Taiwan: Yilan Citizen Save the Longest Local Festival

2007-09-17 - torrent

[The goodbye]

Never has a local festival survived for so long; and neither have the Yilan people so determined to retain the brainchild brought up with their own hands.

The Yilan International Children's Folklore & Folkgame Festival(YICFFF), after reaching 12—before it got mature enough to prosper--was officially terminated by the Yilan County Government, due to years of substantial losses in visitors and revenue.

[The prime time]

The first YICFFF was established in 1996--the same year Yilan celebrated its 200th birthday. At the time, it was one of the first festivals that deliberately had an international appeal, boasting performance troupes from all over the world: from the Czech Republic, the Philippines, Russia, Bulgaria, Madagascar, Mexico and many more others.

Enviable fame and fortune had come along in the past decade: it is the first artistic festival in Asia that is recognised by UNESCO, and in 2002, the festival attracted almost a million visitors, a legendary record only broken by the 2004 Flower Expo in Changhua.

[The mimic effect]

Seeing the success of the Yilan Festival has generated opportunities for area development—in terms of bringing money for the tourism industry, similar festivals began to bloom all over Taiwan, many of which copycat versions of the YICFFF, with flashy gimmicks and cheap imitation of the shows.

The 2006 Candyworld in Tainan County proclaimed itself an “international event,” but apart from miniatures of famous buildings around the world, what was left was mainly Hello Kitty shows, its side products, and numerous food vendors on the site—not very different from what one can find in local night markets.

Similar events continue to fill the cultural landscape, but the more “international festivals” there were, the less “international” they became. Many of them are sponsored by the government to promote regional tourism; however, instead of integrating the activities thereof with local culture, they often became showcases of the politicians’ will.

[Time for reflection]

In August 2008, Yilan County decided to make the 12th International Children's Folklore & Folkgame Festival its last one, “because the government is losing fund badly in recent years,” said the magistrate, Lu Guo Hwa.

In fact, some see the late YICFFF as a victim of political struggle: this popular festival was introduced when the Democratic Progressive Party ruled the county, whose success has given the DPP much credit. The current Magistrate Lu, on the other hand, belongs to its opposition party: KMT; who oversaw the festival for the last two years, and put an end to it right afterwards.

Local awareness groups in Yilan were disappointed by the decision; “the festival is like a child brought up by Yilan people, how can we get rid of our child just because she doesn’t make money?” said Lin Dian-hung (林奠鴻), the spokesperson of the “Linden Hibiscus Alliance”2, which was formed with a mission to save the festival.

In one forum last week, Yilan citizens, activists and scholars gathered for a brainstorming session, exchanging views on how to revive the short-lived event in an organic way.

The issues at stake here include community empowerment, regional development, and self-sustainability; however, the general consensus from the concerned public indicates the will to continue has to come from the community itself, rather than propagated by the government.

The Avignon Festival—which was said to have inspired the Yilan festival—will celebrate its 60th birthday this year. To have kids might be easy, but to raise them and make them sustainable is the hard part. Similarly, art festivals should find a way to sustain their own survival, but certainly not without help from the locals, with whom any events should always connect.

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