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Tim Powell, NCUACS, Bath

"Initiatives in the archives of science and technology in Taiwan"

unexpectedly in the summer of 2004 the NCUACS received an invitation for a speaker to attend an International Workshop on the Acquisition of and Access to Scientific and Technical Archives, to be held at the National Science and Technology Museum in Kaohsiung, in the south of Taiwan.  We had no previous contact with Taiwan so we were somewhat surprised.  However, it transpired that all expenses would be met, and then a few minutes investigation on the internet told us that the Museum was a serious enterprise

I went and gave a talk on how our Unit operated which was well-received, and listened, through translation, to a number of other talks.  I suspect the meeting was better attended than a similar one would be in the United Kingdom.

What I am going to talk about today is my impressions, based on what I found interesting and comprehensible, of how a young country, less than 60 years old, with no archival tradition to speak of and little track record of interest in preserving its own history is approaching the preservation of its scientific and technological heritage.  Although I went to talk about archives of scientists, the other talks focused on those of technology and industry so most of what I say is based on that, together with what I learnt from discussions.  I will talk first about the situation with regard to the national archives, then give a little information about the National Digital Archives Programme and finally say something about the approach of the National Science and Technology Museum in Kaohsiung.  So not only will I not be talking about Archives of Science in Europe, I’m not even saying all that much about Archives of Science specifically.  Nevertheless, some I think will complement what you’ve just heard from Joe Anderson.

As I think you will know, Taiwan is an island off the coast of mainland China.  It was occupied by Japan from 1895 to the end of the Second World War when it was returned to the government of China, then Nationalist.  However, the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-Shek was defeated by the Red Army of Mao Tse-Tung in the civil war and in 1949 the remnants of the Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan.  To this day Taiwan’s official title is the Republic of China, as the Nationalists continue to claim officially that they are the legitimate government of China.  With a population of some 22 million Taiwan has become prosperous, outstripping the mainland which was impoverished by the idiocies of Maoist economics.  Seen, somewhat misleadingly in fact, as a bastion of free market economics, it flourished through trade and now has the world’s third largest foreign currency reserves.  It has emerged from one party rule to become a well-run liberal democracy.  Taiwan’s relationship with mainland China remains a difficult one.  There is a desire among many to declare an Taiwan state, but such talk is met with threats of military action by the Beijing government.  You may have noted in March that China had enacted a new law explicitly permitting it to attack Taiwan should it declare independence.

Why I am talking about the current affairs of Taiwan?  Because it is important to understand that the growing interest in the heritage of Taiwan is, consciously or otherwise, related to the growing feeling of Taiwan’s separateness from the mainland.  Its heritage is therefore no longer seen simply as that of mainland China – itself of course of immense importance in the history of science – but more connected with the history of Taiwan in its own right.  And, of course, the history of Taiwan is largely the history of its economic success, and this bears directly on science and technology.

Taiwan had a reputation in Britain for mass-produced goods of no great quality.  This is changing.  As the traditional heavy industries diminish in importance, undercut by competition from the mainland, Taiwan’s economy is focusing on high quality electronic goods.  In 2001 Taiwan had a world ranking of 18th place in the Science Citation Index for papers in the field of Science and Technology research and development. The number of US patents awarded to Taiwan rose to 5,431 in 2002, putting it 4th worldwide.  Taiwan's information hardware industry is the world's 4th largest in terms of output value and its semiconductor industry is 3rd in the world in terms of manufacturing.    It was significant, against this background that the workshop took place at National Science and Technology Museum in Kaohsiung.  Here the older industries still retain some importance. As well as being a huge port and a centre for ship breaking, the city was the centre for China Steel Corporation.  There is a realisation of the importance of these industries for the heritage of Taiwan and they are unashamedly celebrated in Kaohsiung with an International Steel and Iron Sculpture Festival and, in the docks, a Container Arts Festival.

So, we have a country that is taking an interest in its national identity through its distinctive heritage and which has recognised that this heritage is linked closely to science, technology and industry.  Where do archives fit into this?

Prior to 1999 historically significant archives were largely the responsibility of the Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s learned academy.  It is still an important repository for modern archives and holds collections of personal papers, though not those of scientists or engineers, and it is also a centre for study of the history and culture of Taiwan, recently establishing an Institute of Taiwan History.  This Institute explicitly and revealingly states: ‘research will first focus on the origins and formation of Taiwan's unique characteristics and their comparison with those of other nations, particularly mainland China and Japan. For example, research will be conducted on Taiwan's commercial activities and their origins. After its uniqueness [my italics] has been determined, research will be focused on what such commercial activities have in common with those of other countries’.

