This is Us: 2020 Exhibition of Donated Collection Items
The National Museum of Taiwan History has been receiving donations of folk objects from the public since 2000. In the course of our appraisal and conservation procedures, these artifacts — many of which were daily objects donated by the original owners’ descendants — led us to uncover the personal and family histories behind them and reconnect the memories of the donors with their ancestors. The terms “elders” and “families” thus bear deeper meanings that bridge the lives of the donors and the objects’ original owners, and this is exactly the value of “history co-writing” on the passing of generations.
We see 2020 as an opportunity to review all the donations received over the past twenty years. As the number and variety of donations has grown, the museum has gathered marvelous objects and writings that are the keys to their owners’ personal lives. This exhibition presents the belongings of nine people from different eras to tell their stories in the context of the twists and turns of history. Through these personal and family recollections, our social and national memories are thus mapped out, and the resilience of everyone living in Taiwan is revealed.
In 2015, two Japanese brothers wrote to the Taiwan Culture Center in Tokyo. Kitaura Teruhisa (1935– ) and a wansei (a Japanese born in Taiwan during Japanese rule), Kitaura Osamu (1932– ) expressed their willingness to donate 46 glass negatives left by their father, Kitaura Yoshizo (1897–1980, born in Mie Prefecture, Japan). The Kitaura family had preserved their father’s visual records of Taiwan for decades, and after all these years, their final decision was to personally escort these negatives back to Taiwan to donate them to this museum.
Kitaura Yoshizo studied in the Department of Electronics and Engineering at Tohoku Imperial University (today’s Tohoku University) before working abroad for Western companies, including General Electric, Siemens, and Philips. With these credentials, Kitaura returned to Japan and worked for the Tokyo Electric Light Company until he was severely injured in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. He decided to resign and move back to his hometown.
In 1926, he became a police officer at Taito Prefecture’s Riryu Branch (in present-day Taitung County) in Taiwan, which was then under Japanese colonial rule. He designed several irrigation systems and hydroelectric plants to make agricultural land more productive, benefitting local indigenous communities while preventing the spread of malaria. During his time in Taiwan, Kitaura took countless photos recording the island’s scenery. He retired from the police and returned to Japan in 1932. From 1940 to 1945, he was commissioned by Japanese military and industrial organizations to return to Taito Prefecture, this time to manufacture chewing gum for the military. He returned home once again in 1946 after Japan’s defeat in World War II.(Evaluation/Author Chen Yi-hung)
The career of Ko Tien-sung (1900–1973), who was born and worked as a teacher in Xinhua, Tainan, spanned the period of Japanese rule and the postwar era. He witnessed profound transitions in both campus life and education between the 1920s and 1970s. Following elementary school at Tavocan Kogakko in Xinhua in 1915, Ko continued his education at Taiwan Governor-General’s Office Japanese School (later renamed Taipei Teachers’ School) in Taipei. He received his diploma in March 1921, then returned to Xinhua to begin his teaching career.
Ko participated very actively in school and local affairs, and he won awards for promoting use of the Japanese language as well as adopting a Japanese surname during World War II. He also received honors from the authorities for his teaching.
After the war, Ko witnessed great changes in government, local development, and the teaching environment. Even though he had spent over twenty years teaching Japanese curricula, he embraced the new regime’s teacher training program, familiarizing himself with a new language, culture, and teaching content, and became a teacher of civics in Xinhua Junior High School until his retirement. (Evaluation/Author Hu Chia-chun)
Ko Chuan-yung (1906–1998), was born in Puli, Nantou, the descendant of a Chinese immigrant who had moved to Puli and established the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shop Baoan Hall three generations earlier. His grandfather, Ko Tian-ding, was the personal physician of Taiwan Division Commander Wu Guang-liang near the end of the period of Qing rule. His father, Ko Jin-tong, had learned TCM from his family, but chose to start a business with his brother Ko Ren-he. They gradually developed the Ko Bao-an Chamber of Commerce, with a range of businesses covering hardware stores, ice-making shops, and grocery stores. As the second son, Ko Chuan-yung followed the medical path and studied at Tokyo Medical University after graduating from high school in Taiwan. He specialized in pediatrics, and upon finishing his studies, worked briefly in Tokyo Naval Kyosai Hospital’s Internal Medicine Department and Pediatrics Department, before coming back to Taiwan and establishing Ko Bao-an Hospital in Puli.
