The Taiwan Experience

by Yue on Monday, 21 May 2007 Comments
From the Convention on Biological Diversity to the Convention on Cultural Diversity
On June 1992, more than a hundred countries signed the Convention on Biological Diversity during the UN conference at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The three main goals of the Convention are: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources. By December, 2002, 187 countries had ratified the Convention.
On 20 October 2005, the UNESCO General Conference adopted the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions whose main objectives are to protect and promote cultural diversity, to encourage dialogue and mutual exchanges between cultures, to strengthen international cooperation and solidarity so as to favor the cultural expressions of all countries.
There are thirteen years between these two Conventions but they both emphasize the importance and the value of “Diversity”: the first one by protecting the biological diversity, the second one by asserting the value of the cultural diversity. When biological diversity is the keystone for the safeguarding of all living beings, then cultural diversity is the keystone for the safeguarding of human beings.
Every culture is the product of a given space-time and environment as well as of the “inter-work” of a given society. Different cultures with different developments at different times should not be discriminated against. They must, all of them, receive the same respect and protection. To respect their diversity means to respect their differences. It is only by safeguarding the specificities and the differences of the various cultures that we can stop their standardization and the loss of their inventiveness to allow human civilizations to have the force and the spirit to pursue their progress and their development.
The adoption of the Convention on Cultural Diversity shows that the principles of cultural diversity are not only facts from a scientific point of view but are also the result of a consensus established by the international community altogether. These principles comply with the highest norms of ethics as well as with international legislations. I believe that Taiwan is very representative of cultural diversity on Earth: its own diversity of population throughout its history imparts on the island a diversity of languages and life-styles, favoring then the modeling of its different yet numerous cultural aspects.

The Cultural Diversity of Taiwan
As a small sub-tropical archipelago located in the West Pacific, Taiwan is characterized by its mountainous geographical nature as well as the complexity of its successive settlements.
Thousands of years ago, the first humans reached the island either by sea or by earth to settle: they are Taiwan’s Aboriginals. The 16th century saw the first groups of Europeans coming and the first immigration of Han people as well. During the 17th century, started the economic development of the island and the settlement of the Dutch and the Spaniards who occupied a short time part of the territory. After the 18th century, the fertile lands in the west developed the cultivation of rice and sugar. Under Zheng Cheng-gong, as well as under Qing rule, the Han people and the Pingpu tribe were to coexist. But some conflicts grew with the aborigines living in the mountainous areas, who were claiming to their independence from the new rulers. In the 19th century, Taiwan was ceded to Japan and started then the period of the Japanese colonization of the island.
In the 20th century, in the context of the Cold war, the withdrawal of the Republic of China to Taiwan also brought along a new wave of immigration. In the end of the 20th century, the flourishing economy of Taiwan attracted workers and spouses from South-East Asia. This diversity of people lead to the diversity of languages and cultures, continuously remodeling the face of Taiwan’s culture at the same time. The encounter of these different cultures had some outstanding results but it also provoked sometimes conflicts and contradictions.
According to its history, the origin of these various cultures in Taiwan comes from the different settlements on the island. Every group of people brought along its original habits and customs, installed its own economic ways and, according to the natural conditions, developed its own regional culture. As regards the different times of the Dutch, Zheng Cheng-gong, the Qing administration, the Japanese or the Republic, all the complex history of Taiwan contributed to creating the unique Taiwanese society of today which can be first defined by its plurality of languages and crossing cultures.

The protection of Taiwan’s cultural diversity
Taiwan’s cultural diversity comes from the encounter of various cultures all along its history. But it would be incorrect to affirm that these encounters never created oppositions or confrontations. It is the case of Taiwan’s aboriginals who, since the 16th century, had to bear the discriminations and the prejudices of the different settlers. In order to protect the diversity of its cultural groups, it is first imperative for Taiwan to encourage the dialogue and the interaction between the different cultures as well as their mutual recognition and understanding.
Secondly, it is also important to increase within the government the representation of the different cultural groups in order to give them the opportunity to have an active political part. On 10 December 1996, the Executive Yuan officially established the Council of Indigenous Peoples; on 14 June 2001, the Council for Hakka Affairs. At the same time, two new TV channels started to broadcast, one in hakka language and the other in aboriginal language, in the same way, Aboriginal Cultural parks were opened. The teaching of these languages has also being part of the courses at school; department of researches opened in universities.
It is a matter of safeguarding cultural diversity, of giving minorities the opportunity to fight for their freedom; it is not question of rising differences to be caught into conflicts, it is the system of a constitutional government. And this system gives to these different cultural entities a space where to develop equitably.

Cultural Diversity is a Developmental Resource for Taiwan
The meaning of cultural diversity lies in the fact that it can make the people get in touch with other cultures. But even before this, people have to value their own culture. Culture is like health and education; it requires the support of the community altogether to exist.
How can culture be a resource? Not only with the support of people but also with the preservation of its intrinsic capacity of invention and renewal. From the economic angle, culture also represents a good asset, plentiful of commercial and prospective tools. According to statistics in Canada, the cultural industry generates revenue of 22 000 000 000 US dollars, and creates 670 000 jobs. In Australia, the cultural and artistic industry represents 3% of the GDP and yields each year 36 000 000 US dollars. With regard to the cultural and innovative industry of Taiwan, according to a report published in 2004 by the Council for Economic Planning and Development, in 2000 there were 48000 enterprises in the field of cultural and innovative industry with a total business volume of 520 billion NT dollars, to which can be added a value of nearly 300 billion NT dollars. 320000 people are employed in this field.
Taiwan offers many examples of developments and achievements in the cultural and innovative industry as for instance the well-known “Liuli Workshop” (琉璃工房) and its pieces of glass art or the “Franz” porcelain(法藍瓷). These crafts manufacturers are already beyond Taiwan borders and are granted international recognition; they yield more than a hundred million NT dollars per year. Taiwan local market of art, culture, edition, sight-seeing does not lack of wonders for the consumer as for example the illustrations by Jimmy (幾米成人繪本)or the wood clogs of Baimi in the region of Ilan (宜蘭白米社區的木屐).
Such a development of the cultural and innovative industry is merely made possible by a social environment able to respect its various cultures. Creativity and inventiveness can develop and express only if people invest in the diversity of their cultures, making their production and their services enter the live market of Culture.
The Convention on Cultural Diversity stems from a reflection against the tide of economic globalization. The cultural products of the powerful nations are like assets on the “liberal market”; they can circulate and spread all over the globe, at the risk of their standardization. As the lack of mixing leads to the degeneration of species, the standardization of culture jeopardizes the human ability of invention and narrows the path of cultural development. It is within this context that was adopted the Convention of Cultural Diversity which assesses the uniqueness of cultural products for they are qualitative goods. The Convention ensures the role and legitimacy of each State’s policy in protecting and promoting cultural diversity, recognizes the importance of international cooperation and exchanges most of all in order to deal with cultural vulnerabilities.
UNESCO shouldered this important mission at the right moment. Two months after the 9/11 events, considered by the public opinion as a “clash of civilizations”, the 31st Session of the General Conference of UNESCO adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (November, 2001), which is the draft of the Convention. The overwhelming majority of Member States who adopted this Declaration clearly expressed their position: only dialogue between the different cultures can guarantee Peace.
(Abridged translation of the provisional outline)

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