Savor the beauty of Taichung, where culture mixes with everyday life. (photo by Lin Min-hsuan)
What kinds of impression spring to mind when you think of Taichung? Is it the fine sunny weather, or perhaps the simple friendliness of the people? Is it the delicious cuisine, the tasty fruits, vegetables and pastries, or the enchanting lively nightlife? Taichung, that convenient stopover between northern and southern Taiwan, is well situated for easy travel. Its harbor and airport make for easy access to the city and its surroundings, and a multitude of trailblazing enterprises have earned it a reputation as a cultural capital.
“Taichung has many world-class exhibition centers, art galleries, and performance spaces, but they are concentrated in the city center,” says Wang Chih-cheng, the director of Taichung’s Cultural Affairs Bureau. “But I feel that cultural resources should be made more accessible. By overcoming the challenge of limited facilities, we can achieve ‘cultural equality.’ Fortunately this concept is one also held by the mayor of Taichung, Lin Chia-lung.”
The annual Mazu festival, held in the third month of the lunar year in the city’s northwestern Dajia District, where Wang grew up, is an excellent example. And Taichung can capitalize on other resources to hold cultural activities during different times of the year.
Cultural equality and a sea of flowers
In 2016 the first Taichung Arts Festival (named “Flower City Arts Festival” in Chinese) was organized with the support of Mayor Lin. It initially met with considerable skepticism, however. “Come on, who are you trying to kid?” Wang Chih-cheng recalls the complaints. “When people hear ‘flower city,’ they’ll think of Paris.” (Paris is known as the “City of Flowers” in Chinese.) “How can Taichung compare? Where are the flowers?”
But he points out that although few people know it, Taichung not only has flowers but a unique flower industry. The city ranks first in Taiwan for the production of Oncidiumorchids, lilies, gladioli and flamingo flowers. And in 2018 Taichung is preparing to welcome the World Flora Expo.
As soon as Wang took over as the director of the Cultural Affairs Bureau in 2015, he organized the large-scale Taichung Arts Festival with the thematic focus of “Flowers—A Centennial” to build Taichung’s reputation as a floral city. This festival, along with the upcoming 2018 World Flora Expo, an ambitious international event, are helping him implement the concept of cultural equality.
Toward that end, Wang broke the mold in the planning for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Taichung Arts Festival. He selected Dajia, far from the city center, for the ceremonies, and the people of the district were awed by the opening performance, presented by Pixar Animation and the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra. That day’s festivities attracted more than 200,000 people. “Aside from the Mazu festival, this was the first time in years that the people joined together in such great numbers, and it got the arts festival off to a terrific start,” says Wang.
Arts to the countryside
The Taichung Arts Festival adhered to the principle of “maintaining a natural state and touching the heart,” and highlighted the performances of local artists and their innovative creativity in both form and essence. The ten-day festival included more than 200 performances, including landscape arts, parades, dance, exhibits, music, street performers, markets and cultural events.
Wang also persuaded world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma to perform at the festival, causing a sensation and providing the perfect capstone to the series of performances. “In the beginning we lacked adequate funding and only 28% of Taichung residents were aware of the festival, but later the festival registered an 87% approval rating,” Wang says proudly. “It was a real shot in the arm!”
The next year’s Taichung Arts Festival was originally also planned for ten days, but in the end was extended to two-and-a-half months. Festivities covered the whole city: performances were even held in high-altitude Lishan and Guguan. Henceforth, the festival became a symbol of the city.
The decade-old Taichung Children’s Arts Festival has also expanded since Wang became the director of the Cultural Affairs Bureau. From its original location at the Calligraphy Greenway it now spans across Taichung’s municipal districts. Aside from fostering an approachable performance atmosphere, the festival hopes to promote cultural equality, expose children in the city’s outlying districts to artistic performances and bring the arts closer to the people.
Moreover, for the annual Taichung Jazz Festival, this year in its 14th iteration, the organizers have arranged for a special series of events called “Jazz City Awakening” to cultivate an exclusive connection between jazz music and Taichung and infuse jazz into daily life. Jazz strains will echo from spots all over the city, from the traffic lights and train stations to the coffee shops at the harbor, calling forth the spirit of jazz throughout Taichung and making it part of the city’s fabric.
Showcasing the local
Supporting local performance groups is another important priority for the Taichung Cultural Affairs Bureau. “I’ve never felt that Taichung’s local performance troupes were inferior,” says Wang. “Moreover they understand even better how to integrate into local culture. As long as we provide support and the right environment, and create opportunities and a platform for their cultivation, local performance troupes will accumulate experience and improve day by day. They will compare favorably with any performance troupes from Taiwan or abroad.”
To achieve that end, at least half of the groups invited to participate in activities sponsored by the Taichung Cultural Affairs Bureau must be locally based.
For example, the bureau has been actively encouraging the participation of top local performance troupes since it started the Taichung Traditional Arts Festival in 2004. Every year, local groups account for more than half of the performances. Aside from sponsoring performances during this year’s Chinese New Year celebrations, the Cultural Affairs Bureau arranged for skilled performers from Taiwan and abroad to hold over 40 splendid performances in four important cultural venues in the city—the Dadun and Huludun Cultural Centers, and the Seaport and Tun District Art Centers.
Moreover, the National Taichung Theater has been putting its performance spaces at the disposal of local artists and theater troupes and introducing various programs intended to foster local talent.
In search of cultural origins
“In former days, Taichung was known as a ‘city of culture,’” Wang says. “Today it’s even more essential for us to search out the DNA of our cultural heritage. This is something we’ve never really done.”
“The search for our cultural DNA must begin with specific cultural artifacts and spaces from which we can trace our history,” Wang continues. “For example, Taichung was modeled on the Japanese city of Kyoto and became, culturally speaking, something of a Kyoto in miniature. Various parts of our cultural heritage tell the story of Taichung’s rise and development. They constitute the cultural DNA of the city.”
At the Anhe archaeological site, discovered a few years ago, ancient human skeletons some 4,000 to 4,800 years old have been unearthed, including one that has been dubbed the “Anhe Granny.” The oldest human skeletons to have been found within Taichung City’s boundaries, these remains trace human activity in the area back some 5000 years and confirm the extraordinary richness of human civilization at that early date. The site fills visitors with awe.
100 masters and ideas in bloom
Regarding Taichung’s cultural development, new ideas are everywhere taking root to fulfill the city’s ambition to turn itself into a cultural capital.
For example, the “World Book Day—100 Masters in Schools” initiative extended invitations to 100 writers and scholars of all ages from Taiwan and abroad to give talks to students and city residents at middle schools, university campuses, libraries and other cultural spaces. These “masters” helped plant cultural seeds throughout Taichung. The event was intended to provide new resources for remote schools in order to help close the gap between city and countryside, promote reading, and redefine the conventions of a “cultural city.”
The teachers invited through the program represent the best in the country in terms of the quality, quantity and scope of their lectures. Their inclusion reflects the determination and creativity of the Taichung Cultural Affairs Bureau in establishing the cultural rights of citizens and elevating the academic atmosphere at schools.
In the future, pure creativity and splendid cultural achievement will surely continue to flow into the wellsprings of the city’s cultural history and help turn Taichung into the long-dreamed-of cultural paradise that will make locals proud to live in such a livable city.