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Exhibition celebrates historical transformation of Taiwanese women

2011/04/02 16:11:06

Taipei, April 2 (CNA) It may be hard to imagine today, but 100years ago in Taiwan, more than half the local women had their feetbound and were kept at home, and some were sold as commodities.

A reminder of those hardships can now be seen at an exhibition atAcademia Sinica in Taipei that offers a unique look into the lives ofTaiwanese women and the evolution of their roles in society up to1950 -- from a female point of view.

Titled "Her History in Taiwan, " the exhibition shows how womenlived, struggled and transformed their lives through a collection ofmarriage papers, contracts, photographs, diaries, and personal itemsselected from the digital archives of Academia Sinica's Institute ofTaiwan History, the exhibition's organizer.

"Women's history, or what women thought and wanted, is very oftentold by men, " said Hsu Hsueh-chi, the institute's director, in aninterview with the Central News Agency on Friday.

"In the exhibition, we want women to speak for themselves andtell their story from their own perspective."

Hsu, a Taiwanese history expert, said the exhibition focuses onitems (dating as far back as 1795) collected from the Qing Dynasty tothe Japanese colonial era (1895-1945) because it was during thisperiod that women underwent the most substantial changes, bothphysically and mentally.

Though Taiwanese women in the late Qing Dynasty lived lives thatwere not as strict or traditional as those of women in China, theywere still bound to "obey their fathers before marriage, theirhusbands during married life, and their sons in widowhood," Hsu said.

The displayed documents show how unmarried women were often soldor traded as commodities to become adopted daughters, child brides,servants, or even prostitutes of others.

During that era, women were also completely denied the chance toget an education unless they came from well-off families, Hsu said,and making matters worse was that many local women had difficultywalking because of foot-binding and were generally confined to theirhomes.

Foot-binding, which originated in China and had been practicedfor at least 1,000 years, was prevalent in Taiwan in the late QingDynasty and early years of Japanese colonial rule.

According to the Institute of Taiwan History, nearly 57 percentof women in Taiwan in 1905 had bound feet, but Hakka and indigenouswomen did not observe the practice, differences among ethnic groupsthat are clearly exposed in the exhibition's photos.

Hsu said the first major change for women came in 1915, when theJapanese government officially announced a ban on foot-binding.

"The Japanese colonial period marked the biggest transition ofthe fate of women in Taiwan. Not only were they liberated fromfoot-binding, they began to receive public school educations andgradually became independent enough to show their talents in diversefields," Hsu said.

The exhibition features photos of some of the trendsetters,including Kao Tzu-mei, the first female musician to be educated inJapan, and Lin Yueh-yun, the first female athlete to be chosen torepresent Taiwan in the Olympic Games.

Lin was eventually unable to attend the games, however, becauseof a serious flu.

"We would like to invite more young students to come and visitthe exhibition," the historian said. "Women have come a long way, butwe are not there yet, and we hope men will respect women more."

"Her History in Taiwan" runs until Oct. 31 at the Institute ofTaiwan History, and admission is free. Talks on women's issues willbe held in conjunction with the exhibition in May and July.

(By Hermia Lin)