Ko Chuan-yung practiced medicine for 55 years. In addition to being licensed in conventional Western medicine, his background in Chinese medicine led him to explore the possibility of integrating the two approaches to healing, especially in the treatment of chronic diseases of the liver and kidneys. His treatment of such illnesses resulted in a high cure rate, which won him an outstanding reputation among patients. Ko’s care for his patients extended beyond physical health; he also offered economic support, provided pro bono medical care to those in need, and petitioned for better conditions in remote mountain areas. (Evaluation/Author Yeh Chian-jin)
Introduced to us by the history worker Zhuang Yung-ming, Huang Cong-qin, who was studying in a community college in 2014, decided to donate items that had belonged to his father, who had lived for just 30 years.
In Huang’s interview, he reported that both he and his father, Huang Kuen-yao (1910–1940, born in Taipei), were the only sons in their families. Huang Kuen-yao passed away when Huang Cong-qin was six years old, so Huang had only dim memories of his father and even fewer family stories from him. Nonetheless, it is said that the Huang family came from Dalongdong’s Xialiao neighborhood in Taipei, and had been florists since the Qing era, providing flowers to worshippers visiting Baoan Temple.
Huang Kuen-yao, born in the Japanese period, obtained excellent grades at Dalongdong Elementary School and Chengyuan High School. In 1930, he passed the civil service exam and started serving in the Tax Division of Taihoku Shu (now Taipei City Government). According to colonial records, Huang was registered as an employee in the Tax Division from 1930 to 1936, then promoted to being a tax officer from 1937 to 1938. He also participated in the household survey of 1937. Official documents relating to his post, as well as certificates of honor and salary slips preserved by his family, are among the few pieces of evidence of Taiwanese taking civil service exams during the Japanese period. After his death in 1940, his wife became the sole breadwinner in the family.(Evaluation/Author Huang Yu-yuan)
Hsieh Tian-you (1918–2017, born in Tainan) lost his parents in his childhood, and thus any chance of an education. He began earning a living in Tainan Anshun’s Dingliao Village at a young age and became a typical farmer. He married and had seven children. To improve his family’s economic situation and for convenient commuting, Hsieh bought a Kikutaka bicycle — a high-end bicycle at the time — to peddle his produce, such as yams, sesame, peanuts, and daikons, in the neighborhood. As the produce often weighed more than 100 kilograms, his bicycle had a special foot brake to safely control the speed when going downhill. Hsieh also rode as far afield as Dongshan in Tainan, a journey of about 120 kilometers, to buy longans in bulk, so he could sell them in Anshun.
In 1989, at the age of 72, Hsieh moved back to his family’s farm at Daqiao in Yongkang, Tainan. There he grew yams, corn, and daikons; his daikons were known to be of the highest quality. In winter, he harvested daikons in the early morning and sold them fresh in Yanping Market on Gongyuan Road in Tainan. These earned him the nickname “Uncle Daikon” among his neighbors, which illustrates the farming business network of early Tainan.(Evaluation/Author Du Wei-zhi)
Huang Chen Mei-li’s (1920–2018) career as a midwife began when, at the age of 17, she passed the entrance exam of Taipei’s first private midwifery school, the Taihoku Shu Penglai Midwife Institute. Aged 18, she passed the midwifery test held by the Governor-General’s Office and received certification. In 1939, she started her practice as a midwife; in 1941, she opened her own clinic across from the Zheng Clan Ancestral Hall on Beimen Street in Hsinchu, eventually relocating the practice to Beida Road in 1959. From being called sanpo (literally, “birth woman”) in the Japanese period to zhuchanshi (“professional birth assistant”) after World War II, Huang Chen’s career continued until she retired at the age of 65. Her vast work experience was recorded in 64 notebooks she donated to the museum.
