Cultural heritage a high priority

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 February, 2012, 12:00am


A Taiwanese tale about the thrills and disappointments of high-school romance, You Are the Apple of My Eye, captured the hearts of Hong Kong cinemagoers last year.

Giddens Ko's directing debut shattered the box-office record for the highest-grossing Chinese-language movie at the end of last year, eclipsing the previous record of HK$61 million for Kung Fu Hustle in 2004.

It was a spectacular success by any standards, but Hong Kong's embrace of popular culture from Taiwan goes back a long way, with the talents of performers such as the legendary singer Teresa Teng, acclaimed actress Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia, and heartthrobs Jay Chou and Jolin Tsai all winning over legions of fans.

Taiwanese cuisine has also found itself a place in the hearts of Hongkongers, not least the ubiquitous bubble milk tea with its seemingly infinite varieties and flavours.

Restaurants dishing up other specialities from the island such as xiaolongbao (steamed pork dumplings), beef soup noodle, oyster pancakes and spicy chicken hot pot can be found dotted around the city. Items such as fragrant Baozhong oolong tea and multilayered sun cakes also make for popular gifts.

Taiwan's culture runs a lot deeper - from the ancient customs of its native aborigines to modern-day art and literature, distinctive folk opera, puppetry and innovative performing arts companies such as Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, which has performed worldwide to critical acclaim.

Promoting this rich cultural heritage - traditional and modern - on a worldwide stage has become a high priority in the island's development strategy, a push highlighted by plans to upgrade Taiwan's Council for Cultural Affairs to a full government ministry later this year.

As the new council head, author Lung Ying-tai puts it: 'Culture is Taiwan's biggest advantage.' She feels that what is cultivated in Taiwan can become an inspiration for Chinese communities everywhere.

Further promoting cultural ties with Hong Kong is high on the list of priorities. Taiwan and Hong Kong have already set up semi-official cultural co-operation committees to strengthen links between their arts and cultural sectors and creative industries, and to foster the establishment and development of creative brands in the region.

For Taiwan, there is a broader significance to these efforts that goes beyond the intrinsic value of its culture or any economic calculations.

'This provides more opportunities for people outside to understand and enjoy Taiwan's culture and social values. It helps to raise our image,' says Kou Chien-wen, a political science professor at National Chengchi University in Taipei.

Indeed, promoting its culture goes to the heart of Taiwan's so-called 'soft-power strategy' that aims to elevate the international profile of the island, which remains diplomatically isolated on the world stage. 'Making more friends outside Taiwan, particularly those in China, also increases Taiwan's security,' he adds.

As part of the drive to spread Chinese culture with unique Taiwanese characteristics, the island last year opened its first Taiwan Academies in New York, Houston and Los Angeles.