Taiwan Festival 2023 promises a wide range of events

The 2023 edition of Vancouver TAIWANfest looks at the island nation’s colonial history.

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When: Sept. 2-4

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Where: Various venues, times

Tickets and info: vancouvertaiwanfest.va

TAIWANfest returns to Vancouver for another year of programming showcasing the wide-ranging creative culture of the independent Pacific island nation.

Each year, the event chooses a festival theme to focus in on and examine from multiple angles. This year’s is posed as a question: Is Taiwan standing at another historic crossroads?

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Any casual reader of international news can answer that query with a single word: Yes. But that would be a simple and contemporary view of the complex development of the island’s history across the past four centuries and how it has led to the development of one of the most progressive, inclusive and democratic countries globally.

“This is probably a good time and atmosphere to look at the notion of what Taiwan is, as it has been under an explicit Chinese narrative for so long,” said festival managing director Charlie Wu. “We are starting with the anniversary of the year the Dutch first landed on the island and set up colonial settlements. Then came the Spanish, the Japanese and so on.”

The Dutch trading post of Fort Zeelandia operated from 1624-1662 and then again from 1664-1668. At the time, the island was referred to as Formosa, a name given by Portuguese sailors denoting a “beautiful island.” Wu notes that even this name isn’t exactly an accurate description of what is today’s Taiwan.

“The Portuguese were just passing by looking for key trading locations, but really never set foot,” said Wu. “It turns out, every time they saw a beautiful island they would call it Formosa and, at times, there are something like 50 of them on historic maps. So that, once again, asks the question, ‘What is Taiwan?’ ”

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The exhibit from the National Museum of Taiwan History titled Charting Formosa will dive into three major explorer events that impacted the place while drawing comparisons with Canadian colonial history of the same period. From images of Taiwan in Western maps, cultural encounters and local appropriation of their influences to the explorer Zhen Chenggong’s appearances, a mobile exhibit will feature these explorer events at šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énk Square on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Meanwhile, in partnership with the Dutch Cultural Association of B.C. and local Dutch-Canadian media artist, curator and researcher Irwin Oostindie, Bestemming: Canada (Destination: Canada) is a commissioned exhibit from the Dutch Consul of Toronto taking place along the 600-block of Granville Street.

“As DJs are a big thing in today’s Dutch culture, we are also bringing in Taiwanese Indigenous Amis DJ Dungi Sapor and Taiwanese-Canadian interdisciplinary artist Which Nancy for an event called No One is an Outsider looking at cultural crossovers,” said Wu. “Then we have the National Chinese Orchestra Taiwan presenting Splendid Formosa at the Orpheum on Sept. 2, which gives us a traditional Chinese music orchestra reinterpreting Western-style classical music as another example of the convergence of East and West.”

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Wu notes that the history of the island wasn’t something that he or other Taiwanese were taught in school as Chinese history was given precedent. Today, scholars are revising the historic record to accurately recognize indigenous peoples, historic migrations and more.

One of the featured films is a free online documentary about librarian/historian/teacher Ts’ao Yung-ho who was key in forming a global perspective on the island and “Taiwan’s unique role in the world.”

From cinema and music to lectures, TAIWANfest 2023 approaches its theme from multiple angles. One of the relationships that Wu is most interested in is the National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute’s Migration & Arts exhibit. Running at the SFU Segal Building at 500 Granville St., the exhibition looks at the breadth and scope of Taiwanese handmade crafts ranging from indigenous fibre-weaving to bamboo-weaving, batik and more.

TAIWANfest 2023
Bamboo-weaving art and design by Taiwanese artist Huei-Ting Tsai titled Interwoven at the Migration & Arts exhibit. Photo by Huei-Ting Tsai /jpg

In many cases these arts are a culmination of cross-cultural creative practices coming together to form something that is both an amalgamation and a new creation. The artists are pursuing a muse that is still in the making.

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Wu thinks that the results are something that can be seen as decidedly Taiwanese in its identity.

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