Taiwan culture minister sinks teeth into job

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2012, 12:00am


Former essayist Lung Ying-tai kicked off her first day as Taiwanese culture minister yesterday by vowing to set up a system that would cultivate cultural officials able to resist political influence.

'Cultural policies should never serve political purposes,' the island's first culture minister said.

Lung, a former cultural critic well known in Taiwan, Hong Kong and on the mainland, was appointed by President Ma Ying-jeou in January to head the Council for Cultural Affairs, which was tasked with establishing a Ministry of Culture on the island.

The independent-minded Lung, who had been Ma's first cultural bureau director from 1999 to 2003, when he was still mayor of Taipei, said cultural officials should be knowledgeable, internationally informed and, most importantly, able to think for themselves.

'Ruling political parties can come and go, therefore it is highly important for cultural officials to have a will of their own, so they are able to withstand political influence and carry out cultural work without being hampered by those heading the new ruling party,' she stressed.

Lung said she strongly believed that politics should serve cultural policies, rather than the other way around.

She said it was necessary to bear in mind the importance of having culture play a major role in the government's policymaking, especially in the areas of education, foreign relations, economics and industrial policies.

Lung plans to build up cultural and creative industries, and then use the proceeds to help develop culture in grass-roots areas.

She also vowed to set up an international-exchange platform to promote cultural activities between 7,835 grass-roots communities in Taiwan and the rest of the world.

As Taiwan's first minister of culture, Lung will face challenges not only in setting sound cultural policies for the island, but also in integrating a huge department that has merged with part of the now-defunct Government Information Office. She will also handle culture-related responsibilities handed over from the Ministry of Education as well as the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission.

The upgraded ministry now has two bureaus, seven departments and three overseas offices. The number of overseas offices is expected to increase to 14.

With a staff of more than 2,000, the ministry is expected to have a comparatively small annual budget of NT$16 billion (HK$4.2 billion) - far short of the NT$20 billion that Lung hoped to receive.

Lung said she would seek to develop a feasible mechanism to facilitate private investment and resources into arts and culture and would encourage local performing arts group to develop professional fund-raising, administrative and marketing systems to ensure their smooth operations. This would be one way to promote the ministry's work on a limited budget.

Speaking at Lung's swearing-in ceremony yesterday, Ma said she was known to be able to use limited resources for maximum gains.

'We have big expectations from the Culture Ministry,' Ma said. 'And Minister Lung, we count on you.'

In addition to forming cultural policies, the new ministry oversees international cultural exchanges; the development of local arts, and of the publishing and cultural and creative industries; and the protection of local cultural assets and copyrights.