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Historical Documents Offer Glimpse into the Age of Discovery

  • PublishTime:2024-06-01

By Lo Yu-Lun

Translated by Gregory Laslo

Tainan was the first city of Taiwan to open to the wider world, and it preserves the history of those who immigrated and put down roots here. In testimony to the literary culture that accompanied each wave of immigrants, the National Museum of Taiwan Literature will hold a special exhibition, Layers of Literature, City of Stories: Traversing 400 Years of Literary History, to showcase the vast literary treasures created by the people of Tainan over the last four centuries.

The most important artifact to be displayed will be the “Letter from Zheng Jing to Balthasar Bort, Admiral of the Dutch Fleet,” a historical document detailing the negotiations between the Dutch and Zheng Jing, the son of Koxinga. This invaluable document, handwritten by Zheng Jing himself, is on loan from Leiden University Libraries in the Netherlands, and will be displayed in Taiwan for the first time. From a literary perspective, Zheng Jing was an important and prolific poet. His Dongbilou Ji (Collection of Dongbi Building) is believed by many scholars to be the first classical Chinese poetry collection written entirely about Taiwan. Through 480 poems on subjects ranging from the products to the scenery of Taiwan, Zheng Jing describes the contemporary maritime world of Taiwan and the South Seas. These precious poems offer later eras a glimpse into the subtle, sensitive soul behind this important political and military figure.

This exhibition will also borrow artifacts from the Tainan City Museum. Visitors will have the opportunity to see precious oil paintings such as Tokushiro Kobayakawa’s 1935 The View of the Fort Zeelandia’s Dawn and The View of the Fort Provintia’s Dusk, which brilliantly visualize the Chikan Tower and Anping Old Fort in their glory days during the Dutch era.

The exhibition will also feature an eye-catching interactive multimedia exhibit co-created by the Department of Architecture and the University Museum at National Cheng Kung University. Visitors will be able to interact with touchscreens to browse a catalog of 17th century maps produced in various European countries. Tapping on significant locations or historic architecture on the maps will bring up historical documents originating from different eras. This approach will present the 400-year evolution of Tainan in an easy-to-understand format, and highlight the extent of Taiwan’s early engagement with the wider world.

The exhibition will highlight the fruits of NMTL’s international exchanges, and through its recounting of this vibrant history, echo the relationships formed between Taiwan and the rest of the world over the last four centuries. We hope that when this exhibition begins on June 25th, it will open up even broader spaces and possibilities for Taiwan literature around the world.