Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cape No. 7 Choice Taiwanese Quotes

If you can listen carefully and avoid being distracted by the English subtitles you will here many excellent Taiwanese expressions used by characters in the movie Cape No. 7.

Notice what Old Mao says in the scene when the two guitarists are considering replacing Old Mao with Malasun (the Hakka liquor salesman) on bass guitar. He is noting that they really want the Hakka guy to play the bass guitar because he is better than Old Mao, but they are reluctant to admit it to Old Mao. In English --- something like: "Don't fake." "Hungry as a ghost but pretending to be polite." And then he says that he is a "national treasure". [I'll go back and type in the exact Taiwanese words later.] Old Mao has the best comments and interaction and his character really shines through in the movie.

Another choice scene is when the town council representative (Aga's step-father) and his underlings are helping deliver the mail. They notice that Malasun is very diligently trying to sell his liquor across the street at an outdoor cafe. The driver of the car comments that that is nothing special because that is all Malasun knows how to do. His wording in Taiwanese is much more colorful: "Flies are always seeking the dung of dogs" -- it means -- that is just what flies do. It is nothing special.

Check back here for postings of more choice Taiwanese phrases from the movie.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

High and Rich Cultures in the Non-Mandarin languages of Taiwan

This year we are beginning to see some good signs that Taiwan's cultures and languages are breaking free of the 100 years of suppression by the China-centric KMT authoritarian regime and the Japan-centric Japanese colonial era.

* Wei Te-sheng (魏德聖) directed one of the most successful film of the year is "Cape No. 7" (海角七號), filmed in south Taiwan's Pingtung County Taiwanese Holo, Japanese and Mandarin languages.

* The director of Cape No. 7 had been working on a film project called "Seediq Bale" about Taiwan's Austronesian Seediq people in their war to maintain their freedom against the Japanese. With the success of Cape No. 7, the director my be able to produce a feature-length film (in Seediq and Japanese languages).

More Information: Taipei Times 2008/11/28

* Another film using the Hakka language & Japanese just came to theaters: "1895 in Formosa" (一八九五) about the defense of the first republic in Asia -- the Republic of Taiwan -- that did not last longer than a few months before Japanese troops came and conquered the pro-Taiwan fighters. It is reminiscent of the hopeless last-stand against overwhelming odds of the Alamo in United States history.

* And finally, there is an animated DVD out with many of the legends of Taiwan's Austronesian peoples. You can set the audio to Taiwanese Holo, Hakka, and Mandarin, and one of the legends also has audio in Tayal Austronesian language. It would be great if they could go ahead record the voices for the respective Austronesian language which corresponds to the source of the legend including: Saisiyat, Rukai, Tayal, Amis and Bunun


* The Black Bearded Bible Man - an epic on George Leslie MacKay, the first presbyterian missionary in North Taiwan. Taiwan's most famous young composer, Gordon Chin, spent five years working on this opera. The World Premiere will be performed in Taiwan's National Concert Hall on November 27, 28, 29 and 30th. It is sung not in Italian, not in Mandarin, but instead in Holo Taiwanese and English. Librettist Joyce Chiou wrote the piece with Ju-Fang Shih who wrote the Holo Taiwanese lyrics.

The lead actor, Thomas Meglioranza, writes in his blog about learning Taiwanese

* Here's a commercial for one of Taiwan's largest computer companies in Taiwan, Acer. What's excellent about this commercial is that it vividly portrays the beauty of Taiwan's Austronesian cultures and lets us know what a loss it is that their cultural aesthetic has not greatly impacted Taiwan or penetrated its public education still dominated by Han Chinese chauvinism. Just think of how beautiful the art, architecture and fashion if leaders in these industries were to embrace and explore Taiwan's native cultures.


I'll also mention a Mandarin-language film because it was (1) produced and filmed in Taiwan, (2) captures the strong classical music culture of Taiwan, (3) represents the creativity of the young generation of Taiwan's filmmakers, (4) shows college student culture, (5) was filmed on location highlighting the beautiful historic port of Tamsui in north Taiwan.

The movie is "Secret", directed by Jay Chou. It has a plot twist I think is much better than the M. Night Shyamalan blockbuster, The Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis.


One English-language Hollywood movie, "Formosa Betrayed" is now in post production. It is a political thriller inspired by events in the earlier 1980's of assassination and political suppression during the authoritarian dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek's son, Chiang Ching-kuo and his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)
Formosa Betrayed

Here is a Bangkok TV interview at the film set. I'm very curious about the ultimate quality and story-line of this movie.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dismissed as Dialects

Over the centuries, foreigners responded to their introduction to the strange writing system of China as well as the centralized authoritarian rule and prestige of the court language by lumping all of the languages of China into the idea of "dialects" of a single language.

They would purchase books published in China with Chinese characters to take back to European courts and libraries and just assumed they were the one written "Chinese language" and were so classified. How many volumes are sitting libraries that are erroneously thought to be works in Mandarin but which are actually written in other Han languages?

