 2009

Japan, your silence is deafening

I recalled watching for the first time the series of Eve Ensler’s celebrated theatre production known as The Vagina Monologues several years ago. Apart from being thoroughly entertained by the actresses’ witty antics, I was especially taken by the segment on the memoirs of a soft-spoken woman, forced into sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation. She spoke about the horrors, experiences so tormenting that she has yet to overcome at an elderly age; she is one of the few women to have survived the ordeal till this day. 

Like many others in Asia during her time, she was what we now call a ‘Comfort Woman’ – a term that I personally find highly inappropriate. Her story and appeal, however short, brought tears of pity and anger amongst many in the theatre, and it certainly left an impression on me. I was bewildered as to why I wasn’t taught of it in school, a detail so crucial that could easily have fit into any of the chapters of my history textbook. An estimated 200, 000 women (predominantly Korean and Chinese), whom during their enslavement, endured torture, malnutrition, sexual abuse, under an institutionalised setting, to me, is war crime history at its foulest. I was instead, informed of it through a former Singaporean television sitcom on the Japanese Occupation.


"Historians estimate 200,000 women, from Korea, the Philippines, China, Indonesia and the Netherlands were pressed into wartime prostitution for millions of Japanese soldiers stationed throughout Asia. Some former comfort women said they were forced to service up to 50 soldiers in a day."

- VDAY, founded by Eve Ensler
(For more information, refer to


A tragedy times 200,000

To me, the term ‘Comfort Women’ is a euphemism, a sugar-coated term that made reality easier to swallow. I’m afraid it may be too mild a term to reflect accurately on the situation of the women, whom, recruited through dissemblance or force by Japanese soldiers and locals alike, were exploited sexually and enslaved. Military sex slaves would be conceivably more accurate.

In Taiwan, a certain Ahma, aged 92 was forced into military prostitution at the young age of 17, sent to serve as a ‘prostitute’ on the island of Hainan. She was one of the very few to have spoken of her experience very early on. It was not until 1991 that a South Korean woman, Grandma Kim Hak Soon, became the first person to speak publicly about the existence of comfort women.

Sexism was not the only factor underlying the Comfort Women system, a system thought to boost military morale and deter open rape in occupied territory (which was in fact the same thing, only institutionalized), limit anti-Japanese resistance among the local population, avoid international disgrace and protect the Japanese soldiers from venereal disease. Racism played a large part too. For whatever reason, they were indoctrinated to see the Chinese and other Asian prisoners as sub-human and inferior, thus the numbers of Japanese ‘Comfort Women’ were of a significantly smaller number in contrast to women of other ethnicities. In the seminar held in Taiwan on ‘Comfort Women’, the lecturers mentioned a significant difference in the treatment between the Han Chinese and Taiwanese Aboriginals. Han Chinese women were either recruited by force or shipped to serve elsewhere in different Military brothels overseas, whereas aboriginal women were often kept as house and sex slaves locally.

Wrongs to be righted

In January 1992, Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa admitted, after Professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi uncovered indisputable evidence, that the Japanese government was involved in the "comfort woman" business throughout the war (1931-1945.) Accordingly, in August of 1994, Japanese Prime Minister Tomichi Murayama set up the Asian Women’s Fund, which offered $18,200 in atonement money to each surviving "comfort woman." This fund however, is not from the Japanese government. The women feel that the Japanese government must officially assume responsibility for these acts and that to accept the privately raised money would make them prostitutes; not the victims of war that they are. Former "comfort women" continue to seek redress in the courts in Japan.

With the surviving victims, organisations and international parliaments, hot on their heels for an official apology, the Japanese government has yet to break their silence – a silence that would soon no longer be heard by the remaining ailing victims.What will not be reported, are the voices of the already-deceased women and what the Japanese perpetrators have recollected in their time. To look behind the scenes in War-time Asia and juxtapose the unreported realities with the personal stories of trauma and recovery told by the survivors will simply reduce the stories to a few simple facts, and an array of supposedly unfathomable war violence. I believe there are always more facts lurking behind the shadows of the Japanese society, and it will be up to their descendants to acknowledge their atrocities and compensate accordingly.

A name worth knowing: Yoshiaki Yoshimi
Professor of modern Japanese history at Chuo University in Tokyo. Yoshimi is a founder member of the Center for Research and Documentation on Japan’s war responsibility. Following the discovery of incriminating Imperial Army documents by a Japanese historian in 1992, the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office acknowledged "moral, but not legal" responsibility for the comfort women. The government of Japan still refuses to make an official apology and provide proper compensation. It continues to deny legal responsibility for the system. Some of the surviving victims tried suing the government in Japan seeking an official apology and reparations but to no avail.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Hsin-Chin Deals With Life and Death

When I met Hsin-Chin for the first time, I immediately saw her as a sensitive woman and a thinker. As we talked more, I realized how generous she was too; she is one of those rare persons that people would go to when they needed consolation or a sympathetic ear.

Currently a student at the Institute of Life and Death Education and Counseling Department in Taipei, Hsin-Chin has decided to devote her life in helping people who lose their faith in life.

This decision is in fact, deeply related to her life experience.
As Hsin-Chin was still a teenager when her elder sister committed suicide. Qingqing who could neither forgive herself, nor her sister for putting such an abrupt end to her life, spent many difficult years mourning the her sister’s death.

After making several suicide attempts herself, she found a way to give a more meaningful value to her own life, and to the death of her sister: if only she could help other people in despair and their families, her sister would not have died for nothing.

She now works at Mackay Memorial Hospital, and talks with many young people in need. She is working hard to become a psychologist specialised in the matter of life and death, a very unique profession in Taiwan.

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Thursday, 26 February 2009








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