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The Distribution of Taiwan's Aborigines in the 18th Century
Illustrations of Taiwan's Aborigines of the 18th Century
Ch'ing Archival Materials on Taiwan's Aborigines
Life through the Camera: Western Photographers in Formosa
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Characterized by the dominance of a minority over the Chinese mainland, the Ch'ing dynasty had a set of ethnic policies known to be more mature and developed in content and structure. While endeavoring to preserve their Manchu cultural roots, the Ch'ing rulers had taken note of the aboriginal tribes of Taiwan. Emperor K'ang-hsi, for example, had ordered regional and local officials to recruit talented and gifted Taiwanese aborigines, and to have the products of Taiwan sent off to the capital for examination. He also inducted the native plants of Taiwan into the mainland for germination. At the same time, watermelon seeds were exported to Taiwan for the same purpose. Such manifestations of exchange were all documented by Governor-general Gioroi Mamboo (1673-1725) of Fukien and Chekiang in his Manchu memorials to the throne.

As yet another example, Emperors K'ang-hsi, Yung-cheng and Ch'ien-lung, in witness of the dramatic increase in the population of mainland immigrants, had forbidden the Han Chinese from planting in the mountains, which were designated aboriginal reservations. The policy was in effect into the late Ch'ing when the Mutan Village Incident occurred in 1874 and the restriction was then lifted. In 1750 and 1751, Emperor Ch'ien-lung commissioned a comprehensive ethnological survey that resulted in the compilation of documents and illustrations depicting all foreign ethnic tribes and Westerners in China. Of the large number of materials thus produced are thirteen portraits of Taiwanese aborigines. Emperor Ch'ien-lung had them compiled into an illustrated volume, and the portraits were then made into paintings. All these materials are well preserved in the collections of the National Palace Museum.

The wealth of information on Taiwanese aborigines embedded in the Museum's collection of Ch'ing historical documents is a gateway to better understanding of Taiwan's living environment, tribal distribution, local culture, goods and products, education and religious practice, and conflicts and disputes during the Ch'ing dynasty, as well as the lifting of the ban on plantation in the mountainous areas and programs of educational outreach. The exhibition Early Dwellers of Taiwan: Illustrated Historical Documents in the Collections of the National Palace Museum is designed to showcase aboriginal life in Taiwan in the 18th and 19th centuries through painting scrolls, maps, rare books, historical archives, and prints.