Other bodies involved in archives are the Academia Historica under the direct control of the Presidential Office, authorized to preserve archives of national importance such as the Presidential archives, and the Taiwan Historica, which holds archives of the Japanese occupation.  However, it is true to say that archives have not been given the importance they are in the west.   The personal diaries of no less a figure than Chiang Kai-Shek, the founder of modern Taiwan, are held not by the Academia Historica or indeed any other Taiwanese institution but are on 50 years loan in the United States in the Hoover Institution.   This supplements the Hoover’s holding of the private papers of T.V. Soong, finance minister of China and its foreign minister during World War II.   This is not a simple story of US institutions buying up other countries’ cultural heritage.  When the family of Chiang Kai-Shek made this arrangement they believed that, for the time being, the diaries would be better looked after in the US than in Taiwan.  The Hoover Institution is helping to preserve 3 million declassified documents of the Nationalist party and has sent archivists to Taiwan to train local staff to microfilm and digitize documents at the party's headquarters.

Things are changing.  On 1 January 2002, Taiwan’s Archives Act came into effect.   It established the National Archives Administration and regulates the retention, preservation and access to state archives.  By this it means not only national and local government, courts and so on but all government-funded agencies such as universities and schools.  The National Archives Administration is now the authoritative body producing standard guidelines for cataloguing, conservation and so on.  It also has a duty to promote public awareness of archives. It is advised by a National Archives Committee, including archivists, historians, civil servants and experts which has the role of determining retention periods and advising on the policies of the National Archives generally. Archives in Taiwan are, in theory anyway, now very much under State control.

So what has the creation of the National Archives Administration done to give archival expression to this emerging Taiwanese national consciousness and appreciation of the place of technology in its national heritage?

Much of Taiwan’s industry was under State control – ironic given the country’s image as a bastion of free enterprise.   This industry is now being privatised and the Archives Administration has the task of drawing up and then putting into effect a strategy for the archives of Taiwan’s State-run industries.  To complicate matters, the privatisation of industry was proceeding at the same time as the National Archives Administration was being established.  So legislation governing privatisation instructed companies that were in the process of being taken out of State control to hand over their archives to companies that were still State-run until such time as the new Archives Administration was able to take over.  So, for example, the archives of Taiwan Metal Corporation were temporarily transferred to Taiwan Sugar Company to look after.  As you can imagine, this led to problems and I think it is worth listing the principal difficulties encountered by National Archives Administration investigators:

1. a shortage of knowledgeable staff - the administrators who had created and looked after the records were usually the first to be made redundant.

2. the industries would, of course, always be obliged to put company profits first - records not considered relevant for the company are dispensable.

3. the permanent records that were retained usually related to business and personnel rather than research and development.  Very many technical documents would not be kept once their current value expired.

4. Furthermore, even where records had been saved, diverse standards had been applied to their retention, and there was a lack of integrity of archives.

One investigator, talking about the archives of the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Company, put it thus: ‘The operational information that can reveal more about the feature of every brewery and winery is often classified as material with a life expectancy and thus can be regularly destroyed […] By contrast investigators are very interested in the archives that can best reflect the real situation of every unit. Therefore, most of the time, we would start from the destroyed archives’.

To remedy this, the Archives Administration is adopting a case by case approach.  It brings together panels of experts comprising workers from the industry, historians, scientists and engineers, and archivists.  They identify the records that should exist and which be should be preserved, and then draw up a schedule.  One aspect of this is that these experts are themselves taken through the work of the business, including the production process, so they can better understand it and the records produced.  This is an interesting approach that those present at the meeting thought could be applicable in other enterprises, including for example scientific laboratories.

If the creation of the National Archives Administration is a new initiative that marks Taiwan catching up internationally, a new initiative in another area shows visionary thinking.  One of the national priority areas in the National Science and Technology strategy identified by the National Science Council, not by heritage professionals you might note, is digital archives.  Three years ago Taiwan's National Digital Archives Program (NDAP) was launched by the National Science Council in association with the Academia Sinica ‘to promote and coordinate content digitization and preservation at leading museums, archives, universities, research institutes, and other content holders’.  The output of this ongoing programme is a database called the Taiwan Digital Archives.  The programme has two goals: to preserve cultural collections of institutions, and to increase the added value and use of cultural archives.  As the programme puts it:

‘We have to digitize all our cultural treasures and heritage in order that they can be preserved and utilized in the digital era. Otherwise, they might gradually fade away and possibly become extinct’.  This is not simply because it is a good thing, it is because it is seen as a way of enhancing Taiwan’s educational resources and so strengthening its standing in science and technology.

Chief participants to date include the Academia Sinica (who are digitising their anthropological collections), National Taiwan University (old photographs) , the National Palace Museum (painting and calligraphy) and the National Museum of Natural Science (specimens of animals and plants).  There are 12 thematic groups, and they include Archives, Maps & Remote Images, and Rare Books as three of the groups.  So far the Archives group includes a number of institutional projects, including the Academia Sinica’s diplomatic and economic archives for example.  It is at an early stage, and while the programme has enormous breadth, the digitising of Taiwan’s cultural treasures and putting them on the internet has so far dealt mainly with natural history collections of specimens, anthropological records and works of art.

