The Cultural Heritage of Taiwan: Diversity and Transformation

European Research Institute, Ground Floor, Pritchatts Road, University of Birmingham
Wednesday 18 October (09:00) - Wednesday 22 November 2017 (17:00)

This exhibition is open on weekdays only.

For information, please contact


‘Made in Taiwan’ is a phrase we probably come upon when buying a new laptop, but beyond this how much do we really know about Taiwan and its heritage?

This exhibition, in the ERI Building, aims to challenge what we think and what we know about this distant land.

Taiwan is a relatively small and mountainous island off the coast of China and yet it demonstrates tremendous diversity in its cultural heritage reflecting a fascinating, if turbulent and complex history. Over the centuries Taiwan (Formosa) was colonised in various measure by the Chinese, Spanish, Dutch and Japanese. The island is also home to sixteen tribes of indigenous peoples. Each encounter and exchange that has taken place over the centuries has left its mark on the landscape, the built environment and the people so as to produce a rich tapestry of tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

Importantly, Taiwan’s cultural heritage is a valuable reminder of how diverse and complex the past can be and how it plays a role in shaping our present identities. Each heritage site, each building and each tradition reminds us of past transformations in the environment, economy, society and culture and also provides us with opportunities to examine how we create new, valued and meaningful heritage into the future.  

This exhibition provides an introduction to the diversity of Taiwan’s cultural heritage – a heritage that is still being discovered and in some cases, still being contested. Though facing great pressures in the face of rapid economic development and limited space, the cultural heritage of the island is increasingly valued by its communities. The preservation and effective management of heritage is helping to transform the cityscapes and landscapes of Taiwan and through tourism and its role in the cultural and creative industries; heritage is also contributing significantly to the development of local economies.

The exhibition has been curated to illustrate the variety of Taiwan’s heritage but also some of the issues that surround its preservation and interpretation and how these are being addressed. It is not meant to be wholly comprehensive or representative, but rather provides an overview of what Taiwan has to offer and allows us a glimpse into how today’s society is dealing with the reminders and remainders of the past and how communities are using their heritage to shape their future.

First time visitors to Taiwan are initially confronted with its Chinese character, primarily reflected in language, food and customs. However, it does not take long for Taiwan to reveal a far more diverse and complicated past expressed through its tangible and intangible heritage which includes:

  • Remnants of prehistoric settlements
  • Traditions and rituals of its indigenous peoples
  • Reminders of early European exploration, empires and trade
  • Legacies of Chinese settlement in their fortifications, temples and customs
  • Buildings and infrastructure from Japan’s fifty year occupation of Taiwan
  • Industrial sites and landscapes from early twentieth century Japanese modernisation
  • Sites of recent conflict, trauma and remembrance reflecting the political development of Taiwan and its geo-political status

The preservation and protection of Taiwan’s cultural heritage has its origins in the early part of the twentieth century, though arguably it was not until the 1980s when it became enshrined in a system of national protection. However, in line with the maturing of Taiwan’s democracy, the regulatory and policy frameworks for cultural heritage at national and local level are now well established and public concern for Taiwan’s often quite difficult past has increased markedly over the past twenty years or so.

Taiwan’s heritage is evermore embedded into local economies. What to preserve, what not to preserve, how to preserve and how to manage are all questions that are frequently raised across the island. To engage with heritage is also to engage with questions of identity; not just in the historical sense but in terms of how the people of Taiwan understand their ‘sense of place’, how they see their role in the world and how they see the future.

Exhibition Chief Curator:
Mike Robinson 

Assistant Curator:
Chao-Shiang Li 

Adminstrative Coordination:
Hannah Stretton

The Cultural Heritage of Taiwan: Diversity and Transformation

Produced by:
Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage
University of Birmingham 

Supported by:
Ministry of Culture, Taiwan R.O.C.
Cultural Division Taipei Representative Office in the UK, Taiwan R.O.C.
Bureau of Cultural Heritage, Ministry of Culture, Taiwan R.O.C.
Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Birmingham 

With special thanks to:

National Museum of Prehistory; New Taipei City Government Gold Museum; Academia Sinica Center for Digital Cultures; Taipei Culture Foundation; Taichung Film Development Foundation; Coretronic Culture and Arts Foundation; Center for Cultural Site Rehabilitation and Development, CUTe; Chinese Association of Museums, Taiwan; Tainan Culture Foundation; National Museum of Taiwan History