Faculty of East Asian Studies

Taiwanese Minnan Eco-poetry in the Era of Globalization and the Anthropocene

Thomas Eduard Fliß


Concomitant to the era of the Anthropocene, our current world is in the rapid process of globalization. Although the exact beginning of both historical periodizations is hard to determine and sometimes disputed, they have accentuated their speed in the second half of the twentieth century. Both have great impact on our lives, with globalization increasing global interactions and integration among people, companies and governments, resulting in a stimulation of international trade and the exchange of ideas, beliefs and culture; the Anthropocene reflects the tremendous effects of human actions upon our earth. Those effects are of geological as well as of biological nature, like biodiversity, biogeography, climate, stratigraphy, etc.

From a geographical perspective, Taiwan is a rather small island and state. Here, the effects and phenomena of both globalization and the Anthropocene are very obvious. In terms of globalization, there are countless international trading transactions as well as capital and investment movements, an increasing migration movement from Southeast Asian countries and the progressive dissemination of knowledge through public resources and public internet access in an open society. But there are also negative impacts, like the disappearance of local ancestral and indigenous languages and cultures.

In Taiwan, for example, we can observe that the usage of Taiwanese Minnan, to a higher extent Hakka and even more Taiwan’s Austronesian languages has diminished over time, particularly in younger age groups.1 Reasons for this could be the mass media, the social media and Taiwan’s educational system, in which Mandarin is by far the dominating language. The diminution of language usage or even its extinction (i.e., some of the Austronesian languages) goes hand in hand with the disappearance of its corresponding culture. But at the same time as the Taiwanese people are facing these problems, there is also a rising consciousness about the situation, protection and promulgation of these languages and cultures (although the political conflict with China might be another factor for this). This shows itself in the establishment of native language classes in school (Xiangtu yuyan jiaoxue kecheng 鄉土語言教學課程), Chinese classes (Guowen ke 國文課) in the university using non-Mandarin literature and other efforts by the Taiwanese government and people to rescue and preserve their ancestral languages and cultures.

In terms of the Anthropocene, the human influence leaves obvious marks in air and water and on land: a serious level of fine particle danger occurs in the vicinity of industrial areas or (coal) power plants like Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung (a part of those hazards is also due to cross-border pollution from China); destruction of biomes due to intensive mass animal farming and industrial waste, e.g., pig farms, fish farms and industries; soil erosion like mudflows and landslides, e.g., those which happened during the typhoon Morakot: devastating regions of southern Taiwan and even burying an entire town under its mud.

These environmental impacts and changes are not going unnoticed by the Taiwanese population and besides public demonstrations, rallies and reception in the media, such environmental, cultural and language related consciousness naturally reveals itself in Taiwanese literature like poetry, novels, etc. To better understand the situation, poetry written in Taiwanese Minnan is particularly relevant, because besides its rising importance mentioned above, it is also the most utilized language after Mandarin and makes up the mother tongue especially of the middle-aged and elderly population.

Emergence and development of Taiwanese eco-poetry

The evolution of Taiwanese eco-poetry can be divided into two phases: first, the origination and second, the blossoming.2 According to Bai Ling et. al., the emergence of Taiwanese eco-poetry can be traced back to the year 1935, when the poet Wu Xinrong 吳新榮 (1907 – 1967) wrote a poem in Japanese in which he decried the air pollution caused by heavy industry on the one hand, and the intrusion of capitalism and the Japanese colonial government on the other hand.3

Beginning in the 1960s, some scattered but important eco-poetry was written in the Taiwanese New Poetry circle.4 These and other eco-poems written in Mandarin appear sporadically in poetry periodicals until the 1980s.