You will have noticed that I have been talking about the archives of institutions.  This is one of the drawbacks with the current situation – and the reason why our Unit, which deals with personal archives, was invited to send a speaker to Taiwan.  The culture is not one in which personal achievement , or perhaps I should say self-promotion, is accorded the importance it is the west.  In a culture in which it is customary in most cases to see achievement as a collective rather than an individual process such attitudes present a challenge for the preservation of personal archives. During my visit I tried to stress the importance of such material for documenting the history of Taiwan, and that it was preserving far more than the life history of the individual.

Nor in Taiwan is there a culture of preserving the ordinary.  In a pre-workshop tour I  was taken to a shopping street in a suburb of Kaohsiung in which three or four buildings from the early twentieth century had been preserved.  I should say here that the architectural value of the vast majority of buildings in Taiwan is nil.  There are some splendid temples, some terrific skyscrapers but otherwise very little of any merit.  These few buildings that I was taken to see were really rather handsome red-brick shops/workshops but in a European high street they would have not been given more than a second glance.  And this applies too to industrial activities. I was to be shown some buildings of the tobacco industry which flourished in southern Taiwan, namely tobacco-drying towers.  Somewhat to my hosts’ surprise and embarrassment, they couldn’t find any.  The last of them had all been pulled down, I suppose only shortly beforehand.

This brings me to the last section of my talk which looks at the approach of the National Science and Technology Museum in Kaohsiung.  It is a very large museum, one of the largest of its type in the world I was told.  It is a pro-active and lively organisation which has an active concern for saving the recent past.  It has as its mission - and I think it is worth giving you this in full -

‘To enrich citizens’ knowledge of science and technology; to inspire citizens’ interest in doing scientific and technological research and to value the development of science and technology; to record and present our national achievement in the development of science and technology, thereby building up our peoples’ confidence; to promote public education of science and technology in southern Taiwan; and to become a world class technology museum through exhibitions, collections, research, education, and exchange of exhibits.’

It doesn’t have many artefacts, although it is trying now to build up its collections.  But what it does do is hold very good exhibitions.  It holds temporary displays, and produces high quality facsimiles or modern reconstructions for permanent show.  It is also a participant in the National Digital Archives Program.  Furthermore, it has a policy of active preservation of documentation of science and technology.  I shall end this talk by mentioning two features to their approach that I found interesting.

 With no archival tradition the Museum seems to have little interest in creating category distinctions between archives and museum objects.  I think this attitude is to be found in other institutions too. Photographs, video recordings, documents, go alongside physical artefacts.   The Museum recognises (as in many instances we learnt rather too late in Britain) that it is all very well saving a piece of equipment, but if you don’t also record the method by which it was used, it actually tells us little.  The recording of skills is therefore considered as important as the collection of artefacts.  This you will see, calls for a proactive approach, for it means preserving or indeed creating what we would see as an archival record to go alongside and explain that piece of machinery, that museum exhibit.  The two therefore go together.

Heritage organisations generally consider they have a role in opening up the past to the present.  The National Science and Technology Museum philosophy attaches as much importance to documenting ‘what it was like’ as it does to recording ‘what happened’.  I think this is similar to what Helmuth Trischler called ‘process oriented understanding’.  So, they might say, this piece of apparatus was used in the manufacture of, let us say, sulphuric acid.  But how did workers operate it?  What supervision was there?  Were short cuts used to speed things up?  What could go wrong?  What did go wrong?   And so on.  I think this may be due to involvement of historians at early stage in setting out archives to be preserved.

To conclude, I can offer no great insights.   I can’t read or speak Chinese and this makes Taiwan a very alien place.  Yet it is also an exciting place.  It is much more open to foreign influences than its larger neighbour and its people know they have much to learn from countries with established archives and museum practice.  I hope I was able to impart some knowledge of how our Unit does things which will prove helpful.  For my part, I certainly came away the wiser.  Not so much perhaps in terms of archival practice but in terms of broader philosophy.   The traditional divisions between sectors we have in the UK– between museums and archives, between historians and archivists –seem to be less important.   There is a recognition that in recording the past, even the recent past, you need context and this means a proactive approach to gathering and creating material that we would call archival.  And I use the words, ‘that we would call archival’, because the media is regarded as less significant than the information.  All this, of course, ties in well with themes we’ve encountered several times already: the importance of interconnection between objects and archives and the need for a broader perspective on heritage materials.

Taiwan is a new country with great achievements brought about in large part by its embrace of technology.  At the same time the very vibrancy of this technology and the pace of change mean that preserving, indeed creating, the record of this is a huge challenge.  Yet as a national consciousness emerges in Taiwan, it is the pride in its technology and the recognition of the part it has played, that is facilitating the preservation of the record.