Conversations with Taiwan Panorama Shining Lights in Eastern Taiwan

Stanley Yen’s and Paul Chiang’s Blueprint for Taitung

2020 / July

Tina Xie /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Phil Newell

When you think of Taitung, all kinds of exciting activities come to mind: the Chishang Autumn Rice Harvest Arts Fest­ival, the Taiwan Open of Surfing at Jinzun, the Taiwan International Balloon Festival on the Luye Highland…. People used to have a stereo­typical image of Taitung as having “beautiful mountains, clean water, and nothing to do.” But as a result of innovative ideas introduced by the government and the long-term efforts of non-governmental groups, Taitung has been transformed into an internationally renowned tourist destination.

Besides its attractiveness to tourists, Taitung also is rich in culture. The Alliance ­Cultural Foundation, founded by Stanley C. Yen, who is its chairman, has for many years worked to discover and cultivate local talent in Hualien and Taitung. Paul Chiang, a world-class artist who relocated to Taitung in 2008, has created an arts center in Jinzun, Donghe Township. In the future, besides displaying his own lifetime’s creative work, Chiang plans to invite musicians and writers to be artists-in-residence there, in hopes that even more creative people can find inspiration in Taitung’s natural surroundings.


In order to better understand Taitung’s advantages and potential for development, Taiwan Panorama invited Stanley Yen and Paul Chiang to participate in a conversation, presided over by editor-in-chief Ivan Chen, to discuss their impressions of Taitung and their visions for its future, as well as the deep friendship that exists between the two men. 

 TP: Stanley Yen, what do you believe are Taitung’s advantages for “placemaking”?

 Y: Fifty years ago I did my military service in Hua­lien, and got to know its rich indigenous cultures. Taitung, meanwhile, had pristine, unspoiled natural scenery and majestic landscapes. Today, it also has indigenous artists and musicians as well as world-class artists like Paul Chiang living there. This makes me think of the placemaking project in the Seto Inland Sea in Japan, in which desolate islands were transformed by artists into a major scenic area which attracts many people on pilgrimages to its annual arts festival. Both Paul and I believe that Taitung will be an international scenic spot that is in no way inferior to the Seto Inland Sea. 

 TP: Paul Chiang, after moving to Taitung the style of your paintings changed from gloomy to bright. Stanley Yen jokingly describes this as “an elderly man finding romance.” How has Taitung affected your creative work?

 C: In all my series of works, the most important element has been light. Sometimes the light is weak, sometimes it is soft, sometimes it is bright, but in all cases it is light that comes from inside me. This explains why when I lived in New York, Paris, and Taipei, I didn’t want to look outside myself, I just wanted to enjoy the light that shone from within me, which was a pious and sacred light. However, after moving to Taitung, I began to open the windows in my studio and experience Taitung’s sunshine, air, sea, flowers, and plants, and to express the feelings that Taitung gives me in abstract paintings. 

 TP: Stanley Yen, the Alliance Cultural Foundation, which you founded, has been working in Taitung for many years. How have your local operations remained sustainable?

 Y: After I recognized Taitung’s advantages, I began to think about how to ensure they wouldn’t be destroyed by the development habits prevalent in Western Taiwan, so we turned to energizing local culture.
Take Jinzun, for example. In winter the northeasterly monsoon winds drive the ocean waves against the shore, creating excellent surfing conditions. This is why surfers from Japan, Europe, North America, and Hong Kong come here from November to April; this is Jinzun’s natural asset. However, there were no public toilets near the place where people surf, so I invited the then minister of transportation and communications to come and have a look, in hopes that the public facilities here could be improved.
We also brought the media to the MianMaWu Cotton boutique in Donghe Township to report on the handcrafted products made by Long Huimei, so that more people could become familiar with her work. She has since been an artist-in-residence in Italy and France. With orders from overseas, more than 30 local women have been mobilized to do weaving, revitalizing this once moribund indigenous community.
Besides preserving local culture, it is even more important to internationalize Hualien and Taitung. There are already Michelin-caliber restaurants in Taitung’s Changbin Township, with both indigenous cuisine and French dishes on the menu. We have also founded an international experimental school in Taitung—the Junyi School for Innovative Learning—where local young people can learn English and integrate into the global community. In this way they will have the chance to bring international resources into Hualien and Taitung. 

