Asia

An interview with Taiwan’s Ambassador to Germany

No matter how deep one got stuck in the darkness, the importance is how to overturn the situation.

August 25th, 2020
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Representatives of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, Ching-Chieh Su, Elena Argentesi, and Valeria Fugiani had the great pleasure to invite Taiwan’s Ambassador to Germany, Amb. Prof. Dr. Jhy-Wey Shieh, to share his experiences of promoting bilateral cultural exchange between Taiwan and Germany.

The main subject for the interview at Taipeh Vertretung (Taipei Representative Office, the de facto Embassy of Taiwan) was the role of the Vertretung, especially the Culture Department as an actor to promote cultural exchange between Taiwan and Germany. H.E. Amb. Prof. Dr. Shieh provided several concrete examples like the Frankfurt Book Fair and some collaboration with leading cultural institutes in Berlin to enrich the discussion on cultural diplomacy.

His Excellency elaborated on the discussion by highlighting the importance of human rights and democracy. Taiwan strives to maintain the value of democracy and always keeps it standing like a “beacon of democracy” in the Chinese-speaking countries. However, it has been a long and challenging way to what we are now today. Taiwan underwent the world’s longest martial law period from 1949-1987. No matter how deep one got stuck in the darkness, the importance is how to overturn the situation, the H. E. Amb. Prof. Dr. Shieh comments.

The ruling party in Taiwan takes up transitional justice. The National Human Rights Museum (belongs to the Ministry of Culture, MoC) was established in 2018, making it the first national museum in Asia that combines historic sites of injustice with the history of human rights violations by authoritarianism. Taiwan and Germany signed a letter of intent (LOI) to boost cooperation on transitional justice in 2019, which was also the first LOI that the Stasi Records Agency has signed with a foreign agency. In June 2020, the National Human Rights Museum won a “Special Award” at German Karl Wilhelm Fricke Award, for advancing education on human rights and democracy.1 Last year, Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage, making it the first country in Asia to do so. In 2018, the Vertretung invited renowned Taiwanese writer, professor Ta-wei Chi to the Frankfurt Book Fair to talk about his research on queer literature of Taiwan.

Despite the difficulties that Taiwan encounters in the international society: no longer a member state of the United Nations since 1971, was left behind of the WHA— not even as an observer. Nevertheless, we collaborate with like-minded countries in Europe, the USA, Japan, etc. His Excellency states, with insistence and have faith in what we are doing, we will reach our goal.

Taiwan is a small but culturally diverse island where it preserves the essence of Chinese culture but it is also home to 16 tribes of aboriginal groups. They speak Austronesian languages that are different from the Chinese language2. Moreover, as human rights is highly valued in Taiwan, individuals are regarded as the central point of the world, not the government, nor the ruling party. This is the practice of the thought of ancient Chinese philosopher, Mencius, “the people are before the country, and the country is above the ruler”.3

His excellency also cited Thomas Mann’s word “where I am, there is Germany. I carry my German culture in me” to refer to the situation of Taiwan. Chinese culture, together with Taiwan’s special historical background, is taught at school and is practiced, but, as his excellency emphasized, democracy without culture is not real democracy and vice versa. Only a political system that allows artists to engage in social practice and freely create their works with their pens, paintings, dances, etc. Taiwan incubates the niche for the creative industry and thriving creative energy.

Every year, the Taiwanese government supports several cultural exchange activities with Germany. Among them, the Culture Department has just signed a three-year contract with the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, which will send an artist every 6 months for the Artist-in-Residence program; 3 writers are chosen by the Ministry of Culture (MoC) to the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin (LCB) for a one-month residency; the Vertretung holds Christmas concert at the Taiwan Kultursaal and takes this chance no only to greet friends but also send wishes for the following year. “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” the H.E. Amb. Prof. Dr. Shieh cited Percy Bysshe Shelley to further explain the rationale of holding a concert on Christmas; Ensemble Taiwan performs Taiwanese music and songs at concert venues in Berlin almost annually. Despite those official visits, students from Taiwan also contribute to cultural exchange between the two countries.

1Cheng Jing-wen and Lim Emerson, “National Human Rights Museum wins award in Germany - Focus Taiwan,” Focus Taiwan, June 4, 2020, https://focustaiwan.tw/culture/202006040013.

2 Sino-Tibetan language family

3 民為貴,社稷次之,君為輕。

References

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