Outgoing culture minister quotes ‘Little Prince’ to sum up tenure

Culture Minister Cheng Li-chiun

TAIPEI (CNA) — After the Cabinet resigned en masse on May 14 ahead of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) inauguration for a second term, it was announced that Culture Minister Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君) would not be remaining with the new administration.

Cheng later said that like the title character of her favorite book, The Little Prince, she was returning home, and she was looking forward to having time for learning and reflection.

“It’s been an unforgettable journey,” but it is now time to return home, she said, adding that she wanted to spend more time with her family, particularly her five-year-old son.

“I’ll always regret not being able to take him to school, make him dinner, or spend more time with him during this critical period of his development,” Cheng wrote on Facebook.

In a farewell letter to her colleagues and in an interview with CNA, Cheng quoted from The Little Prince to explain how she approached her job as culture minister over the past four years.

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” she said, quoting a line from the book, which she first read in high school.

That quote has stuck with her and helped shaped her tenure as head of the Ministry of Culture (MOC), she said.

What it means, within the context of the job, is that the most essential and fundamental policies are the ones that are often overlooked, Cheng said.

That is why she challenged herself and her colleagues to work on issues that may not have been highly visible, she said.

For example, Cheng said, she spearheaded the Development of National Languages Act, which is aimed at preserving and promoting Taiwan’s linguistic diversity, and the Cultural Fundamental Act that allows for the protection of people’s cultural rights, expansion of their cultural participation, and development of multiculturalism.

Cheng also oversaw the establishment of the Taiwan Creative Content Agency that helps develop and produce local cultural content in areas such as film, television, pop music, publishing, fashion and art.

“I tell my colleagues to not get lost in pursuing work that is ostentatious or produces immediate results,” Cheng said, adding that she stresses the importance of the bigger picture.

That type of vision, however, did not mean she was not focused on high-profile projects and goals.

In 2019, Cheng proposed and obtained an increase in the MOC’s annual budget, from NT$17.83 billion (US$590.3 million) to NT$20.28 billion, a 13.7 percent hike.

Cheng Li-chiun (left) bids farewell to her colleagues at the Ministry of Culture on May 20, after the newly-appointed Culture Minister Lee Yung-te (right) was sworn in.

She also initiated a project called “Rebuilding Taiwan’s Art History,” which sought to recover Taiwanese artworks in foreign countries.

Under the program, 652 pieces of Taiwanese art, dating back to the Japanese colonial period, were donated in 2019 by the Sun Ten Museum in the United States.

The museum housed the collection of Hsu Hung-yuan (許鴻源), the founder of a Chinese medicine pharmaceutical company in Taiwan, and was established by his wife after the couple relocated to the U.S.

In early 2020, the U.S.-based family of the late Taiwanese artist Hung Jui-lin (洪瑞麟), who was known for his paintings of miners, donated 2,500 of his artworks to the Taiwan Ministry of Culture.

The donation came after Cheng visited the family in Los Angeles late last year.

“I never thought I would stand on the same balcony on which Hung Jui-lin painted his sunsets, or that I would see his original paintings and help bring them back to Taiwan,” Cheng said. “Those are the kinds of experiences that moved me.”

One of Hung Jui-lin’s sunset paintings.

Even though she is leaving the MOC, she said, every live performance, movie, musical performance and book she savors will keep alive the memories of her time at the ministry.

She is like the fox in The Little Prince, Cheng said, and “culture” is the prince.

“But you have hair that is the color of gold…. The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat,” the fox says to the prince in the book.