Taiwan Arts and Literature


During the 1950’s, anti-communist works dominated without literary value. Since the beginning of the 1960’s, the white essence, the central empire, which is often rooted in classical traditions but which also includes modernist works inspired by surrealism, and the historical novel are the foremost of the genres. Young writers in the circle of the Modern Literature magazine (founded in 1960) were strongly influenced by Western trends, mainly by Joyce, Camus, Sartre and Virginia Woolf. Many works from the 1970’s depict rural life and the problems that urbanization creates. Some of the foremost writers of the 1980’s have embraced Latin American magic realism with great success. Most Taiwanese writers, many of whom are women, have intellectual professions, and many have been educated at American universities.

  • Countryaah: Population and demographics of Taiwan, including population pyramid, density map, projection, data, and distribution.


During the Japanese occupation of 1895-1945, film production in Taiwan was an extension of the Japanese film industry, and cinemas showed only Japanese film. However, during the silent film era, they had their own benshi, narrators who accompanied the audience through the film, and several of them received star status. There was some contact between local film workers and the mainland Chinese film industry. As part of colonial politics, the documentary filmmaker Toyojiro Takamatsu made a round trip in 1907 to depict environments and industries on the island. The occasional production of feature films in Taiwan was exclusively propagandistic.

By the end of the war in 1945, all film production was down, but with the communists’ victory in mainland China in 1949, a domestic industry was started with the help of the Guomindang sympathetic film workers who moved to the island and in close cooperation with the Hong Kong film industry. In the early 1960’s, about 120 films were produced a year, most on Taibei dialect, after which the number dropped dramatically to about half in the following two decades. The reason was the stricter censorship and strict policy of the Guomindang government to make the Mandarin dialect official language.

The rapid proliferation of video recorders in the late 1970’s further favored the commercial dominance of melodrama and karate films. In response, directors such as Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang (1947-2007) began making films inspired by the new wave and European art films during the 1980’s. They sought to depict both contemporary everyday life and provide images from Taiwan’s history. In “The City of Grief” (1989), Huo talks about the tensions between the mainland Chinese and the locals in an epic story about a family’s fate over several decades. “The Puppet Master” (1992) is about the life of a puppet master during the Japanese occupation. In films such as “Taipei Story” (1984), “Mahjong” (1996) and “Yi-Yi” (2000), Yang focused on modern metropolitan culture. During the 1990’s, Tsai Ming-liang (born in 1957), and the mostly American-based Ang Lee, internationally known for form-conscious dramas and comedies about the young generation’s quest for identity in the intersection of tradition and modernity. In 1993, Lee broke through with Taiwanese-American co-production “The Wedding Party” and in 2000 made the Taiwanese film industry’s greatest international success “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, co-produced with China and the United States. The Tsai-born and raised Tsai has in award-winning films such as “Long Live the Love” (1994), “The Hole” (1998) and the recorded in Malaysia “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone” (2006) filmed the shadow side of the new tiger economies in East Asia with alienation, poverty, and rootlessness.

With the increased liberalization of Taiwan since the 1980’s, Hong Kong and the US dominance of Taiwanese cinemas has further strengthened. But still, individual, local productions can compete for the audience. In 2008, for example, the sniper “Cape no. 7 §both the largest domestic-produced cash success in history and a film export to many surrounding countries. However, it led to political debate with its romantic portrayal of a love story between a Taiwanese girl and a Japanese teacher during the occupation period, which is echoed in a modern history of a relationship between a Japanese rock star and a Taiwanese photo model.


The indigenous people in Taiwan have their own art tradition (cf. the art of tribal cultures), where figures in wood and decorated objects dominate. Through Taiwan’s trade policy position, the visual arts have been influenced by many cultures, the Chinese, the Japanese, the European and the American. The painting styles in Taiwan during the second half of the 20th century can therefore be divided into four categories:

1) a realistic oil painting with Japanese influence represented by Li Meishu and Yang Sanlang, which is aimed at Japanese-educated Taiwanese (content and expression are Taiwanese);

2) a traditional Chinese canvas painting represented by Huang Junbi and Pu Ru, which is primarily aimed at Chinese born in China and their descendants;

3) the “modernist” movement represented by Liu Guosong and Zhuang Zhe, which united an abstract expressionism with Chinese ink painting;

4) “The New Taiwanese Painting” represented by Luo Qing, Y邦 Peng, Qiu Yazai, Chen Zaidong, Chen Laixiong and Yang Maolin, which draws inspiration from both Western modernism and Chinese culture in the form of archeological artifacts, folk art, calligraphy and the free, expressionist ink painting.

See also China (Art).


The music scene in Taiwan is in many ways comparable to that in China, with the important difference that the art in Taiwan avoided the destructive influence of the cultural revolution. It is argued that it is therefore easier to find Taiwanese musicians than Chinese who completely master the ancient traditions. Most notable is the large number of ensembles performing in various forms of Chinese opera. Other Chinese music is also usually played in an old fashion, but there are also large orchestras with Chinese instruments that appear in concert halls in a Western way.


During the first half of the 20th century, most of the popular culture in Taiwan was imported from colonial Japan. The early Taiwanese popular music therefore had features of Japanese widow but with lyrics on Taiwanese dialect (hockey). In connection with the end of the civil war in 1949, the national government fled to Taiwan. The nationalists came to oppress Taiwanese culture and promoted Mandarin as a language. The older Taiwanese popular music style thus lived in limited form only. The music of the youth instead became mandarin-popular popular music (formerly shidaiqu), which in the 1970’s and 1980’s developed into mandopop, a romantic mixed style with Western, Japanese and Chinese features. Its first big icon was Teresa Teng (1953-95).

Inspired by the American folk music revival, Taiwanese universities cultivated a poetic style that gained wide spread throughout the Chinese world during the 1980’s, with vocal and rock poets such as Lo Ta-yu (born 1954) and Hou Dejian (born 1956).

During the 1980’s, ballad singer Jody Chiang (born 1961) broke through and is still the biggest name in Taiwanese pop (hockey pop). After democratization began, a new awareness of Taiwanese culture was raised. The Blacklist Studios group’s experimental album Songs of Madness (1989) became a breakthrough for more modern Taiwanese popular music. In their aftermath, musicians such as Lin Qiang (born 1964) and the New Formosa Band group created a so-called “new Taiwanese song” of rock and rap with socially conscious lyrics. An odd 1990’s artist was Jutoupi (born 1966) who, by satirically mixing languages and musical styles, illuminated the Taiwanese identity problem.

In competition with cantopop (pop music performed in Cantonese), mandopop has become increasingly dominant in the Chinese world. Many of Mandopope’s biggest stars are from Taiwan, such as rock artist Wu Bai (born 1968), pop singer A-mei (belonging to Puyuma people, born 1973), songwriter and singer Jay Chou (born 1979), “the queen of C-pop” Jolin Tsai (born 1980), rock group Mayday (formed 1997) and indie group Sodagreen (formed 2001).

Taiwan is the center of one of Asia’s largest music industries but has had major problems with piracy and illegal downloads since the 21st century.

Taiwan Arts and Literature