Float or Sink: Water Culture in Taiwan
Water gives life to human civilizations, and directs us to possible settlement sites. It is essential for life, yet it also has the potential to damage life.
Today, we have developed various water cultures to adapt to local aquatic environments. In Taiwan, it has been sixty years since the disastrous “7th August Floods” of 1959, as well as a decade since Typhoon Morakot hit the island and caused what are now known as the “8th August Floods.” On this land that has often seen droughts and flooding, how should we adapt in the face of global warming and climate change?
This exhibition is the fruit of research by the museum’s historical study of local flooding and by the Water Resources Planning Institute. It reveals Taiwan’s “drought and flood” dilemma by exploring the unique hydrography and the transitions of the nearby Zengwen River. Through the local tales about water that are told, and the construction and rebuilding of water-control infrastructure, we hope to lead visitors to reflect on this era’s extreme weather, and how we should co-exist with water.
Where does drinking water come from?
Taiwan’s unique geography and hydrology give life to the people, but also take away people’s lives. To adapt to nature’s fickle changes, our ancestors have developed various water cultures, and these are embodied in water-related places, industries, folklore customs, religious beliefs, sayings, and works of art throughout Taiwan. However, as technology developed and water became easily accessible, the value and importance of water has gradually been forgotten. Now let us look around and think, where does our drinking water come from?
The wild Zengwen River
Zengwen River, a notorious waterway during the period of Japanese rule, took the colonial authorities 15 years to bring under control. The management goal was to regulate the flow in order to better irrigate rice fields and sugar plantations, ultimately creating today’s Tainan-Chiayi landscape. In this section, we re-interpret the logistics of managing the Zengwen River during Japanese rule through historical documents, geographical and hydraulic engineering, and the records of those Taiwanese who helped in the construction management.
On the watercourse: floods and tales
Long before the Japanese government adopted a scientific approach to water management, local people had their own means to control the Zengwen River—with the practices told in tales, religious beliefs, folklore customs, and relocation. These water management ideas and methods not only reflected how the early Taiwanese coped with the natural environment, but also helped to preserve Taiwan’s unique water-culture heritage.
Float or sink?
A 90-year-old from the Taijiang area once lamented: “We used to be able to relocate our houses when floods came, but where can we run to in the future?” Taiwan has long been facing the conundrum of frequent draught and flood. While the increasing immediate and accumulated precipitation brought about by the rising of the extreme weather aggravate the floods, these water resources still fail to be managed that only worsen the situation of water shortage and pose as the new challenge of our survival. This exhibition attempts to reflect on the current relationship between human and water. In the past sixty years, the catastrophic floods were mostly the results of the nature striking back, which lead us asking: Is this caused by nature or by ourselves? Do we want to live, or to just survive?
The “23rd August Floods” in southern Taiwan in 2018 brought the problems of flood back to our focus; and now, from the water cultures to the water resources, what shall we do? What shall we tell?
It is time for us to figure out the most sustainable ways to live alongside water.