 TP: Paul Chiang, when you were on Long Island in New York, you got the idea to build an arts center, but you have only been able to implement this idea after arriving in Taitung. Why did you initially want to build an arts center? And what similarities are there between Long Island and Taitung?

 C: There are a number of similarities between Taitung and Long Island: They are not densely populated, the air is clean, there is fine natural scenery, and there are no high-rise buildings. In the 1980s I lived in East Hampton on Long Island, and every summer I would think about opening my studio to the public, to give everyone the same chance as I had to experience the beauty of nature. However, after moving to Taipei, I gave up that idea for a time because of the different environment. Later, in Taitung, a variety of factors—the excellent environment, having sufficient skills and resources, and Stanley’s influence—led me to think I should be doing something to give back to society. 

 TP: Stanley Yen, you have described yourself as a “fan club” for Paul Chiang. What is it that you admire about him?

 Y: We only met after Paul returned to Taiwan 20-odd years ago. At the time I was a greenhorn when it came to art, but I was really moved by the works in his “Silver Lake” series. When I was planning the décor for Hotel One in Suzhou, I discovered that the atmosphere of the rooms was overly modernistic, and the first thing I thought of to address this problem was Paul’s paintings. I immediately got on the phone back to Taiwan, and Paul lent me photographic reproductions of two “Silver Lake” paintings. After hanging these pictures, the atmosphere in the rooms became less harsh. This taught me that an artist can change the atmosphere of an entire space with his work.
After Paul turned his studio into an arts park, he began setting up an area for artists-in-residence, as he didn’t want to be the only artist to be inspired by Hualien and Taitung. One day, both Paul and I will have passed on, but memories of the artists’ presence will remain forever in Taitung, just as the Junyi School will go on in perpetuity, preparing more and more young people for the future. 

TP : Paul Chiang, can you share with us how your life and mindset changed after you moved to Taitung?

 C: When I was young, I didn’t listen to many different kinds of music, but each day when I opened my studio I would invariably put on some piano music by Bach. Now when I work in Taitung, I listen to everything, whatever strikes me at the moment. I listen to Elvis Presley, rock and roll, and Bob Dylan.
Today I’m more relaxed about a lot of things. It’s not like when I was young and my attitudes were absolute. I worked very, very hard on my art works, demanding of myself that every part must be perfect. It was only after 20 or 30 years that I learned that I don’t always have to be so all out, that I can just go with the flow. 

TP : You are both in your seventies now, but you still hold fast to your ideals. Can you both share your outlook on life, and provide some encouragement for younger people?

 Y: When I first arrived in Hualien and Taitung, I never imagined that I would found a school, which was a task unlike anything I had ever done before. But now what I do in Taitung is not only linked to the arts, and I have even become a “fan club” for Paul Chiang. I want to tell young people that what you do in the future will not necessarily be related to the goals you set out for yourself at first. Unexpected things happen at every stage in life. But as long as you know what your own strengths are and what the trends are for the future, you can combine these two things to find a direction for your future, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

C : When I was younger I was too demanding of myself in my creative work, fussing over every detail of each piece—I wanted each one to be perfect. But gradually I began to relax and, to put it simply, to go with the flow. That doesn’t mean doing nothing, but it means devoting effort every day to the direction you want to go, and figuring out how to handle problems as you encounter them.
I often say to young people that art emerges from life, so every day you have to go out and live your life and interact with your family, and after that continue to produce works of art. Also, don’t try to make a plan that three or five years down the road you’ll be a great artist and have exhibitions in this or that art museum, because these are things over which we have no control. The only thing you can control is to live earnestly every day and keep on doing creative work, and in the end you will definitely get positive results.

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除了觀光實力,台東也蘊含豐富的文化能量。嚴長壽創立的公益平台文化基金會,多年來致力挖掘並培養花東在地人才; 2008年移居台東的國際級藝術家江賢二,在金樽規劃了一座藝術園區,未來除了展示自己畢生的創作,還計劃邀請音樂家與文學家駐村,希望更多創作者能在台東的大自然找到靈感。














江:年輕的時候,我聽的音樂種類不多,但每天早上我打開畫室,一定會先播巴哈的鋼琴曲。現在我在台東工作,什麼類型都聽,心血來潮就聽,我會聽聽貓王的音樂、rock and roll的音樂和 Bob Dylan的音樂。








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