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Profile: High expectations for new culture chief

2012/02/03 21:14:14

Taipei, Feb. 3 (CNA) The naming of essayist and cultural critic Lung Ying-tai as the new head of the Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA) earlier this week came as a pleasant surprise for many in the sector, who expressed high hopes for the woman noted for her sharpand candid critiques.

Lung was appointed to head the council on Jan. 31 when Taiwan's new Cabinet lineup was announced, and she is expected to become the country's first minister of cultural affairs when the council is formally upgraded to a ministry on May 20.

The 59-year-old writer, with a doctorate in English Literature from Kansas State University, is best known for her poignant and critical essays on Taiwan's democracy and society.

Her influential 1985 book "The Wild Fire," which offered critiques of contemporary Taiwanese society, went through 24 printings in 21 days when it was first released and was described by a local poet as a "hurricane" because of its influence on Taiwan's intellectual community at the time.

Her 2009 book "Big River, Big Sea -- Untold Stories of 1949" about the lives of Kuomintang supporters who retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after the civil war in China, sold over 400,000 copies in Taiwan and Hong Kong in 18 months but was listed as banned by mainland China.

Lung is also known for her sharp criticism of authoritarian and totalitarian governments.

"Judging if a country is civilized is to see how it treats its ethnic minority groups, dissidents and disadvantaged groups. It is to see how it tolerates different opinions," Lung told a hall full of students and teachers during a speech at Peking University in 2010.

"This, of course, includes how 1.3 billion people (China) treat 23 million people (Taiwan)," she added.

Lin Hwai-min, founder of Taiwan's renowned Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, told CNA in New York Thursday that he thought Lung's appointment was "a good choice," given her broad perspective, knowledge of international history and culture and previous government experience.

Lung served from 1999 to 2003 as the first director of the Taipei city government's Department of Cultural Affairs, established by President Ma Ying-jeou during his first term as Taipei mayor.

In 2005, she established the Lung Yingtai Cultural Foundation, which organizes academic lectures for Taiwan's young citizens to foster intellectual dialogue and promote international cultural exchange.

She has served as the Hung Leung Hao Ling Distinguished Fellow in Humanities at the University of Hong Kong since 2008.

Wang Jung-wen, chairman of the Taipei Book Fair Foundation, said the choice of Lung was good news for the cultural sector because she has the ability to "stand on an equal footing" with other ministers given her extensive knowledge and understanding of the cultural field.

Wang, a friend of Lung, said she has often joked privately that she wanted to be the minister of defense so that she could spend the hefty military budget on cultural events.

"With her ability and connections in this field, she stands a better chance to succeed at the job than others," Wang said. "This is an appointment worth looking forward to."

Meanwhile, noted Taiwanese literary figure Huang Chun-ming expressed hope that Lung would promote culture to not only intellectuals but also to the masses so that everyone has a chance to better appreciate culture.

Lung seemed to understand the high expectations her appointment generated when she said through her foundation that she was "weighed down" by the responsibility and felt like she was "wearing a helmet and waiting to be enlisted, or about to perform a high dive."

She said the establishment of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs is an "arduous" task that needs the support of society and hoped cultural issues could become mainstream concerns of Taiwan's people, media and politicians, "just like financial and military issues."

"Culture is Taiwan's biggest advantage," Lung said, envisioning that what is cultivated in Taiwan can become an inspiration for Chinese communities everywhere.

(By Sabine Cheng, Leaf Chiang and Christie Chen)