The island of Taiwan is a melting pot of different peoples, histories, and cultures. Millennia ago, indigenous peoples began arriving here, coming to develop the island and occupying an important role in the early history of Taiwan. They were active in both the mountain forests and on the open plains, having unique languages, skills, means of personal adornment, forms of song and dance, social organizations, and values and beliefs, some of which have been passed down to the present day to become the most down-to-earth, pure, and straightforward cultural symbols of Taiwan’s diverse society.
Since the seventeenth century, when the Qing Empire annexed Taiwan, mass migrations of Han Chinese arrived here to claim new land, with the Qing court assuming control and inaugurating frequent contact with indigenous peoples in various locations. The Manchu, an ethnic minority, had founded the Qing Dynasty and become ruler of China, so when it came to deliberations on policies concerning frontier peoples, they were more circumspect and sensitive than previous Chinese rulers had been, and that also included plans for governing Taiwan’s indigenous peoples. The Kangxi Emperor, for example, had an audience with skilled indigenous peoples, while the Qianlong Emperor bestowed generous gifts on tribal leaders who visited the court to offer him birthday felicitations. In another aspect, the Qing court formulated a policy of imposing a strict ban to prevent masses of Han Chinese immigrants from arbitrarily entering mountain areas and exploiting the land, thereby attempting to preserve areas belonging to indigenous peoples. Not until the Mudan Incident of 1874 was this ban gradually relaxed. The National Palace Museum has a rich collection of palace memorials and literary anthologies by civil and military officials of varying ranks at the court and in Fujian and Taiwan. With no lack of precious records on activities related to indigenous peoples in Taiwan, they concretely reflect the reported impressions, experiences in interaction, and policy ideals of the Qing court when dealing with indigenous peoples. These are important documents for tracing and understanding nearly three centuries of history for the indigenous peoples of Taiwan.
The present exhibition features rare books, archives, maps, illustrations, and contracts mostly from the collection of the National Palace Museum. Special arrangements have also been made with the Academia Sinica’s Institute of History and Philology, the National Taiwan Museum, the National Taiwan Library, the National Museum of Taiwan History, and the Palace Museum in Beijing to feature related illustrations and documents from their collections. Together, they provide an overview of the diverse nature of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, of the Qing court’s policy towards ethnic groups in Taiwan, of the interaction between indigenous peoples and Han Chinese, and even of the faithful portrayals of the indigenous peoples and their lives by foreigners. The display and explanation of these artifacts and historical materials allow viewers to delve into the living conditions and environment, tribal distribution, customs and products, and culture and beliefs of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples in the early days, along with their conflicts and competition, including the effect on such Qing policies as the opening of restricted mountain areas and promoting education. Even more, it is hoped that an open-minded approach to viewing the past and present, with a careful consideration of the unique culture of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, will allow different peoples on this island to respect and cherish one another, and to forge ahead together.
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