In 1683, the Qing Empire incorporated Taiwan as part of its domain and gradually established a “boundary” from south to north to demarcate the western plains from the mountainous areas. Offices were set up west of the boundary for administration as part of the Qing Empire, while areas to the east were viewed as beyond the reach of “civilization” and forbidden for traveling.
However, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the gradual encroachment of Western powers in Asia led to disputes with Westerners on several occasions beyond this border established by the Qing government. For example, in 1867, a U.S. merchant ship was wrecked off the coast of South Bay in Hengchun and its passengers killed by indigenous warriors, leading to a punitive expedition by U.S. gunboats to the Hengchun Peninsula. In 1869, a British and German merchant militarized their exploitation of the plains around Nan’ao on the east coast, while Japan sent forces to the Hengchun Peninsula in 1874 and defeated indigenous peoples in response to an earlier massacre in 1871. In response to these events, the Qing Empire in 1875 changed its previous policy of “closing off the mountains” to one of “opening up the mountains,” beginning the construction of roads to the eastern parts of the island. The Qing also actively cultivated the land, grew tea, and harvested camphor in these areas beyond the border. Supported by military force, the imperial court engaged in actions of “offering amnesty and education” as well as “conquest and conflict” with the indigenous. Government offices and Chinese settlers made headway in the hilly and mountainous areas where indigenous peoples originally lived, bringing an unprecedented level of conflict and forcing the native people into a bloody battle for survival.
This exhibition relies on historical documents from the collection of the National Palace Museum, particularly archival materials about the Qing court’s external relations edited into The Management of Barbarian Affairs in its Entirety and Monthly Memorial Archives transcribed by the Grand Council. Combined with Taiwan in Maps from the collection of the National Museum of Taiwan History and images found in Proverbs for the Instruction of Peripherals in the National Taiwan Library as well as in 21 Bylaws on Pacifying Peripherals and Cultivating the Mountains from the National Taiwan Museum, they present a comprehensive record of this period in history involving contact between the Qing Empire and Taiwanese indigenous peoples.
To complement this exhibition, visitors are further invited to engage in the “write back” of these documents and find an interpretation and reasoning from a modern perspective of these historical texts from the Qing Empire.