Rethinking Representation

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  • Title: Rethinking Representation: Shifting Relations between Museums and the Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan
  • Author(s): Shih-Yu Chen
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Common Ground Open
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum
  • Keywords: Museum, Indigenous Peoples, Representations, Politics
  • Volume: 10
  • Issue: 3
  • Year: 2017
  • ISSN: 1835-2014 (Print)
  • ISSN: 1835-2022 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Chen, Shih-Yu. 2017. "Rethinking Representation: Shifting Relations between Museums and the Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan." The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum 10 (3): 13-22. doi:10.18848/1835-2014/CGP/v10i03/13-22.
  • Extent: 10 pages


The museum is a powerful site of representation; “which” objects and “how” they are displayed engenders issues of ownership and carries a symbolism that has social and political consequences. This article will look at the changing relations between museums and the Indigenous communities of Taiwan and how these relationships are manifest in the museums’ collections, exhibitions, and communication strategies. To provide historical context and trajectories of change, I examine how the Indigenous peoples of Taiwan were represented in museums and exhibitions in early twentieth-century colonial regimes. I then discuss changes in the representations of Indigenous peoples within post-war Taiwan and how these changes relate to the complex search for national identity, which invokes echoes of the Japanese colonial period and the dominance of Han Chinese heritage. I utilize James Clifford’s idea of the museum as a contact zone to explore strategies of “culture-collecting” and the extent to which this can be seen as a response to particular political conditions, such as histories of dominance, hierarchy, and resistance. As contact zones, museums can help communities negotiate difficult cultural and political problems through dialogue and alliances. Furthermore, in order to identify some of the key themes that also relate to Taiwan, the article will draw upon cases of emerging partnerships and collaborations between Indigenous communities and museum sectors to examine how these assist in re-thinking issues around the representation of Indigenous peoples by asserting new political relationships through their material culture.