It was not until the 1980s that the first series of eco-poetry works was published. This series contained thirteen poems which appeared as a special issue in the Shixue Yuezhi 詩學月誌of the year 1981. This issue was titled Shengtai – Ziran de huhan 生態.自然的呼喊 “Ecology – the Outcry of Nature“. Its main editor, Li Kwei-hsien (Li Kuixian) 李魁賢 (b. 1937), mentioned in the afterword that poets should strive from their inner heart and show sympathy to all that is material in the world and subsequently pay attention to this variation and mutation, which would then (somehow) open space for the long run development of a national culture. With this afterword, Li opened up a conceptual path for the creation of eco-poetry.5

Only three years later in June 1984, the renowned poet and writer Lin Chi-yang (Lin Qiyang) 林淇瀁 (b. 1955), known by his pen name Hsiang Yang (Xiang Yang) 向陽, gathered 22 poets to create 24 eco-poems for the column Shengtai shi – Sheying zhan 生態詩.攝影展 “Eco-poetry – a Photographic Exhibition” in the supplement of the Zili Wanbao 自立晚報.6 Hsieh San-chin (Xie Sanjin) 謝三進 subsumes that there are three main argumentative points in these poems: first, criticism against humanity for polluting the environmental ecology; second, pondering about the possibility of an equilibrium between humans and Nature, perceived mainly in a moralistic manner; third, the social aspects and characteristics of poetry.7 According to these three main points and the research by Hsieh San-chin, the definition of Taiwanese “eco-poetry” consists of five main topics.8 First, there is reflection about the living quality of human settlements like cities and villages; second, nurture of the natural ecology system and animate beings; third, writing about experiences with nature while close to it; fourth, observation of animated and unanimated beings; and fifth, thinking and imagination about the future life environment of humans and other living beings. According to Hsieh, the publications of 1981 and 1984 mark the emergence of Taiwanese eco-poetry.

In the subsequent years of the 1980s, the lifting of martial law in Taiwan, the development of industrialized and heavily polluted cities, plus the awakening of environmental consciousness, led to a surge of poetic works, and over the past thirty years they have accumulated to a considerable fruitful outcome. Among the authors of these poems there are both older and younger poets. For example, the older ones like Chen Hsiu-hsi (Chen Xiuxi) 陳秀喜 (1921 – 1991), Yin Di 隱地 (b. 1937), Li Kwei-hsien李魁賢 (b. 1937) and younger poets such as Chen Ke-hua (Chen Kehua) 陳克華 (b. 1961), Hung Hung (Hong Hong) 鴻鴻 (b. 1964) as well as Wang Tsung- jen (Wang Zongren) 王宗仁 (b. 1970). In their poems, they all show intensive concern for everything that lives and exists on our planet, regardless of whether it is in Taiwan or far away beyond the horizon.

Taiwanese Minnan Eco-poetry and its Forms of Appearance and Characteristics

Besides Mandarin, the second important language in Taiwan is Taiwanese Minnan. Its literature is comprised of several different genres, i.e., oral literature like proverbs and sayings, riddles, (pop) songs, koa-á (Gezai) 歌仔 and koa-á-hì (Gezaixi) 歌仔戲, and written literature such as novels and poems. Although the amount of Taiwanese Minnan poetry is by far not as extensive as that written in Mandarin, Taiwanese Minnan (and also the other languages) play a special role with regard to the impact of globalization and the reception of the Anthropocene by writers and the general population because of its role in cultural self- identification. In this way, many Taiwanese Minnan poems not only describe nature or complain about the impact and damage caused by humanity, but also preserve the Taiwanese language and its culture. Two poems of Siau Lah-jih (Xiao Pingzhi) 蕭平治 follow as examples. The first poem9 O͘-bīn-lā-pue bīn o͘-o͘烏面lā-pue面烏烏 from the year 2005 is about the black-faced spoonbill:10

Characters and romanization
Tī七股海邊á bóng撈bóng ho͘,
咱台灣,自然suí ê所在已經無chē。
Romanization only
O͘-bīn-lā-poe bīn o͘-o͘,
Tī Chhit-kó͘ hái-piⁿ-á bóng lā bóng ho͘,
Bong nā ū, thâu lê-lê,
Bong nā bô, poe--chi̍t-ē khì pa̍t-uī chhoē.
Bián oàn-thàn hái-po͘-tē siuⁿ e̍h,
Lí kám chai?
Lán Tâi-oân, chū-jiân suí ê só͘-chāi í-king bô chē.

