Edible Nostalgia: QingTian 76 and Taiwanese History
The historical attraction Qing Tian 76 derives its name from the location, No.6, Lane 7, Qingtian Street. The wayōsecchu (和洋折衷)architectural style is a style characterised by its combination of Japanese and Western architectural elements, commonly found during the Meiji period (1868-1912). Today, wayōsecchu hardly seems new to us who live in an age of globalisation and celebrate the beauty of cosmopolitanism. However, if we recall that the Meiji period as the time when modernisation was primarily conceived as Westernisation, and the Japanese intellectual, Fukuzawa Yukichi(福沢 諭吉, 1835-1901) anonymously published his Datsu-a Ron (脱亜論, 1885), in which he advocated Japan’s abandonment of China and Korea and alliance with the European empires, the wayōsecchu style marked the emergence of Japan’s alternative modernity.
Nevertheless, just as Western modernity spread to the non-Western world through colonial activities, it is because of the Japanese colonisation of Taiwan (1895-1945) that Qing Tian 76, along with other wayōsecchu buildings, were built on Taiwanese soil. Japanese agricultural scholar Masashi Adachi (足立 仁, 1897-1978) designed and constructed Qing Tian 76 as his residence during the time he taught at Taipei Imperial University (台北帝国大学). After Japan’s defeat in WWII and the Chinese Nationalist Party’s relocation to Taiwan (1949), Qing Tian 76 became the residence of geologist Ting Ying H. Ma (馬廷英, 1899-1979), who specialised in the study of continental drift in East Asia. Ma and his descendants lived in the house from 1945 until 2007, when Qing Tian 76 was declared a Municipal Relics site by the Taipei Municipal Government, and taken over by Goldenseeds Educational Organisation to redevelop the obsolete building. It now provides a guided tour about Taiwanese history and geological knowledge to the general public, while the most visited place is probably the Japanese restaurant. Qing Tian 76 is gradually becoming an attraction not only for the local Taiwanese, but also for Japanese tourists.
From the microhistory of Qing Tian 76, we perhaps have a glimpse of the historical paradox in postcolonial Taiwanese society. Taiwanese scholar Rwei-Ren Wu suggests Japanese assimilation policy in Taiwan created the precursor to Taiwanese nationalism. ‘By locking the Taiwanese into a state of institutional liminality, where they became “Japanese that were not Japanese”, it politicized the regional space of TeiTaiwan, thereby creating the territorial basis for the rise of Taiwanese nationalism’ . Taiwan’s incorporation into the Chinese nation-state interrupted the nascent sense of collectivity developing into nationalism, and it was not until 1949, when Taiwanese was imposed a unified Chinese identity and local elites became the target of political oppression, that Taiwanese nationalism re-gained currency. However, Taiwanese nationalist movements remained limited under the authoritarian government.
With the rise of China in the last few decades, it has become increasingly urgent to define Taiwan’s identity. Taiwanese nationalistic discourse in the 1990s therefore transformed Taiwan’s colonial experience into the constitutive part of Taiwanese identity distinctive from China and Hong Kong. Japanese colonisation was re-conceived as the foundational period of modernisation in Taiwan in order to create a counter narrative to the hegemonic China-centric Taiwanese history.
Qing Tian 76 reflects precisely this historiographical change: first, the Japanese agriculturalist’s private residence, then the Taiwanese geologist’s, and now a public relic. On the one hand, the colonial building has become the centre of various community programmes and activities, and the renovation project was awarded a Gold Medal in the Taipei City Urban Regeneration Office’s ‘Old Building New Life Awards’ in 2011, yet this was under the commercial building category . It thus follows Jameson’s prediction of postmodernist society:
Faced with these ultimate objects – our social, historical and existential present and the ‘past’ as referent – the incompatibility of a postmodernist ‘nostalgia’ art language with genuine historicity becomes dramatically apparent…the nostalgia film was never a matter of some old-fashioned ‘representation’ of historical content, but approached the past through stylistic connotation, conveying ‘pastness’ by the glossy qualities of the image, and ‘1930-ness’ or ‘1950-ness’ by the attributes of fashion.
There is, however, a crucial difference between nostalgic films and Qing Tian 76. The former is essentially a product of the present while the latter is a relic of actual lived history. On the other hand, the once lived-in space (study room, reception room, and children’s bedroom) has been reconstructed to accommodate diners in the Japanese restaurant, and in terms of selling pastness to the customers, Qing Tian 76 does not differ much from nostalgic films. Young Taiwanese visit the place to imagine the colonial past that they have never experienced, and the Japanese cuisine provided delivers a further hit of nostalgia through their taste buds.
To some extent, the renovation of Qing Tian 76 has successfully brought people to the once obsolete building. Nevertheless, the resurrection of the dead not only reflects changes in understanding the Taiwanese past but also incorporates into a larger normative of our time, capitalism. The private residence has thus become a site for building a collective Taiwanese identity.
To visit Qing Tian 76: http://qingtian76.tw/en/about.php