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Taipei Zhongshan Hall hosts Sketches of Formosa exhibition

Text and Photos by Leo R. Maliksi
The Department of Cultural Affairs held a press conference on December 7 at the Taipei Zhongshan Hall (台北中山堂) to inaugurate the exhibition “The Sketches of Formosa” (福爾摩沙印象展) that will run until February 24, 2019. DOCA invited four historians and artifact collectors to act as docents.
The exhibition features reproduced photos from books written between the 16th and 19th centuries. The books contained verbal descriptions and sketches made by European seafarers who landed on Formosa and interacted with this island’s inhabitants -- aborigines and Han Chinese. The descriptions and drawings express the first impressions those westerners had of Formosa and its peoples.

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DOCA Deputy Commissioner Lee Li Zhu (李麗珠) welcomes guests to the exhibition.

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Mr. Jian Yixiong (簡義雄), a historical artifacts collector, is the exhibition curator.
“This exhibition shows how the Europeans’ perception of Taiwan has changed over four hundred years,” said Guillaume Delvallee, deputy director of the French Office in Taipei.
“When we arrived four hundred years ago, we had no idea what Taiwan was about and as you can see in some of the pictures, we depicted the Taiwanese as savages. We gradually discovered how much we had in common despite our differences, and you can see the evolution of the European understanding of Taiwan.”

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Guillaume Delvallee, deputy director of the French Office in Taipei, says the exhibition
shows the evolution of the European understanding of Taiwan.

Some western explorers who arrived in the 16th century did not have a correct knowledge of the island’s topography. So their drawings of this island lacked uniformity, giving their readers the impression that Formosa looked like an amoeba whose shape was constantly changing.
The exhibition shows little-known practices such as how the aborigines accepted the Spanish silver dollar as betrothal gift (bride price).
Visitors will also learn that the famous Kangxi Tongbao (康熙通寶), Manchu Qing dynasty era brass coins produced under the reign of the Kangxi Emperor, floated on water. An illustrator asked Taiwan indigenous peoples to pose as models for some illustrations he did for the Illustrated London News. In the 19th century, when they met some Christian missionaries, some Taiwanese asked if they sold opium.

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Professor Liqin Du (杜麗琴) explains the history behind some of the illustrations.
The exhibition has five major themes: 1. “Discovering Formosa” shows the impressions western voyagers and the peoples of Formosa had of each other; 2. “Educating Taiwan” features how Christian missionaries engaged in medical treatment as a way of spreading their Faith, introduced education for women, and how they experienced the bitterness of rejection and their gradual acceptance by the Taiwanese; 3. “Open Harbors and Trading” is about the exportation of Taiwan products such as oolong tea, sugar, and camphor; 4. “Taiwan Take Aways” shows how westerners portrayed the topography, animal species & plants, and culture of Taiwan; 5. “Raising Flags on Formosa” depicts how the western powers drew up plans to occupy Formosa.

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“A Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, an island subject to the emperor of Japan 1704,” written by George Psalmanaazaar, a Frenchman who lived in London. He wrote this book in the 18th century. It is a blend of facts about Taiwan and the author’s imagined conditions of the island. It served to awaken greater interest about Taiwan among Europeans.
If you visit the exhibition, don’t miss viewing some cultural artifacts: “Taiwan Sketches” (1645) is the earliest record of Taiwanese aborigines; “History and Geography of Formosa,” a spurious publication that was popular in Europe; “The U.S. History of Ocean Development” is a classic ten-volume history of the seas around Formosa; “The Illustrated London News” has illustrations of a lion dance performance and 9 sketches of aborigines drawn by illustrators who ventured into the mountain areas. There are gold and silver coins used by the Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, Austrians, and Japanese, as well as Song dynasty coins salvaged from shipwrecks.