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Taiwan: From music to rice–the people and the earth

Due to the big music market and the hot music industry, Taiwanese love and are familiar with pop songs and different kinds of music.

In Yun-Ru Shih's article, based on Miao-Ru Chien's research:


The pop music industry in Taiwan rose in the folk music movement in 1970s. At the end of 1980s and in the beginning of 1990s, this industry grew rapidly to 50 million NTD. The number reached 100 million NTD in 1996 and 123 million NTD in 1997. In the international music industry, Taiwan's market size rose from 21st to 13th, and became the second one in Asia (Japan is the first one).

Oldlady talked about the recent 18th Golden Melody Award (6/16/2007) and an unexpected interlude in the award ceremony:


The Hakka singer Sheng-Hsiang Lin (who was awarded for ‘the best Hakka singer’ and whose album was award for ‘the best Hakka album’) refused to receive the awards. He said, ‘this award should categorize music by music genre instead of ethnic group. I feel the Golden Melody Award is outdated. I have been invited to many music festivals in other countries, and we are always categorized as world music or folk music. I suggest the board of this award open their minds and make some audacious changes. I propose that we abolish this (Hakka) award because this award deprives the Hakka singers’ opportunities to join the positive competitions with other singers and decentralizes the Hakka songs.’ Then he donated the 250,000 NTD prize to the Planting associations in Meinung, Moonlight Mountain magazine, Greenbud magazine, and the ‘rice bomber’ Ju-Men Yang.

About the categories made based on language, Sabinasun talked about the history of this award:


In 1987, the martial law finally ended, and the media started to have press freedom. The ‘Golden Melody Award’ was originally set up in 1988 for the Taiwan music market by the Government Information Office. In the beginning, the highest award was for the mandarin music, and this action echoed that government's culture policy. After 1990, the concept of ‘Taiwanese’ became more and more significant, and ‘Taiwanese rock music’ market emerged. However, there are no ‘Halo,’ ‘Hakka,’ and ‘aboriginal’ (minority) categories in the Golden Melody Award until 2003 that represent the minorities and the reality of multiple cultures in Taiwan.


The intention of promoting different cultures is nice. However, because the only language category in the Golden Melody Award in the beginning is a political maneuver to heighten the position of a specific group of people, if we do not question this part but only add the categories of ‘other languages,’ the award itself still bears the suspicion of being influenced by political maneuvers. On the other hand, for artistic creations, trying to find the representatives for different ethnic groups is a very old concept to control the culture, especially in the field of music where boundary-crossing and mixing are common.

Sheng-Hsiang Lin from Meinung is a Hakka social activist and a musician who was involved in anti-Meinung Dam movement. In southern Taiwan, Meinung is a Hakka community whose economy is mainly based on agriculture. After the anti-Meinung Dam movement, Sheng-Hsiang Lin continues to care about the farmers.

However, the message about the music categorization is submerged fast because of another topic raised and attracted most media's attention: President Shiu-Bian Chen said he would pardon Ju-Men Yang on 6/19/2007, three days after Sheng-Hsiang Lin's speech in the Golden Melody Award and donating part of the prize to Ju-Men Yang.

Ju-Men Yang was sentenced seven-and-a-half years in jail in 2005 because he planted 17 bombs in public areas in 2003 and 2004. Two of the bombs did explode without injuries. He is called ‘rice bomber’ because some rice was mixed with the explosives. He turned himself in later and claimed that his work was intended to evoke public attention toward the farmers. Even in jail, he tried to use hunger strike to evoke public attention during the WTO meeting in 2005.

Because of setting bombs, although he tried to help the farmers, people have different opinions toward his case. In an cosigning activity to support Yang, Pei-Hui Tsai said,


Although we show our sympathy for Ju-Men Yang, we respect the court's decision for the public hazard of the 17 bombs he has set.


The reason we are here is because we thought he is only a person who lit the fuse after the farmers’ bitterness approaches their threshold due to the decision made by our government to join WTO. What shocks the government and Council of Agriculture is not the problems he made but the problems he pointed out.

Both Sheng-Hsiang Lin and Ju-Men Yang are from agriculture communities. After many trading policies promoted by WTO, they saw the changes in the agriculture communities, and they hope the high-tech industry-oriented Taiwanese can also see the problems in our agriculture communities, and how these problems will become all Taiwanese’ problems.

Unlike the big agribusiness corporations in United States, in Taiwan, most farmers only own small farms with some specific crops. Because the market prefers beautiful products, farmers are forced to spray pesticides by themselves. Hopemarket discuss the news that a farmer died when spraying pesticide:

其實這早已不是「新聞」了,我開始接觸這個部分以後,去產地拜訪,詢問農友為什麼會轉作有機或者是無農藥殘留的耕作方式,只要是本來務農的農人,有一半以 上,是因為農藥中毒,才驚覺農藥原來是這麼可怕的東西,不僅傷害農人自己本身,也傷害土地,更別說是作物殘留農藥吃了對人體的危害

This is not ‘news.’ When I started to know this field, I have been to the farms several times and asked the farmers why they started to do ‘organic’ farming or farming without pesticide. More than half of these farmers changed their farming methods because of pesticide intoxication. They found that pesticides are so dangerous to farmers, the earth, and the people who eat their products.

