In early December 70 years ago the Government of the Republic of China (ROC) officially announced its move to Taiwan. Chair Prof. Yang Rur-bin of the Department of Chinese Literature and his wife, Prof. Fang Sheng-ping of the Center for General Education, have donated to the NTHU Museum their collection of more than 2,000 items relating to this historically significant event. The collection includes correspondence relating to the shipment of the ROC’s gold reserves to Taiwan, letters written by Taiwanese celebrities living in mainland China after the end of World War II, letters relating to the relocation to Taiwan of a relic of the eminent Buddhist monk Xuanzang, and documents relating to a plan for making Hsinchu the new capital.
The donation ceremony was held at Taipei's Zhongshan Hall, where part of the collection is on display until December 29 in an exhibition titled Back to 1949: Items Relating to the ROC’s Relocation to Taiwan.
The Collection is divided into four themes—war, politics, religion, and economics—centers on December 7, 1949 (the date on which the ROC officially announced the relocation), and includes materials covering the end of World War II, the end of the Chinese Civil War, the ROC’s relinquishment of the Dachen Islands, and the events leading up to the stalemate which continues to this day. The exhibition features a number of handwritten letters and pieces of calligraphy written by government officials and prominent religious figures, thereby providing a unique glimpse into the atmosphere of those turbulent days.
In one of the more notable episodes of “The Great Retreat,” the Central Bank's 4.5 million taels of gold were hurriedly dispatched to Taiwan in five batches, becoming an important means of funding for the ROC government and the subsequent development of Taiwan. The collection includes a letter written in late May 1949 by Chiang Kai-shek to General Tang Enbo, who was commanding the ROC forces defending Shanghai. In the letter Chiang instructs Tang to ship all the gold reserves in the Central Bank to Taiwan, apart from 20,000 taels and one million yuanyuan in silver. Four days later, Shanghai fell into the hands of the Communist Army.
The same letter also provides information on the military situation at the time, including Chiang’s instructions to abandon Qingdao, revealing that even though Chiang had stepped down from the presidency, he continued to wield much power.
In another important letter in the collection, the Buddhist monk Wushang petitions the central authorities to entrust his Lingyin Monastery in Hsinchu with the enshrinement a relic of Xuanzang which was looted by the Japanese during World War II, but recently handed over to the ROC. In the end, at the insistence of Chiang Kai-shek, the relic was installed at the Hsuanchuanguang Monastery, located next to the Ci'en Pagoda at Sun Moon Lake, since this is where his mother’s memorial tablet is kept.
These historical documents have also attracted the attention of many Chinese collectors, and Yang and Wang have decided to donate the entire collection to NTHU, where they have both taught for many years. At the donation ceremony NTHU president Hocheng Hong said that Fang used his meager salary to gradually acquire these precious documents over several decades, adding that providing an accurate and reliable portrayal of the past is one of the central missions of modern education.
A man with a mission
Yang’s collection ranges from calligraphy and paintings from the Ming and Qing dynasties to contemporary calligraphy, some of which are valued at tens of millions of new Taiwan dollars, making it hard to imagine how he was able to amass it on his own. As soon as Yang began teaching in the Dept. of Chinese Literature in 1987 he began to use practically all of his income in acquiring his impressive collection.
“At that time my monthly salary was little more than NT$60,000 a month, which was barely enough for three characters composed by the master calligrapher Yu Youren,” said Yang with a smile. However, Yang was soon obsessed with collecting, and even borrowed money from the bank and from his wife, who eventually had to put her foot down by refusing to give him any more loans.
In order to continuously expand his collection, Yang adopted a highly frugal lifestyle; he doesn’t own a mobile phone, and for 30 years he lived in the faculty dormitory on campus, before finally buying a house last year. As Yang put it, “A house isn’t essential, since I could live in my research room if need be. For me it’s more important to spend money on things I find interesting.”
As Yang sees it, “A public university receives the lion’s share of its funding from the national coffers, and since I used my salary to acquire this collection, it’s only natural to donate it to a public institution like NTHU,” adding that, “Actually, I’m grateful to NTHU for undertaking the responsibility to preserve and display these important cultural relics.”
Prof. Fang, formerly of the Department of Chinese Literature, expressed her gratitude to Tanigawa Masau, a professor at Nara University of Education in Japan, who played an important behind-the-scenes role by facilitating the collection of these artifacts, adding that she is confident that the collection will be well taken care of at NTHU, and that she feels like she is giving away a daughter in marriage.
NTHU Museum Preparatory Office director Ma Mengjing said that Yang’s collection will be the pround collection of the Museum which will open its doors to the public in 2022.
Bearing witness to turbulent times
Amongst the many VIPs who attended the donation ceremony was Liu Chao-shiuan, the director of the Foundation of Chinese Culture for Sustainable Development and a former president of NTHU, who said that in addition to having much significance for the history of the ROC, the collection also provides insight into the prevailing attitudes on all levels of society concerning those eventful days, the reverberations of which continue to be felt down to the present.
Tien Chiu-chin of the Control Yuan said that these historical relics bear witness to troubled times, the lessons of which have made Taiwanese society more resilient and open to diversity.
Huang Yi-long, distinguished chair professor of NTHU’s Institute of History and the director of the Research Center for the Humanities and Social Sciences at NTHU, praised Yang as a paragon of personal integrity and dedication to academia. He also said that he made it a point to bring his parents to the donation ceremony, since they personally participated in the events to which the collection bears witness.
NTHU president Hocheng Hong (left) and Prof. Yang Rur-bin at the donation ceremony.
Left to right: Hocheng, Yang, and Fang.
Yang’s collection includes a letter written in late May 1949 by Chiang Kai-shek to General Tang Enbo.
While teaching at NTHU for 30 over years Yang used practically all of his income in acquiring his impressive collection.
In this important letter in the collection, the Buddhist monk Wushang petitions the central authorities to entrust his Lingyin Monastery in Hsinchu with the enshrinement a relic of Hsuanchuang.
NTHU president Hocheng Hong said that providing an accurate and reliable portrayal of the past is one of the central missions of modern education.
Former NTHU president Liu Chao-shiuan said that the reverberations of the period covered by Yang’s collection continue to be felt down to the present.
Huang Yi-long made it a point to bring his parents to the donation ceremony, since they personally participated in the events to which the collection bears witness.