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Propagating Political Views to the Public –  From New People’s Society to The Taiwan Shinminpo

Yang Zhao-jia, one of the leading figures of the New Cultural Movement in Taiwan under Japanese rule, once said, “Newspaper and parliament are the two major driving forces for the promotion of civilization and social development.” Hence, the two core missions of the Taiwanese Cultural Association were running a newspaper and petitioning for the establishment of a Taiwanese parliament, which embodied their stand of unarmed resistance against colonial racism and had far-reaching impact on the enlightenment of Taiwan’s national consciousness.
2021 marked the centenary of the founding of the Taiwanese Cultural Association. In commemoration, the Archives organized a feature exhibition on The Taiwan Shinminpo, the only private Taiwanese-run newspaper during the Japanese colonial era. Selected collections of historical materials including personal documents, image data, diaries and passports were displayed and reviewed to illustrate that The Taiwan Shinminpo served to awaken and enlighten the people, boost national morale and propagate their political views to the public. Echoing the founding goal of the Taiwanese Cultural Association, The Taiwan Shinminpo opened a new page for Taiwanese to strive for democracy and freedom with a foothold in Taiwan and eyes looking at the world!

I. Selected Western Painting Societies: from the Chi Hsing Painting Group to the Chidao Group

From around the mid-1920s, artist groups where Taiwanese painters played a part or a leading part came into being in succession, of which the western painting societies were especially dynamic. Between 1924 and 1932, watercolorist Kinichiro Ishikawa was twice based at the Taihoku Normal School in Taipei, giving lectures at art workshops on campus and guiding students in outdoor sketching. His works generated over time artistic trends distinct from the traditional calligraphy and painting.

However, throughout the 50 years of Japanese colonial rule, there was never a school geared toward a formal art education in Taiwan. Aspirational youths mostly traveled abroad in search of opportunities for training. From 1915-20 onward, these included Huang Tu-Shui, Liu Chin-Tang, Chang Qiu-Hai, Yen Hsuei-Long, Liao Chi-Chun, Chen Cheng-Po, Chen Chih-Chi, He Te-Lai and others who went to Japan in turn to study in the Western Painting Department or the normal school curriculum of the Tokyo Fine Arts School. Perhaps as a result of their immersion in the flourishing Japanese painting exhibitions, these idealistic Taiwanese western painters came up with the idea of organizing painting groups for the residents of Taiwan. Spearheaded by the highly charismatic Chen Chih-Chi and mediated by Chen Cheng-Po and others, a campaign calling on others to promote art education and exhibitions began.


 Figure 1: Chen Cheng-Po, Reflections on Society and Art
Source: CCP_06_02_Ma01, Chen Cheng-Po Paintings and Papers
Chen Cheng-Po in his manuscripts for Reflections on Society and Art dating from 9 September 1945 gave an account of the civil artist groups led by Taiwanese painters in the mid-1920s: starting from 1926 students of western paintings who sojourned in Japan increasingly took a prominent role in art exhibitions before establishing the Chi Hsing (Seven Stars) Painting Group based in northern Taiwan and the Chi-Yang (Red Sun) Western Painting Society in southern Taiwan and finally their merger, the Chidao (Red Island) Group. Nonetheless, Chen Cheng-Po and Chen Chih-Chi met with opposition when the two first proposed to organize artist groups within Taiwan, reflecting the suppression of movements relating to art and culture under the colonial system from that period.

1. The Chi Hsing (Seven Stars) Painting Group
In 1926, Chen Cheng-Po was selected into the Western Painting Division of the Imperial Art Exhibition of Japan (Teiten) with his work Outside the Chiayi Street, greatly to the excitement of contemporary Taiwanese artistic circles; in the same year, there appeared the first artist group in Taiwan composed of the indigenous residents, namely the Chi Hsing (Seven Stars) Painting Group of Chen Chih-Chi along with Ni Chiang-Huai, Lan Yin-Ting, Chen Ying-Sheng, Chen Cheng-Fan, Chen Yin-Yung and others. With a focus on oil and watercolor paintings and under the tutelage of Kinichiro Ishikawa, the group held exhibitions annually between 1926 and 1928. According to The Taiwan Daily News, successive exhibitions involved ever more painters, including members of the group who studied in Japan and returned to Taiwan during the summer as well as members of the Chi-Yang (Red Sun) Western Painting Society (founded in 1927) such as Liao Chi-Chun and He Te-Lai. Although the Chi Hsing (Seven Stars) Painting Group did not last long, it was already flowing with shining talents in the later stages of its development. The beginning of collaboration through greater mutual communication and observation among many represented a milestone in the burgeoning Taiwanese art circles’ partaking in activities for modern art.

