1992 / 10月
Wang Jia-fong /tr. by Christopher Hughes
In July 1753 Queen Louisa Ulrika of Sweden wrote a letter to her mother in which she described her birthday surprise from be built. The body-guard was dressed in Chinese clothes, my eldest son was waiting at the entrance of the pavilion dressed as a Chinese prince . . . ." The interior of the queen's pavilion was also astonishing with its exquisite Chinese porcelain, pagodas, Japanese lacquer cabinets and Indian fabrics. The king had even arranged a Chinese "ballet."
It is hard for us to imagine how the fashion for chinoiserie once swept Europe. It is not so difficult for us to look at today's fashions in Taipei, where an interior design magazine can describe a newly completed house as being like a castle in mainly baroque-style with greco-roman columns and a triangular temple roof; the interior design is renaissance, the reception room having green-jade columns and arches, matched with crystal chandeliers. A five-storeyed house adorned with the splendid complexity of the entire history of European art might indeed be a sight ha rd to forget.
Such a "European style" might be exclusively for the wealthy businessman, but you can still open the Sunday papers and see advertisements promoting Taiwan's "Barcelona" or "Paris Eurovillage." You can raise your eyes to the Taipei skyline with its "Dreamlike Castles" of Eurotowers, among which can be found courtyards boasting Venetianesque statues of peeing infants, while interiors explode with an array of furniture and household equipment in every conceivable European style. Still, so long as people like it, then why not?
Sometimes the East wind prevails and sometimes the West. Distance and time can both add a certain mystique to fashion.
"Women in Taiwan have a high level of education and easily accept new ideas," says a public health worker, confident that the "fashion" of breast feeding is about to take off. Yet how is it that what mammals have been doing for millions of years is now being promoted as a "new idea?"
Some people wonder with suspicion why using baby formula took off in Taiwan during the 1970s just as it was on the wane in western countries; but there are also those who think it contributes to economic development by helping women to get out of the home. No matter who is right, advocated by the World Health Organization and large-scale media reporting, breast-feeding has obviously become a new fashion.
The problem is, however, whether becoming fashionable is the best way of getting things done? On television a barrage of advertisements still continues to tell us that baby formula can turn your child into a Beethoven, Newton or Einstein; women's magazines inform us that the quality of closeness between mother and child is more important than the quantity, so chores such as feeding and nappy changing should be delegated to a child minder; and legal provisions are still not really sufficient to allow working mothers to breast-feed their babies. Taiwan's women are faced with an unprecedented difficulty: the marks of the modern woman are academic and professional achievements, but if breastfeeding and family values are on the rise, then what is to become of her?
Baby formula was not the only fad deserted in western countries in the 1970s. In July 1972 a prize-winning fourteen-storey public housing estate in America was razed to the ground. This September a photograph in the London Times showed a similar scene of another fourteen-storey estate being blown up in Liverpool, England, with the reporter remarking, "Hated 1960s tower blocks are being snuffed out all over Britain. We shall not see them built again." Not only are such towers ugly, but even the idea that they are an efficient use of space has come into question.
So how is it that these eyesores ever became part of the skylines of the advanced countries in the first place? Perhaps it is hard to believe, but it was really a question of modernity and fashion.
In his book From Bauhaus to Our House, American author Tom Wolfe tells of how, in 1950s America, builders could unashamedly present the boxes they were creating as luxury, while well-educated men and women could accept them without a blink as luxury. Fashionable magazines told them this was living, the good taste of today; this was modern.
Perhaps people should reserve a degree of scepticism when looking at the promotion of fashion and modernity in advertisements today. Are Taiwan's multi-storeyed castles with European-style roofs just a replay of what happened in American and Europe in the 1960s. If they are erected due to overcrowding, then why are these boxes appearing in place s like Sinkiang's Urumuqi and Taiwan's Taitung?
Fashions come and go with the times. It is a good thing that modern technology can remove eyesores in a few minutes. But what follows the explosion? Will not another modern fashion find its place, reinvigorated with willpower and the purse of the consumer.