Many scholars read the word 官音 "kuan-yin" and translate it "Mandarin" instead of "court language." And then by Mandarin, they are actually thinking of this modern language used in Beijing and adopted as a national language in the 1900s. They seem not to account for the rise of fall of different dynasties, not to mention annexation by foreign empires (like the Mongols and Manchus) with totally alien languages. Would these new elites not completely alter the languages used at court just as William the Conqueror's Normans brought their own French language with them to England in 1066? Is the language used by the Manchu court, "Qing Dynasty," so similar to the Ming before it? How about the Mongol Khanate "Yuan Dynasty" before it? Surely these two foreign empires significantly altered pronunciation and word usage if not radically changing everything about the court languages in use of predecessor empires. One wonders whether so called "dialects" especially spoken in the south are not actually former court languages of prior dynasties whose refugees fled the new empire's minions.

This same bias towards the prestige language of Mandarin in Taiwan has left the next generation thinking there is no written form for their mother tongues whether Hakka, Holo Taiwanese, or the Aboriginal languages. Though they are literate in Mandarin, they are left illiterate in the language their grandparents speak at home. And also the ethnic Han elitism -- that considers an alphabetic script to be somehow merely a pronunciation aid instead of written words when compared with Chinese characters -- causes written works of these languages that used romanized phonemes to be basically dismissed as non-literature.

Following is a catalogue of works published in written Holo Taiwanese using the POJ romanization system. None of it is taught in the schools as part of Taiwan's literary heritage. Additionally, there is some scholarly work done on some printed books using Chinese characters in the 1600's -- mostly compilations of arias and plays -- that are actually written Holo Taiwanese using Han characters. Some of these books made their way to libraries in the Netherlands and England. You can actually purchase reprints of the works in a book published by SMC Publishing titled, The Classical Theatre and Art Song of South Fukien by Piet Van Der Loon, an Emeritus Professor of "Chinese" from Oxford University.

1. Compilations of periodical: Tâi-oân-hu-sian Kàu-hōe-po (Taiwan Prefectural City Church News) from July 1885 through 1970
[These can be read at the 7th Floor Library of the General Assembly Office of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan: No. 3,Lane 269, Roosevelt Road, Sec.3, Taipei,106 TAIWAN]

2. “Pit Soàn ê Chho. Ha'k” (Fundamental Mathematics) by Ui-lim Ge in 1897 [ 筆算的初學 … 倪為林 ]

3. “Lāi Gōa Kho Khàn-hō.-ha'k” (The Principles and Practice of Nursing) by George Gushue Taylor in 1917 ( 內外科看護學…戴仁壽 醫師)
[Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40]

4. the novel “Chhut Sí Sòaⁿ” (Line between Life and Death) by Khe-phoan Teⁿ in 1926

5. the collection of commentaries “Cha'p-hāng Koan-kián” (Opinions on Ten Issues) by Poe-hoe Chhoa in 1925

6. Compilations: Taibun periodicals such as Tâi-bûn Thong-sìn (台文通訊)

7. Compilations: Tâi-bûn Bāng-Pò (台文罔報) -- also uses Pe'h-oē-jī as the romanization for writing Taiwanese

8. This volume: --- " 5%台譯計劃.
In November of 1995, some Taiwanese youths who were concerned about the writing of Taiwanese decided to deal with the Taiwanese modernization and loanwords through translation from foreign language into Taiwanese. The organization 5% Project of Translation in Taiwanese was then established on February 24, 1996. It's members have to contribute 5% of their income every month to the 5% fund. The first volume includes 7 books. They are Lear Ông, Kui-a Be-chhia, Mi-hun-chhiun e Kui-a, Hoa-hak-phin e Hian-ki, Thin-kng Cheng e Loan-ai Ko.-su, Pu-ho.-lang e Lek-su, and Opera Lai e Mo.-sin-a, published by Tai-leh (台笠) press in November 1996."
- (Src: "Romanization and Language Planning in Taiwan" -Wi-vun Taiffalo Chiung)

Good Links regarding Written Taiwanese:
Siá Tâi-oân ê Oē

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The real story of the settlement of Taiwan's peoples

Many people have been taught the often repeated myth that goes like this: The Austronesian aboriginal tribes used to live in the plains of Taiwan. But then the Hakka came across the Taiwan Strait from China and pushed them back to the foothills. Then the Fujianese (Hoklo) came and pushed the Hakka to the foothills and the Austronesians to the mountains where they began to be called the "mountain tribes." This simplistic myth was probably pushed by the KMT dictatorship era to safeguard the prestige and claimed ethnic superiority of Han Chinese, to somehow say that the Chinese-derived language speakers of Taiwan have always been "Chinese," "blood is thicker than water," and all those claims to somehow say that Taiwan belongs to China.

