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The Nude Image in Taiwan – A Historical Research through Visual Culture Studies

The main purpose of this project is to study how female nude reveal and influence Taiwanese society, as well as how Taiwanese society and culture intervene in the formation of images of female nude and affect its representation. This analysis of image of nude proposes a historical inquiry that proceeds within the framework of visual culture studies. Three pictorial fields have been selected to examine images of female nude: journals and magazines, advertisements and pictorial artistic production. The period under study starts from the period of Japanese occupation after 1895, through the establishment of Nationalist Government in 1945, and ends with the removal of martial law in 1987, when images of female nude underwent an expansion which made them become commonplace.

Despite the diverging definitions of “nude” and “naked”, the “nude” referred to in this project could be represented in any form: it could be artistic or vulgar, it could reveal a partially or totally uncovered human body; female nude forms in different materials and media will vary, evolve and diversify within the society in different eras. It is through the diversity of representations of the female nude that we can be able to outline the evolution of Taiwanese society and culture, as well as to crystallize elements engaged in the formation of nude images.

    For the period of Japanese occupation, the research focuses on images of aborigines and female subjects in advertisement and art production. Within the corpora of photographs taken by the Japanese rulers -- they imported the very first photographic technology in Taiwan -- those of aborigines as subjects provide the most common image of female nude in the early period of Japanese government. These photos were generally taken by Japanese anthropologists and military reporters or translators who were invited or came voluntarily to this island full of “banjin” (barbarians) in their eyes. The collection of images of aborigine increased due to several governmental investigations on Taiwanese aborigines and multiplied along with the promotion of tourism by the Japanese colonial government in Taiwan in the 1930s, after their victory in a bloody conflict with Taiwanese aborigines in 1930. These photos and images were reutilized on various occasions, for example in the Taiwan Exhibition of Governance Anniversary (始政週年博覽會) held every ten years to display the achievements of Japanese government in Taiwan, and in different materials such as postcards, posters, magazines etc. The development of modern techniques such as prints, transport and postal service in Taiwan, as well as all kinds of activities and exhibitions held officially or privately precipitated the circulation of images of aboriginal female nude between Japan and Taiwan.

Besides images of aborigines, nude images were often to be found in advertisements for soap, medicines, cosmetic products, cigarettes and wine, in which the image of women served most of the time as subject. This characteristic shall be discussed in parallel with the development of advertising in Japan, especially at a time when most advertising companies in Taiwan were run by Japanese. Advertisements published in Taiwan Nichinichi shinpo (台灣日日新報), the most popular and enduring journal during Japanese colonization is the main research material.

The last domain under discussion is Western (European) art where nude painting is constantly represented. It was introduced in Taiwan by Japanese painters who served as art teachers in schools from the 1910s onward and encouraged their Taiwanese students to study abroad, especially in Japan and Europe. This project aims at selected pieces in the two official art exhibitions held during Japanese colonization: Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition (Taiten 臺展) held by the Taiwan Association of Education (Taiwan kyōikukai台灣教育會) between 1927-1936 and the Fine Arts Exhibition of the Taiwan Government-General (Futen 府展) by the Government-General of Taiwan (Taiwan Sōtokufu 台灣總督府) between 1938-1943. Quite a few nude paintings were presented in these two exhibitions, both by Taiwanese painters and Japanese painters. Yet some nude paintings failed in the selection for different reasons, and some selected paintings were required to be retouched in order to be exhibited in public. It is also necessary to take into account questions about art and obscenity which were often the subject of discussions, just as the phenomenon came up in Japan and China at that time.

    After W.W.II the situation of Taiwan changed with the arrival of the Nationalist Government that was about to rule the island in a harsh way for almost a half century. Numerous factors were involved in the representation of female nudes that proliferate during the 1950s-1980s. Economic and industrial development raised the needs of photography in commercial use. The extension of the textile industry popularized images of female nude on printed materials. Increasing numbers of women’s magazines in the 1970s provided another channel for commercial advertising, at a time when newspapers carried with limited pages under the strict regulations of the government. Furthermore, the advancement of photography surely changed the way the female subject was represented. At the same period, “Miss China” contests and other kinds of beauty contests held for the promotion for the textile and ready-to-wear industry continuously drew public attention. It provided an easy pretext for the circulation of female images in printed materials. It is important to connect these events with the political background of the time when the KMT-controlled government imposed a form of autocracy in Taiwan for fear of any infiltration of communist ideology, authorities exercised a strict control on speech and all media. Arguments about the dividing line between art and obscenity continued to be discussed during this period in certain magazines and conferences, especially on the occasion of exhibition of nude paintings that attracted public denunciation.

    This project examines the images of female nude by following the complex method of image analysis proposed by Gillian Rose, which includes three sites of image analysis: site of production, site of image and site of audience. Such questions need to be inquired to reveal the interaction between images of female nude and Taiwanese society and to uncover the message inlaid in nude images or to read from the observed nude image: How do images of female nude come to be formed and become capable of visualizing specific concepts? How were images of female nude presented in Taiwanese society in different periods and how do the signification and use of nude images vary? Is there continuity or discontinuity in the representation of nude under two different regimes? By studying the images of female nude, the project attempts to reconstruct the discourses about nude in Taiwan over close to a century from the era of Japanese colonization (1895-1945) through KMT rule before the lifting of the martial law (1945-1987).

As this is an on-going research project toward the completion of a doctoral dissertation only selected samples of materials will be made available to the public.

LEE Ju-ling, Ph.D. candidate

Institut d'Asie Orientale

Référence :

Gillian Rose, Visual methodologies: an introduction to the interpretation of visual materials (London; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2001).

John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1972).

Lü Shao-Li呂紹理, Zhanshi Taiwan: quanli, kongjian yu zhimin tongzhi de xingxiang biaoshu 展示台灣:權力、空間與殖民統治的形象表述 (Exhibiting Taiwan: Power, Space and Image Representation of Japanese Colonial Rule) (台北:麥田, 2005) .

He wei Taiwan? Jindai Taiwan meishu yu wenhua rentong lunwenji何謂臺灣?近代台灣美術與文化認同論文集 (Essays on “What does Taiwan mean? Searching for Cultural Identity Symposium on Modern Taiwanese Art”) (台北:行政院文化建設委員會, 1997).

Last update Wednesday 7 April 2010 by C. Henriot