By Mi-cha Wu
In the middle of the nineteenth century, due to the opening trade treaty signed between the Qing China and Western countries, Western diplomats, missionaries, businessmen, travelers and scholars started to come to Taiwan. For multiple reasons, they had an interest in the island̓s inhabitants (in particular the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, who differed from the Chinese immigrants), its geography, animals, plants and so on. On the eve of the twentieth century, Taiwan became a colony of the Japanese Empire. At the same time, Japan was introducing all kinds of Western knowledge; thus, the newly acquired colony-Taiwan became the perfect field for Japanese scholars to do ethnological research and investigation. For the needs of colonial rule, the Japanese government had to study Taiwan. Therefore, it can be said that Westerners and Japanese have carried out the first wave of modern investigation and fieldwork on Taiwan in history.
After about half a century since the nineteenth century, though the results of the research and fieldwork conducted by Westerners and Japanese on Taiwan were still often inevitably biased and ended in generalized impressions, their research and description of the Taiwan island has been more specific and vivid than the majority of Qing officials who had governed the island for more than 200 years. In particular, their interests in the material culture of Taiwan Indigenous Peoples were incomparable with that blurry writings made by the officials of the Qing Dynasty. Prof. Chia-yu Hu at the National Taiwan University has long been devoted to the study of material cultural on Taiwan indigenous peoples. She not only published catalogues of artifacts collected by the Institution of Ethnology of Taihoku Imperial University in the Japanese period to enhance the public’s understanding on the indigenous cultural relics, she has also actively assisted indigenous communities utilizing collected materials to promote cultural revitalization. In addition, since 2001, she started systemic investigations on the Taiwanese collections preserved in the major museums in Europe and America. The results have been accomplished and shown on a website with agreements of the preserved museums, so that the information of Taiwanese artifacts in the overseas museums could be accessed by the Taiwanese people. This time, she further cooperates with the British scholar, Dr. Niki Alsford to publish a catalogue of the Taiwan collections held at the British Museum. Through this book, readers will admirably get an opportunity to appreciate the precious Taiwanese artifacts preserved at the world-famous British Museum. Besides, people will be able to understand the historical encounters between Taiwan and the outside world, which is another side of Taiwanese history, form the editors’ introductions and interpretations on the Taiwanese cultural relics moved into the British Museum about 100 years ago.