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Czechoslovakia, a Traveler, and Formosa in the 1920s: A Special Exhibition

  • Date:2023-09-15~2024-04-21

After the First World War, self-determination became a global trend. In keeping with that trend, socio-political movements opposed to colonialism also appeared in Taiwan. Near the end of this period, globetrotter Bohumil Pospisil, a native of Czechoslovakia, a country that had emerged following World War I, arrived in Taiwan in 1929 after traveling throughout Eurasia. He realized that Taiwan was deprived of freedom of speech under colonial rule, as he wasn't able to take photos or visit places as freely as he wished during the trip. Despite such restrictions, Pospisil proposed his outsider's views of Taiwan under colonization. He had an opportunity to meet Chiang Wei-shui, a prominent local socio-political activist, along with other advocates of Esperanto. At that time, both Taiwan and Czechoslovakia were vulnerable nations in the world. While the encounters were brief, their exchange demonstrated profound significance, as both were fighting against hegemony.

Section 1-Shared Understanding between Two Vulnerable Nations
Just before the end of World War I, U.S. President Thomas Woodrow Wilson proposed the Fourteen Points which emphasized internationalist concepts such as self-determination, world peace, armament limitations, and the creation of the League of Nations. After the war, anti-colonialism emerged in every corner of the world. As a part of the self-determination movement, the Republic of Czechoslovakia was established soon after the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed. In East Asia, an anti-colonial wave in the 1920s led to socio-political movements that campaigned against Japan's colonial rule in Taiwan. Near the end of this period, Bohumil Pospisil came to Taiwan and exchanged thoughts with members of the Taiwanese People's Party, including Chiang Wei-shui, through public speeches. Pospisil was placed under strict surveillance and was obstructed by the colonial police. His journey to Taiwan became a testament to a shared understanding between Czechoslovakia and Taiwan, as well as the realities of colonial rule.

Section 2-A Czechoslovakian Traveler Who Explores the World
Hailed as the Marco Polo of Czechoslovakia, Bohumil Pospisil was a renowned journalist and globetrotter during the First Czechoslovak Republic. He was also the first Czechoslovakian traveler to visit Taiwan. Driven by a thirst for adventure, Pospisil embarked on his first long-distance trip at the age of 18 to Russia, a country then engulfed in civil war. In August 1926, aged 24, he set out on a global journey with nothing more than a set of clothes, a backpack, and a little cash. Most of the time he walked, but other means of transportation included trains, cars, horse-drawn wagons, and steamships; he also rode horses and elephants. Pospisil traveled through deserts, forests, and mountains, and crossed rivers and oceans. In total, he covered 160,000 kilometers in five years. Pospisil managed to visit 50 countries, exploring not only the Middle East and Southeast Asia but also China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, and India. Along the way, he took thousands of photos and wrote many vivid travelogs based on his observations. On his 120th birthday, his descendants donated these invaluable records to the Prague. His extraordinary journey, after being lost for a long time, is now being reintroduced to the public.

Section 3-A Foreign Traveler Whose Access Was Limited by the Colonial Government
The Government-General of Taiwan, the Japanese colonial authority, strictly controlled the speeches, actions, and photography of foreign visitors. Due to Pospisil's strong anti-colonial stance, he was closely monitored by Japanese agents throughout his trip. Furthermore, government permission was required for entering indigenous territories ("aboriginal lands"), and it is speculated that Pospisil was not able to enter these places at all. Even if he did, he could not possibly take photos as freely as he wished. It is therefore inferred that many of the photos he left behind are reproduced from existing sources such as postcards and photo albums depicting Taiwan. Still, he showed his own perspectives by selecting meaningful images despite the restrictions he faced.

Section 4-Other Foreign Travelers in Taiwan in the Same Period
In the 1920s, advancements in transportation, accommodation, security, and hygiene ushered in an era of tourism in Taiwan. The colonial government, in its efforts to promote tourism, carefully crafted popular travel routes and imagery to showcase Taiwan. These materials not only shaped foreigners' perceptions of Taiwan, but also reflected the colonialists' ambitions. Yet, because foreign visitors such as Pospisil hailed from diverse countries and backgrounds, inevitably they held different views. As a result, their impressions of Taiwan were colored by their individual perspectives.