This whole caricature of Taiwanese history is simply not true. Recent genetic studies have shown that 80 percent of Taiwan's population also have Austronesian ancestry (basically all of those who did not come over with the Chinese refugees in 1949).

Here is a more accurate account of Taiwan's history. Before Chinese immigrants came to Taiwan, Taiwan's mountains, foothills and plains were already populated by a multitude of Austronesian tribes and languages. Population density was varied, but there were settlements in every type of area of Taiwan.

First the Dutch came in the early 1600's and began to exert control over some parts of western Taiwan. They wanted a steady tax base, so they imported mostly Fujianese (Hoklo) laborers along with water buffalo to create an intensive rice agricultural economy in the flatlands. Before this time, there was no significant Chinese presence. Chinese pirates maintained a few bases in estuaries on the west coast.

At the end of the Dutch era, along with Koxinga, Hoklo immigrants came in greater numbers. By the 1700's Taiwan's west coast had come under the control of the Manchu empire. The Manchu regime did not want Chinese immigrants to settle in Taiwan so they only allowed men without their families to cross the Taiwan Strait to work. So naturally these men took Austronesian wives. Also, as the Chinese population grew in Taiwan, it became the dominant culture and the plains tribes gradually were assimilated and took on Chinese surnames. Various Hakka groups also crossed the Taiwan Strait and as they were already used to an upland economy based on mining and indigo and the farming of other upland crops, they came and settled the cheap wastelands of the hills, but were able to make them productive. There was some dislocation of Austronesian tribes, but on the whole the Austronesian plains tribes did not move to the mountains; they assimilated and became what is now the Hoklo and Hakka speaking populations of the majority of the people of Taiwan, now called "Taiwanese". Examples include the Siraya, Pazeh, Ketagalan, Kavalan, etc. to name a few.

Here is an article about how the Pazeh Austronesian tribe that assimilated in the early 1900's is seeking now to take back their language and culture.

A similar thing is happening in Tainan with descendents of the assimilated Siraya tribes who took on very unique Chinese surnames when they lost their own cultures. On July 4-7, 2008, they gathered to plan on reviving the now dead Sinkang Siraya language that their ancestor's spoke. They have begun publishing material in Siraya. You can see here how they realize that a language in these present times must be written, not just spoken, to have a hope of being revived. [Contact information: Uma Talavan (06)580.0992 , musuhapa at]

Here is a link to the map of Taiwan showing the distribution of Austronesian languages, even the ones that were culturally obliterated by Sinification.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Taiwan, the New World

The Taiwanese people came to Taiwan in search of a new world. First the fathers of the fathers of the Austronesians came across the Taiwan Strait. Their descendants then from Taiwan sailed southeast and southwest to distant horizons, eventually all the way to Madagascar off Africa, and to New Zealand, and to Hawaii. Then afterwards, four centuries ago, the Hoklo crossed, then the Hakka, and they took wives from the Austronesians of the Western plains and upland hills. These all are the peoples of Taiwan.

They were pioneers as surely as the immigrants to the The New World of the Americas. Though their crossing was shorter, they shared the experience recounted by Clive Owen's character, Sir Walter Raleigh in the 2007 movie, Elizabeth: The Golden Years --

"Can you imagine what it is to cross an ocean. For weeks you see nothing but the horizon. Perfect and empty. You live in the grip of fear, fear of storms, fear of sickness on board, fear of the immensity. So you must drive that fear deep down into your belly, study your charts, watch your compass, pray for a fair wind, and hope -- pure, naked, fragile hope.

At first, it's no more than a haze on the horizon. So you watch. You watch. Then there's a smudge, a shadow on the far water, so you wait, for a day, for another day. The stain slowly spreads along the horizon taking form, until, on the third day, you let yourself believe, you dare to whisper the word, "Land." "Land!" Life, resurrection, a true adventure, coming out of the vast unknown, out of the immensity, into new life. That, your majesty, is the New World."

Finally in the New World of Taiwan, the refugees from China came in 1949 but their leaders were not in search of a new world; they held on to their old world of the overthrown Manchu empire and the warlords days. They tried to force the Taiwanese to become their subjects, and they set up a fiction of a "Republic of China" that had already been lost with their defeat in China by the communists.

We hope their descendants in Taiwan will embrace the New World.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

NEW BOOK !!! -- Taiwan: The Search for Identity

Dr. Jerome Keating just came out with a new book - bi-lingual Mandarin and English called TAIWAN: The Search for Identity It is put out by SMC Publishing.

Is Taiwan Chinese, or is that just what 50 years of propaganda in the school systems in Taiwan as well as in the news media and international media have hammered into their heads? Go get your copy and give it out to your confused Taiwanese friends.

This is a must-read for journalists analyzing Taiwan as well as Taiwanese to be able to step back and discuss the issue.

Feel free to write feedback, questions and comments on the book with the response/forum link.

Here is a link to Dr. Keating's blog