When these farmers start to do the organic farming, they always have a very hard time. Hopemarket said,

有機農人不能使用殺菌劑或其他保花保果的資材,因此遇到狂風暴雨,只能讓果實自然掉落。 而蔬菜農友更慘,因為天氣炎熱,很多作物有溫度障礙,例如花椰菜與萵苣喜歡比較涼冷的生長氣候,夏天就會過熱而長不起來;番茄與苦瓜在夏季容易有疫病,一場大雨下來,農友的心血全部都泡在水裡,沒有東西收成。

Organic farming is farming without pesticide or other chemicals. When there is heavy rain or strong wind, the farmers can only watch the fruits falling. The condition is more severe for farmers who grow vegetables. For examples, cauliflowers and lettuces can only grow in colder weather, and they cannot grow in the summer. In the summer, tomatoes and bitter melons would get sick easily. After a heavy rain, when their vegetables all bathe in the water, the farmers get nothing for their efforts.

In addition to the pesticides and organic farming, farmers are worried about the low price of their crops. The problem of price is not limited in Taiwan. The policies WTO tries to promote cause unfair trading and give the farmers an extremely hard time to live. About this problem, Iron said,

當西方國家不斷鼓吹自由貿易時,卻一方面鉅額補貼國內農業出口,使其能以低價大量傾銷到第三世界;另一方面,卻透過雙邊談判或國際經濟組織要求第三世界國 家取消關稅、減低對其他產業的政策補貼,及開放市場。這是不公平的貿易。數以百萬的發展中國家小農因為西方的 農業傾銷而被迫賤賣農產品,甚至被推離市場。

While the western countries preach free market, they subsidize their own agriculture and make the price of their crops become very low. Then they dump these cheap crops to the third world. On the other hand, they asked the countries in the third world to reduce their customs and subsidies and open their market. This kind of trade is unfair. Millions of farmers in the developing countries are forced to sell their crops for a very low price or leave the market.

Nowadays WTO has gigantic impact on the agriculture system in numerous countries. To respond to the impact, Taiwan's government also have subsidies for ‘farmers that do not do farming.’ However, this policy makes many farming areas be ignored, abandoned, damaged, and over-priced. Turtle said,


Taiwan's subsidies only focuses on ‘paying money’ instead of environment management, which is more important. Thereafter, our agriculture scene and culture die gradually. On the other hand, the subsidies in the European countries focuses on environment. They subsidizes the farmers who ‘do something good for the environment.’ How to echo the new trend and idea is an important direction for our agriculture subsidy policy.

On the other hand, when we think about agriculture, we can have another perspective in addition to trade and politics (voting power). laches said,


Agriculture is not only for trading, it is a relationship between the earth and human beings.

Talking about the relationship between the earth and human beings, how about singing the song ‘Planting trees’ (lyrics by Yung-Feng Chung and music Sheng-Hsiang Lin):







Planting trees for the people who leave

Planting trees for the roads that are too broad

Planting trees for not being able to go back

Planting trees for the people who stay

Planting trees for the disastrous childhood

Planting trees for not being able to leave



    Hello from Belgium,

    I have been dreaming all night long about a word : “ipanga”….
    I never heard it before…
    So, I looked on INTERNET and found, along other sites, your article about planting trees. I think it’s title is IPANGA ?
    I find this song fabulous. Are those its’s only words ?
    Or would you please be so kind to send me the whole text on my Email ( in English, please, because I can’t speak Chinese)and lyrics ?
    On this subject, we also have, in Europe, a classic poem by La Fontaine, that speaks of an old man planting tres. It is called ” Un vieillard plantait ( in French )” ” An
    old man was planting “. It says that this old man, while plantin, was being teased by three young boys who sais that it was stupid for him to do so, because he would not, at his age, benefit from this planting…He responded that he did this for his grandchildren and that he was due to plant now if they had to benefit from it…
    This poem illustrates not so much the bound between man and earth ( that still is very important to my eyes) as the bound between generations and, I think, between men all over the world.
    In my reaserches about ” IANGA/ IPANGUA “, I also found :
    – a project of digging fountains for the subterranean waters in the Nord este of Brazil
    – the name of a biodiversity observer in the Democratic Republic of Congo
    – a relationships link
    – and a French merchant of swimwear who makes swimwear at mesures…
    I just think it wonderful that this word ” IPANGA” means so many matters, in different languages, and amazing that all these matters are…related by the same idea of links, communications between men and earth …between generations and between all friendly anc caring people in the world. Peace and fraternity with men and earth can so be sustained and promoted by friendly means in place of by hate and terror.
    With all my respect


    Hello again,
    I beg your pardon for the type-errors in this comment : my eyes are not so good any more and I did not see them before posting.
    Good day to all of you.

  • ifan

    First, I am not sure how you relate this article to ‘ipanga.’ I believe what you saw is my another post: keep rowing: i-panga-na 1001 ( In Tao, Ipanga na means crossing over and navigation. Ipanga na also means moving.
    Second, I try to translate the whole lyrics of the song ‘planting trees’ here: (it can be heard here:

    Planting trees for the people who leave
    Planting trees for the roads that are too broad
    Planting trees for not being able to go back

    Planting trees for the people who stay
    Planting trees for the disastrous childhood
    Planting trees for not being able to leave

    Planting trees for the bugs to flee for their life
    Planting trees for the birds to rest at night
    Planting trees for their shadows to dance under the sun

    Planting trees for the river to relax
    Planting trees for the rain to rest
    Planting trees for the south wind to sing

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