1993 / 2月
Sunny Hsiao /tr. by Jonathan Barnard
Thirty years ago Li Lin-tsan, then deputy director of the National Palace Museum, escorted a collection of national treasures to America for an exhibition. There, one member of the public stood for two hours in front of "Bamboo Pigeons" by Li An-chung, the Sung dynasty painter, before gathering the courage to invite Li Lin-tsan home, saying he wanted to show him something. Taken aback, Li apprehensively accepted.
Once there, Li saw just a cage holding two birds identical to the ones in Li An-chung's painting. " You tell me," this foreign friend asked, " Did the artist paint based on my birds, or did the birds grow based on your painting?"
Further back in time, a Northern Chi dynasty artist is said to have painted a pair of sparrows fighting that looked so real the Emperor Wen Hsuan once tried waving them away.
So much for the idea that Chinese paintings of birds aren't realistic. And those who think that the modern style of painting wild birds started in the West, can also think again. (See page 74.)
In the Book of Rites, it is written that "To obtain knowledge, you've got to study the nature of things." And in the Sung dynasty, a high-water mark for empiricism in China, painters stuck to the principle of getting to the bottom of things. When painting they not only observed the physical structure of an animal but also came to a detailed understanding of its anatomy. Comparing the birds in their paintings to actual bird species not only leads one to praise the disciplined attitude of the ancient artists and their ability to paint realistically but also provides evidence to counter the commonly held notion that the painting of birds in their native ecologies has its roots in the West.
But from another angle, whereas the ancient chinese held onto a principle of "loving animals and nature," today we are slowly going down a road of having cast nature aside. Not so long ago, R.O.C. business-men were involved in the killing of seals in South Africa, which was followed by the rhino horn incident and the reckless killing of the black-faced spoonbill. These incidents have challenged the humane philosophy Chinese have traditionally held dear. What should we cast off? And what is worth preserving?
Another art that captures images "true to life" is, of course, photography. Since photography was invented in the West 150 years ago, this technology-cum-art has caught on around the world. And photography, which "preserves the moment for eternity," is also important for recording history.
As photographer Chien Yung-pin says, "From its birth, photography has been characterized by its links to the masses. It can meet the needs of any age, serving as a kind of visual symbolic 'freezing' of cultures in the midst of transformation. Furthermore, these photographs are the most basic resource of local culture."
Taiwan's photography has its roots in the portrait studios of the Japanese era, which provided work for the island's first generation of photographers, many of whom had trained in Japan.
Like so many other senior photographers, Chen Li-hung, who has run her photo studio since the end of the Japanese occupation (see page 24), longs for many of her favorite photos, which were lost during moving or remodeling. . . .
The management office of the Yushan National Park has published a collection of old photographs of the park in a book entitled Jade Mountain: Back to the Beginning. The book not only provides glimpses onto how the park used to look, but is also of much help in current ecological research. From it, one can chart the changes to the forest, its advances and retreats. One photographer, who ran a photo studio for many years, left his family business to his son after he died. When the son found out that people were collecting old photographs of Jade Mountain, he was happily willing to part with them--but only at NT$30,000 a shot. If the price was right, he was even willing to part with his father's old camera.
And for these reasons, there is a lack of photographs documenting the last 100 years of history in Taiwan. Responsibility lies not only with photographers but with all those who are concerned about this issue.
In 1872 the American government established Yellowstone National Park, the world's first national park. Its success helped promote ecological conservation and respect for nature and caused other nations to follow suit.
Today national parks have become a yardstick to measure the degree of a country's advancement, and close to 1000 such parks have been established in over 100 countries or territories around the world.
The first plan for national parks in Taiwan was hatched during the era of the Japanese occupation in 1937. The Taiwan governor's office selected three areas: Jade Mountain and Mt. Ali; Taroko Gorge and Mt. Hehuan; and the area around Mt. Tatun, Mt. Chihsing and Mt. Kua-nyin. But Kenting National Park was the first actually established in 1983.
On January 6, a fire raged in the R.O.C.'s Yushan National Park, burning 125 hectares of forest in just six days and six nights and causing incalculable damage. (See page 112.) Investigations pointed toward man as the source and faulted outdated fire-fighting equipment for allowing the fire to go on as long as it did. How can we make the goal of our national parks to preserve the forests for future generations more than just a mirage? Or to put it another way: How do we go about changing people's attitudes?