 Figure 2: Chen Chih-Chi, Park Entrance, 1928, 60 x 50 cm, Oil on canvas
Source: T1076_02_01_0015, Chen Chih-Chi Paintings and Papers
In 1928, Chen Chih-Chi participated in the 3rd Exhibition of Chi Hsing (Seven Stars) Painting Group with his work Park Entrance. The painting depicts the entrance to a park where sunshine produces a golden patch on the cross-roads - perhaps as a result of dusk hours. Vendors are found on both sides of the road and the white tents yield contrasting light and dark under sunlight. Farther into the background passers-by who file in are given a rough contour looming from the woods, creating a lively atmosphere where the leisurely meet the boisterous. Signed in the lower right corner is “1928 C. Shoki”.

 Figure 3: Group Photo, the 1st Chi Yang Western Painting Society Exhibition
Source: Chen Cheng-Po Paintings and Papers
Founded in 1927, the Chi-Yang (Red Sun) Western Painting Society followed the footsteps of the Chi-Hsing (Seven Stars) Painting Group. Primarily active in Tainan, it was also composed of the students of the Tokyo Fine Arts School of whom included Liao Chi-Chun, Chen Cheng-Po, Yen Hsuei-Long, Chang Shun-Ching, Fan Hong-Jia, He Te-Lai and others. During their first exhibition in the Tainan Public Hall, a group photo was taken of the participating painters. From second right: Yen Hsuei-Long, Liao Chi-Chun and Chen Cheng-Po.

2.The Chidao (Red Island) Group
By the autumn of 1928, with the news of Chen Chih-Chi and Liao Chi-Chun both gaining a place in the Teiten, the Taiwanese painting circles received another significant boost. In the passionate belief that art helped to enrich people’s lives, Chen Chih-Chi in the next year began organizing a large Taiwanese artist group, inviting gifted western painters from across Taiwan for what would become the Chidao (Red Island) Group in the spring of 1929 that planned to hold an exhibition each spring to mirror the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition (abbreviated to Taiten) in the autumn. Its founding members included those belonging to the Chi Hsing (Seven Stars) Painting Group but also those of the Chi-Yang (Red Sun) Western Painting Society and other youthful painters such as Liao Chi-Chun, Chang Qiu-Hai, Kuo Po-Chuan, Yang San-Lang, Chen Hui-Kun, Chen Ching-Fen, Lee Mei-Shu and others. The Chidao (Red Island) Group primarily worked with watercolor and oil paintings. It reportedly once sought to incorporate Japanese Painting/Toyoga and sculpture to form a comprehensive artist group but the attempt was unsuccessful for various reasons.

At its inception, the Chidao (Red Island) Group encountered some obstacles with its exhibitions due to the sensitive nature of the word “red” as those were characterized by the media as running counter to the Taiten. Nevertheless, after August 1929, the Chidao (Red Island) Group eventually managed to hold in total three exhibitions of its members’ works in Taipei as well as traveling exhibitions in Taichung and Tainan, gaining support from the gentry and intellectuals like Yang Zhao-Jia, Lin Xian-Tang, Tsai Pei-Huo and others.


 Figure 4: 9–10 April 1931, The Diary of Mr. Guan-Yuan
On 10 April 1931, Lin Xian-Tang went to view the Chidao (Red Island) Group Exhibition held in the Taichung Public Hall, writing: “Came to the public hall for the second time to view the Chidao (Red Island) Group Exhibition and met Liao Chi-Chun, Fan Hong-Jia, Chen Hui-Kun, Suzuki Chiyokichi and Kuo and Yang and others.” The diary entry for the day prior (9th) records the circumstances under which he got invited: “Feng-Yuan took Kuo Po-Chuan, Sasaburo Yo and Liao Hsing Kuei, an engineering student in Osaka, to visit me while the 15-men strong Chidao (Red Island) Group including Kuo and Yang in the spirit of inspiring Taiwanese art will be holding an exhibition in the Taichung Public Hall tomorrow, inviting me to see.”

And yet, on the last day of the Taichung exhibition, Chen Chih-Chi, who had taken a leading role in it, died of illness. It was indubitably a huge blow to the painting group. The Taiwan Daily News reported that the memorial was hosted by the Chidao (Red Island) Group and the condolences were delivered by Ni Chiang-Huai. By the next year, deprived of its mainstay, the Chidao (Red Island) Group was all but disbanded. The joint artistic effort, taking so much to take shape, faded with its members scattered across the borders working on their own careers.

 Figure 5: 14 July 1930, The Establishment of the Taiwan Painting Research Institute. Picture and Texts in Newspaper Article
Source: T1076_04_0001, Chen Chih-Chi Paintings and Papers,
The youthful Taiwanese painters who were active in organizing painting groups during Japanese colonial rule also came to be aware of the lack of formal art education available in Taiwan and efforts were made to promote art education. In 1929, Ni Chiang-Huai funded the creation of the Taipei Institute of Western Painting (renamed the Taiwan Institute of Painting after 1930). With Kinichiro Ishikawa, Chen Chih-Chi, Lan Yin-Ting and others serving as instructors, courses on plaster sketches, watercolors and oil paintings were offered to pupils who sought to train in art. This photograph kept by Chen Chih-Chi’s family is from the reportage of The Taiwan Daily News in July 1930. Left standing instructor Chen Chih-Chi; right standing Yang San-Lang.

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