Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


The Relationship Between Exhibitions
about Natural Disasters and Construction
of Ethnic Identity in Taiwan

LU Yiping

Department of Comparative Studies,
School of Cultural and Social Studies,
SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies)

Key words:

museum of natural disaster, museum exhibition, Pingpu indigenous, Taivoan people, ethnic identity

This study focuses on the establishment of museums after natural disasters and the exhibitions held there. Using the exhibitions in Earthquake Museum of Taiwan and Shiaolin Pingpu Cultural Museum as case studies, this paper examines the process of planning exhibitions after natural disasters, while also investigating the construction of ethnic identity among the Pingpu indigenous people.

After 1980s, along with the democratization of Taiwan society, indigenous people started to assert their rights, such as human rights, land rights, cultural and linguistic rights, and the right to autonomy. Through these movements, the Taiwanese population became well aware of the issues concerning the rights of indigenous people. In 1994, the rights of the indigenous people were included in Article 10 of Additional Articles of the Constitution of The Republic of China. Following this trend, in the late 1990s, the Council of Indigenous people founded 30 museums exhibiting the culture of the regional indigenous people in order to give a presentation of indigenous culture and history within those local societies.

After the 1999 Jiji earthquake, museums in Taiwan started touching upon issues of natural disasters and their impacts. In this period, museums focused on rescuing items of cultural heritage and repairing historical architecture, but did not pay much attention to the relationship between natural disasters and indigenous people. But ten years later, Typhoon Morakot destroyed many towns and took many lives, especially those of the indigenous peoples. It forced the museums to reconsider what the role of the museum was in this case, as an institution of social education. After the typhoon, public museums both near and far from the stricken area have devoted themselves to rescuing items of cultural heritage, and also to helping victims to weather the hard time after the disaster. Furthermore, the government announced its decision to create the Shiaolin Pingpu indigenous museum, to commemorate this disaster and revive the Pingpu culture of Shiaolin village.

In creating its permanent exhibition, the Shiaolin Pingpu Cultural Museum listened to and adopted the villagers’ suggestions, as well as using regional history to offer a representation of the lifestyle in Shiaolin Village in the past. Through this process, we are able to observe the gradual formation of ethnic identity of the Pingpu people in Shiaolin Village. The next challenge for the Shiaolin Pingpu Cultural Museum is to interact more with the local residents, and to record narratives about the disaster which are not included in the permanent exhibition.