Lin Hwai-min on the Ma-Xi Meeting
A Strong Foundation Trumps All
His Cloud Gate Dance Theater has performed in China many times, but Lin Hwai-min feels that for Taiwan to thrive culturally and maintain its dignity, it must expand its vision and stay true to what makes it distinctive.
A Strong Foundation Trumps AllBy Yueh-Lin Ma
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 585 )
Cloud Gate Dance Theater founder Lin Hwai-min has been cultivating Taiwan’s cultural soil for decades. He has led his dance troupe on performance tours around the world, turning it into Taiwan’s most important cultural asset on the international stage. In recent years, Cloud Gate has put on many productions in China. How does Lin view expanding interaction between Taiwan and China? Here are his answers to that question and a broader question about Taiwan’s cultural future, as told to CommonWealth Magazine in his own words (translated from the original Chinese).
I first want to make two points. One, regardless of how times change, a society should always be cultivating and strengthening its foundation. That never changes.
From the education and cultural sectors to the overall cultural system, whether talking about publishing, filmmaking or cultural creative enterprises, you have to go back to the basics – education and then the overall statutory environment. But we have not been able to keep up with the times in these areas.
Two, it seems like we often spend a lot of time paying attention to the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and to mainland China but not to the world. Of course, to Taiwan, the mainland presents a kind of special situation, but it is still a part of the world. We should have an international vision.
These two propositions are always valid, regardless of whether the Ma-Xi meeting took place.
Cloud Gate has performed in China almost every year for a long time. The designs of the ads we see as we leave Chinese airports have been refreshed and improved every time we go. Behind that evolution are many Taiwanese advertising professionals who have gone to China to work. It seems that this only happened yesterday, but China has now completely absorbed their knowledge and turned it into energy.
We have performed in China frequently in recent years and drawn the acclaim of audiences, but how do we influence China? China is so big that we’re like a drop in the bucket, but, like our advertising friends, and maybe we injected something different into their society.
Key Is Fundamentals, Not Competitiveness
During these past few years, I’ve also seen a younger generation of Chinese born in the 1980s with tastes in fashion and ways of relating to others that are quite different from those of the previous generation. To me, that’s culture.
I’ve seen Chinese media reports on lifestyles, leisure, culture and art, which all seem to be progressing at a brisk pace. Culture usually needs time to percolate, unlike erecting a building, where fencing off the land and putting up the building seems to happen very quickly. But over the past 20 years, we have seen this phenomenon in China.
So what should Taiwan do? I don’t think it is a question of competitiveness; rather it’s about us exploiting our distinctive traits, but the situation is now urgent. Taiwan needs to find its own niche rather than simply following in China’s footsteps. You have to choose your own distinct position.
To many people in the cultural sector, mainland China means one more Chinese-speaking market, and one that is enormous. But Taiwan needs to ask itself if it is possible to maintain your distinctive character and position after spending a lot of time in China.
Please note that I don’t feel this is the artist’s responsibility. If a troupe spends a considerable amount of time performing in China over the course of a year, and vies for this kind of audience and box office and employs Chinese nationals, it will naturally result in qualitative change.
This qualitative change is unrelated to whether a production is good or bad, and is not the artist’s responsibility. If I’m always going to China, would I be able to return to Taiwan to shoot “City of Sadness”? I wouldn’t be able to. If there were none of the language or attitudes emanating from Taiwan’s own land and lifestyles, it would disappear. At this point, there would be nothing left.
That would be a huge loss because the West and China have already put our entertainment and cultural sectors under tremendous pressures. But that’s not important. We should absorb things from the outside to enrich ourselves.
If we don’t have this kind of awareness, we will not perceive the qualitative changes we are experiencing.
To survive, to exploit the possibilities over there, everybody is running to China. I can’t say people are wrong for doing this, but the result could be that productions of Taiwanese quality will disappear.
So I have to say that it’s not the Ma-Xi meeting that worries me; it’s thinking about whether students should have to pay an admission fee to go to a museum. Taiwan stumbles over itself on these most basic things.
If you have not created a good environment, everybody will inevitably want to leave. If you have a good environment, those who left will come back and live here, work here, and discuss issues relevant to here and use our distinct methods to amaze China, rather than being assimilated over time because of commercial considerations.
In fact, if your foundation is sound and a healthy environment emerges, there will be new artists and new directors to shoot “City of Sadness” even if some artists leave. Once the ecosystem stabilizes, it can continually generate new artists and artistic works.
Needed: Eye on World Standards
Everything requires verve and breadth of mind, and goals should be raised higher if you hope to reach higher – expecting something from politicians is not reliable. Only cultivating and maintaining a strong foundation is sustainable over the long-term and one capable of bringing influence.
I still want to talk about the world stage and world standards because the world has professional competitive benchmarks. Once outside Taiwan, there are no “Taiwan standards,” only international standards. Whether in the cultural creativity field or in other fields, once you start operating in any field you need to know from the beginning what the international standards are.
We have to focus our vision on the outside world. Cultural workers and the government must have an international mindset. Otherwise, our cultural products will have no future.
I also think we have not worked hard enough because Taiwan has become culturally isolated. Without an international vision, local media do not report on international culture. If you don’t know what’s going on around the world, how can you identify your niche? And how can you know how to focus your efforts?
So the question is not what I should do vis-à-vis mainland China. It should be what I should do to live my life, to succeed, or to come up with outstanding products. It has nothing to do with the Ma-Xi meeting.
Our children and grandchildren still want to have good lives, and they should have better lives than we do today, but only by having our own distinctive features can we truly have dignity.
Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatier