When Charlie Wu became managing director of TAIWANfest back in 2001, he had a straightforward goal—he wanted to share the culture of his country of birth with Canadians.
It was a noble and worthwhile objective. After all, Taiwan is a vibrant democracy with thriving indie music, dance, filmmaking, visual arts, literature, fashion, and other art forms.
Taiwan also later became the first country in East Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.
So Wu had a lot to showcase to Vancouverites.
As the years passed, however, Wu thought about what he could do to not only boost people's perceptions about Taiwan, but also to improve Canada.
Wu, now managing director of the Asian-Canadian Special Events Association, seized on the idea of making TAIWANfest a platform for cultures to learn about each other and forge new connections.
"If everyone does their own thing, what's in it for Canada?" Wu asked in a recent Zoom conversation with the Straight.
His approach regarding outreach to different communities is reflected in the festival's annual Dialogues With Asia series. It began in 2016 by highlighting connections and similarities between Taiwan and Hong Kong, including their shared love of freedom.
Since then, TAIWANfest's Dialogues with Asia has elevated awareness about Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and South Korea in subsequent years. TAIWANfest promotes understanding by showcasing initiatives by artists who trace their roots back to those countries—as well as by drawing attention to historic and current connections between them and Taiwan.
Sometimes, those connections are through their Indigenous populations. Like Canada, Taiwan has many different First Nations. And they share a common lineage with First Nations people in other Asian countries.
The 2022 festival, which takes place from Saturday (September 3) to Monday (September 5) is built around the theme of "The Stories of Independence". This time, TAIWANfest is emphasizing links between Taiwan and Indonesia and Malaysia.
"TAIWANfest has become a platform for cultures to learn about each other and find connections," Wu said. "I want to make sure that this is something that's going to benefit Canada in the long run."
Wu shared his experiences overseeing TAIWANfest in a book published last year, entitled Taiwan: The World’s Answer (a direct translation of the Chinese-language title).
The title reflects Wu's desire for people to think about Taiwan as a model for addressing major concerns, including racism and the challenge of creating a harmonious society with a diverse population. And it's apparent at this year's festival in various "Hope Talks" intended to inspire discussion and awareness about the constructive role that Taiwanese people are playing in the world.
"We're trying to become that 'solution incubator' through arts and culture," Wu says.