English translation
The black-faced spoonbill with its black face, stirs and calls tentatively at the coast of the Chhit-kó͘ region, when it touches something, its head goes down and plows, when it touches nothing, it flies quickly to another place and searches (again). No need to complain that the mudflat is too narrow, Did you know? In Taiwan, places with natural beauty are not many anymore. This poem mainly depicts the black-faced spoonbill, which is a threatened bird species in eastern Asia, by describing its characteristics while foraging, but the last lines also express dissatisfaction about its disappearing natural habitat. The black-faced spoonbill has a protected wintering site in Taiwan in the Qigu (Chhit-kó͘) 七股 region of Tainan: the Qigu Black-faced Spoonbill Reserve (Qigu Heimian pilu baohuqu) 七股黑面琵鷺保護區.11 Based on the number of birds resting there every year from October till May, it is one of the most important wintering sites for this species in the world.

A black-faced spoonbill photographed at Niigata, Japan

A black-faced spoonbill photographed at Niigata, Japan. Source: Cp9asngf.

Although Taiwanese Minnan eco-poetry can complain about environmental issues like the poem above, it can also simply portray the living habitat of an animal, like the poem from Siau Lah-jih below from 2005:12

Characters and romanization
Romanization only
Chiam-thâu-á chiam-thâu-á thâu chiam-chiam,
Thâu-khak bóe-téng mo͘ chhàng-chhàng,
Ài chia̍h kóe-chí, hoe-bi̍t, kap thâng.
Chhiū-á-bóe-téng teh oa̍h-tāng,
Thiàu, poe, tò-tiàu, tò-kau, bē-su kâu,
Chiok ài chio-phōaⁿ chò-siū seⁿ-thòaⁿ,
Hō͘-siong chiàu-kò͘, kám-chêng sio-thàu.

English translation
Taiwan yuhina,13 Taiwan yuhina, has a pointed head, with the feathers on the top of his head disheveled, he likes to eat fruits, nectar and insects. He is active on the ends of tree [branches], jumping, flying as well as hanging and clinging upside down, not less than an ape. He really likes to invite partners to nest and breed, watching out for each other, [their] feelings are connected together.

A pair of Taiwan yuhina photographed at the Dayueshan National Forest

A pair of Taiwan yuhina photographed at the Dayueshan National Forest. Source: Francesco Veronesi.

In the above poem, the distinctive appearance and habitat of the Taiwan yuhina, also known as the Formosan yuhina, is described quite vividly. This species is a small songbird endemic to Taiwan, which lives in hill forests at lower and medium elevations of 1,000 to 3,000 m above sea level, while moving between lower and higher altitudes depending on the temperature and the season. It is the only bird species on Taiwan which nests, breeds and feeds together with several other bird couples. From the poems above we can see examples for the different appearances and purposes of Taiwanese Minnan eco-poetry. While both describe bird species extant in Taiwan, the first poem also incorporates complaints about Taiwan’s environmental situation, thus connecting the descriptive part with an environmentally related purpose. The second poem does not deliver such a message and just describes the living habitat of a bird species in Taiwan. However, since this species can only be found in Taiwan, it emphasizes the particularity of its wildlife and so raises the consciousness and attention to it. Lastly, both poems are written in Taiwanese Minnan, so they also preserve and pass on the Taiwanese Minnan names for these birds, which differ very much from the Mandarin.


