You’ll need good eyesight to fully browse the Her stories on the postage stamps (真善美:方寸之間的女性形象特展) exhibition. Although some are shown with zoomed in replicas or feature blown up elements, most of the stamps are presented in their original 3cm-by-4cm size.
What makes this fully-bilingual exhibition fascinating, however, are the original artifacts and artwork that many of the stamps are based on, as it’s a collaboration between the Postal Museum, National History Museum and women’s rights groups. For history buffs, it’s a unique way to browse through Chunghwa Post’s ideas of female representation since it took over the nation’s mail service after World War II. The exhibition also provides a glimpse of women on postage stamps in other countries.
Having visited the National 228 Memorial Museum numerous times, I’ve never entered the Postal Museum, which is across the street. It’s six spacious floors feature everything you’ve ever wanted to know about stamps and the mail in Taiwan, China (where Chunghwa Post originated) and the world, including an entire level for kids. I now know what the world’s most expensive stamp looks like, and who is featured in Chunghwa Post’s Philatelic Hall of Fame. I didn’t have time to finish looking at everything before closing time — but I’ll definitely be back.
Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times
The museum opened another branch in the historic Taipei Beimen Post Office in 2015, and there’s a new railway-oriented exhibition that opened last week. It’s quite small and there’s no English, so only visit if you’re really into trains, stamps or old buildings. But what this location offers that isn’t available at the main museum are … magnifying glasses! Even if you have perfect vision, it’s always more enriching to be able to inspect tiny objects in detail, and it’s head-scratching why the main branch doesn’t have them.
Perhaps I’ll bring my own next time.
Her stories on the postage stamps encompasses seven sections that look at the evolution of women over the centuries, from the graceful, educated ladies of the Qing Dynasty court and characters in Chinese classical literature to athletes and leaders — including President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), whose slickly designed 2020 reelection stamps present her in a modern, “approachable” manner.
Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times
The other sections deal with the lives of ordinary Taiwanese woman, starting with colorful images of little girls at play and moving on to marriage, motherhood, crafts and farm work. Motherhood and marriage are featured prominently, and there’s a video that discusses traditional customs in light of Taiwan’s declining birth rate.
Given the government’s post-war policy, it’s expected that there wouldn’t be any images of the modernizing woman during the Japanese era, but curiously lacking are stamps featuring the urban professional or iconic factory workers during Taiwan’s rapid industrialization in the 60s and 70s. This was an important and rapid change for the role of women in Taiwan, and the government is sure to have issued stamps speaking to it.
As a joint exhibition with the National History Museum, a significant portion of the display focuses on Qing Dynasty-era artifacts, including tiny “lotus shoes” for women with bound feet and traditional court clothing. One notable item is the nearly 5m-long Flower and Bird Embroidered Curtain, which was in 2013 converted into a national record-setting 70cm stamp, as well as five regular-sized ones. It’s fascinating to see them side by side.
Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times
There’s a large collection featuring female characters in traditional Chinese folk tales, which all Taiwanese students used to read, that are meant to express moral values. Women also feature prominently in classics such as Legend of the White Snake (白蛇傳), and Chunghwa Post has consistently been making stamps based on the enduring Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢).
The more distinctly Taiwanese items are mostly creations from the past 30 years, including a 1994 series featuring woodblock prints of rural life by Lin Chih-hsin (林智信) and a 2003 set with paintings by Chen Chin (陳進), Taiwan’s first commercial female painter. As far as indigenous representation, there’s just one set showing Amis crafts such as lover’s bags, which are generally made by women.
The displays are well organized and designed, and there’s a easy to navigate route that brings viewers around the exhibition space.
Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times
One complaint is the uneven lighting, leaving some areas darker than others, and I felt that I could see my reflection in the glass much more often than usual.
It’s worth a look if you have time, however, and don’t forget to check out the rest of the building.
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