National Taiwan Museum

Permanent Exhibition

Discovering Taiwan: Re-visiting the Age of Natural History and Naturalists of Taiwan

Discovering Taiwan

Floor 3, G301 . Floor 3, G302 Location

National Taiwan Museum

Discovering Taiwan: The Permanent Exhibition of the New Century, National Taiwan Museum-Episode I is the first brand-new permanent installment by the National Taiwan Museum (NTM) since the 21st century, which is also the first venture of the three permanent exhibitions that will be successively presented by the NTM as planned. This exhibition turns the clock back to the origin of the NTM when it was initially founded as Taiwan Viceroy’s Office Museum in the early 20th century around a hundred years ago. It traces an age of discovery for the emergence of Taiwan’s natural history and naturalists, reviewing the discoveries of natural history, explorers and a tradition of investigation that have shaped the appearance of NTM and built the foundation of its present collection. Therefore, it is not a natural history exhibition that introduces Taiwan’s natural world but one that looks back at how Taiwan’s natural world has been “discovered” by modern natural history. It has thus been titled “Discovering Taiwan.”

The contents of Discovering Taiwan are divided into three major sections: The Path to Discovery, Taiwan’s New Scopes, and The Past is the Future.

The first section, The Path to Discovery, focuses on the investigation tradition of the early 20th-century naturalists. Through the field stories and gathering of two legendary collectors, Ushinosuke Mori and Yonetaro Kikuchi, it portrays a tradition that emphasized first-hand encounters as “walking the path of knowledge” for the naturalists at that time.

On the other hand, the on-site material evidence gathered by field researchers has formed “a world of specimens” for the museum. Specimens are not souvenirs of an investigation, but are samples of species. An assembly of various specimens creates a micro natural world in the museum, representing the taxonomic classification and evolutionary order of natural species. Therefore, “discovering the natural order among specimens” forms another important feature of the natural history tradition at that time, which is the second subject of this section. 

The second section of this exhibition, Taiwan’s New Scopes, details the important naturalists and their significant findings in the history of NTM by means of special topics.  For example, the first director Takiya Kawakami led the investigation of Taiwan’s high mountain plants. Tokuichi Shiraki, a pioneer of Taiwan’s entomology, discovered the broad-tail swallowtail. Yanetaro Kikuchi, a legendary specimen collector of the museum, gathered the Mikado pheasant. Yahachiro Okamoto, an innovator of Taiwan’s mineralogy, identified the Hokutolite. Yashuichi Horikawa, an all-round naturalist, collected shell specimens and discovered a new species of snail: Stereophaedusa horikawai. The first postwar director Jian-shan Chen and his student Run-sheng Liang gathered the National Treasure Fish: Formosan landlocked salmon. Hotsuma Ozaki, a unique historic naturalist, collected indigenous rattan wares and bead garments. And in the 1910s, Ushinosuke Mori instructed the production of Hakata Figurines for Taiwan’s indigenous tribes. In the late 1920s, the Sakuma Foundation Collection was acquired. In the 1960s, the deep-sea living fossil, Rumphius’ slit shell, created a sensation. In the 1970s, Hayasaka’s rhinoceros, a great discovery in Taiwan’s fossil research, were excavated. All the major discoverers and findings in the history of NTM grace this exhibit section with their presence. 

Finally, the third section of this exhibition, The Past is the Future, starts with a question: what do these historical specimens in the collection of NTM mean for the contemporary era? In other words, will the museum’s specimens as reminders of the past also lead us to contemplate the present or even look ahead to the future? This exhibition responds to this question with three objects. The first is a specimen of Formosan clouded leopard. The wild population of Formosan clouded leopard was officially declared extinct in 2014. Thus, the clouded leopard specimens preserved by the museum are not only historical records of a past species but also a key to the future, offering possible clues for future reproduction through their genetic information. 

On the other hand, old specimens of the museum may also provide sufficient materials and inspiration for contemporary creators. The last two “specimens” of this exhibition are “works” by contemporary artists: New Texture of Ancestors’ Rainbow Bridge by Atayal textile artist Yuma Taru and The Past is the Future by multi-media artist Jun-jieh Wang, which were respectively inspired by the patterns of old textile artifacts and the forms of various specimens in the exhibition into two uniquely ingenious installation artworks featuring a fusion of the old and new. In the museum, the “past” is the “future.”

 Discovering Taiwan: The Permanent Exhibition of the New Century, National Taiwan Museum-Episode I is also a retrospective exhibition of the museum collection. It totally displays 367 pieces of specimens and artifacts in natural history, of which 265 objects are from the NTM collection. Among these 265 objects, many are historical specimens collected and labeled by renowned discoverers personally, such as the Atayal long garment, prehistoric stone wares, and bird specimens, which were collected by Ushinosuke Mori and Yonetaro Kikuchi in the early 20th century. There are also some objects, which were not collected by famous naturalists, making their “historical debut” in the exhibition, such as the shell bead anklets of Mona Rudao, a recent find, collected by the Sakuma Foundation in the late 1920s.

Meanwhile, in order to faithfully represent the collection and acquisition context of these “specimens” as collection/exhibit objects, many “historical labels” from the time of collection or acquisition are “exceptionally” displayed along with their “owners,” which from a close look still show discernibly the handwriting by some famous collectors such as Ushinosuke Mori, Yahachiro Okamoto, and Yasuichi Horikawa. 

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Discovering Taiwan
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