[1] Huang (2008). Taiwan is a multilingual environment, which is made up mainly of Mandarin, closely followed by the older languages Taiwanese Minnan and Hakka as well as several Austronesian languages.
[2] Bai Ling / Hsiao Hsiao / Luo Wenling (2012).
[3] The original Japanese title is entotsu 煙突, it is translated to Yancong 煙囪 “Chimneys” in Mandarin.
[4] E.g. the poem Dushi meiyou chuntian 都市沒有春天 “There is no Spring in big Cities” by Sha Bai沙白 (b. 1944) from the year 1960, Lin Fuan-chan (Lin Huanzhang) 林煥彰 (b. 1939) wrote Yi jiu qi ling nian de Dongtian 1970年的冬天 “The Winter of 1970” in 1971, the poems Meiyou yu de heliu 沒有魚的河流 “A River without Fishes”, Meiyou niao de tiankong 沒有鳥的天空 “The Sky without Birds” and Meiyou cao de caochang 沒有草的操場 “A Sports Field without Grass” written by Mo Yu 莫渝 (b. 1948) were published in 1973. These and other eco-poems appear sporadically in poetry periodicals until the 1980s.
[5] Bai Ling / Hsiao Hsiao / Luo Wenling (2012).
[6] Hsiang Yang was in the position of the main editor for the supplement.
[7] Hsieh (2012), 17.
[8] Hsieh (2012), 149.
[9] Following the poem’s original romanization, the Pe̍h-ōe-jī 白話字 system is used here and in the following part.
[10] Siau (2005a). Some adjustments regarding the hyphen usage have been made. The fourth verse originally began with “Ho͘若無 Ho͘ nā bô“, but according to the recording provided on the website has been changed into “摸若無 Bong nā bô”, which is also more plausible.
[11] The Mandarin name for black-faced spoonbill is Heimian Pilu 黑面琵鷺.
[12] Siau (2005b). The fifth verse’s spoken version has a different word order than the spoken version, which does not change the meaning of the verse. Instead, the speaker says “飛,跳,倒kau,倒吊,bē輸猴 Boe, thiàu, tò-kau, tò-tiàu, bē-su kâu”. “Hō͘-siōng” in the last verse has been changed to correct “hō͘-siong”.
[13] Taiwan yuhina is the English name for this bird species, the Taiwanese Minnan word used here means literally “the point-headed”. Its Mandarin correspondent is Guanyu huamei 冠羽畫眉.


Bai Ling / Hsiao Hsiao / Luo Wenling 白靈、蕭蕭、羅文玲 (2012). Taiwan shengtai shi台灣生態詩. Taipei: Elite Books.

Hsieh, San-chin 謝三進 (2012). Taiwan shengtai shi zhi chuqi zuopin yanjiu – yi “Zili Wanbao” fukan yi jiu ba si nian ‘Shengtai shi – sheying zhan’ wei li 灣生態詩之初期作品研究─以《自立晚報》副刊一九八四年「生態詩.攝影展」為例. National Taiwan Normal University, Department of Taiwan Culture, Languages and Literature, Master's thesis.

Huang Shuan-Fan 黃宣範 (2008). Yuyan, shehui yu zuqun yishi – Taiwan yuyan shehui xue de yanjiu 語言、社會與族羣意識──台灣語言社會學的研究. Taipei: Wenhe.

Siau Lah-jih 蕭平治 (2005a). “O͘-bīn-lā-pue bīn o͘-o͘ 烏面lā-pue面烏烏. In: Tâi-oân chiáu-á koa-si 台灣鳥a2歌詩.” In Taiyu Xin Wang Ai 台語信望愛 (Tâi-gú Sìn Bōng Ài): https://taigu.fhl.net/Bird/Bird8.html. (Accessed: December 15, 2021).

Siau Lah-jih 蕭平治 (2005b). “Chiam-thâu-á thâu chiam-chiam 尖頭á頭尖尖. In: Tâi-oân chiáu-á koa-si 台灣鳥a2歌詩.” Website: Taiyu Xin Wang Ai台語信望愛 (Tâi-gú Sìn Bōng Ài): https://taigu.fhl.net/Bird/Bird13.html. (Accessed: March 2, 2022).


Veronesi, Francesco (2011). CC BY-SA 2.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taiwan_Yuhina_-_Taiwan_S4E8280_(18926478463).jpg. (Accessed: March 3, 2022).

Cp9asngf, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Black_faced_spoonbill_at_Niigata.JPG. (Accessed: March 3, 2022).


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