Changes in how birth information was recorded and checked from the Japanese period to after the war are documented in these old notes. However, she was never just a midwife. She juggled her family and work lives but still kept up with modern trends in fashion. From the photos, we can see how meticulously she dressed in both feminine skirts and dandy-like suits. Her midwifery notes, on the other hand, demonstrate how she adapted to societal changes with great resilience.(Evaluation: Lin Yi-Jun / Author: Tseng Wan-lin)
Because she was her family’s third daughter, Hsieh Chao-chih’s (1929–2014) was given her name in the belief it might help “bring (chao) a brother next.” Growing up in Wanhua, Taipei, her family was poor, and she was given away twice. The first time was when she was only three or four months old; the second was at the age of five. It was not until her mother redeemed her back with a gold necklace that she was freed from being someone’s adopted daughter. Such experiences were not rare in that patriarchal society; even her well-bred mother, born into the wealthy family of Wanhua businessman Huang Ju-yi, had been given away to another family.
The years of being an adopted daughter made Hsieh value everything in life and never settle for less. In 1949, the 20-year-old Hsieh finished her studies in Taipei Laosong High School of Commerce. She got married at the age of 28. In 1993, aged 65, Hsieh started learning ink wash painting as a hobby. In 1997, she joined the seniors’ painting group, Ha Ha Painting Association, immortalizing her memories from childhood and adolescence as well as her life experiences in paintings created with no more than a single brush.(Evaluation/Author Chang Shu-ching)
Lin He Sai-qiu (1933–2016, born in Xingang, Chiayi) graduated from the Junior Department of Chiayi Girls’ High School. In 1952, she married Lin Kun-zuo, who was one year older than her, and the scion of a notable local family. The grandfather of Lin He’s husband had been a local chief during the Qing era, and her father-in-law had served as district administrator in Zhongpu, Chiayi, in the period of Japanese colonial rule.
To help the family’s finances, after her marriage, Lin He learned the most fashionable part-time job skill among married women: knitting sweaters. In 1962, she moved to Kaohsiung and established Mei Guang Weaving Occupational Cram School, where she taught weaving and knitting sweaters with a knitting machine. In 1965, she returned to Chiayi and opened another weaving school before being invited to teach weaving and knitting by various organizations, including Chiayi Women’s Association and National Chiayi Economics Vocational High School. Lin He witnessed the golden era of sweaters made by Taiwanese women in their homes for export. If there is one sound that reminds people of that time, it is probably the sound of knitting machines echoing from house to house in the city.(Evaluation/Author Chang Shu-ching)
Ko Tsai A-Lee (1933–) was born in Tainan and graduated from Kaohsiung Girls’ High School. She worked in Tang Eng Iron Works before she started teaching. In 1955, despite her mother’s objections, Tsai married Ko Chi-Hua, who had already been imprisoned once. After marriage, Ko and Tsai opened a short-course English language school. As the number of students grew, Tsai suggested compiling their handouts into books, which prompted Ko to write an English grammar textbook.
In 1957, Ko established the First Publishing Company and published his New English Grammar; it became a classic textbook in Taiwan. In 1961, Ko was sentenced to 15 years in prison for political offences. During his time behind bars, Tsai, who was already a teacher, had to juggle raising their kids and taking care of the publishing business. However, as Ko’s books were banned by the government, his name was replaced with “Editorial Department, First Publishing Company” so they could continue to be sold. After Ko’s death in 2002, Tsai began to speak to the media while participating in human rights initiatives. For Tsai, speaking out is the best way to honor and pass down Ko’s beliefs, to celebrate Ko as her husband, and to bear witness to the lives of all female victims of politics. (Evaluation/Author Liu Wei-ying)
We encourage you to join in defining “us” with your donations of memorabilia. Through the action of co-writing the history of Taiwan, we can build a museum of our own stories!