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    A museum for the new millennium

    In the Taipei suburb of Yonghe, hidden away above a department store is a museum. You may think nothing of this as Taiwan is home to many museums including the world-renowned National Palace Museum. A visit to the Museum of World Religions (MWR) in Yonghe, however, is a must for anyone interested in understanding the world's religions. It also offers the opportunity to experience a museum that is in tune with the multimedia age.

    Entering the MWR one meets a series of images that ask questions such as "Where do I come from?" and "What is the meaning of life?" This prepares you for the fact that the experience of the MWR is not like that traditionally associated with museums. Forget boring exhibits and static displays, because the MWR is far more modern and interactive. It is an all-encompassing experience that proves learning need not be the slightest bit boring. One of the MWR's goals is to combine education with leisure.

    The MWR is the vision of Master Hsin Tao who was born in Burma and whose early life was disrupted by the civil war in China. He became an orphan at four, and joined a guerilla army in the Chinese Civil War at the age of ten. In 1961, at the age of thirteen, he escaped to Taiwan. In Taiwan he was drawn to the practice of Buddhism.

    Master Hsin Tao began to plan for the MWR after he emerged from a long retreat at his monastery on the northeast coast of Taiwan about ten years ago. He saw the MWR's mission as one of fostering greater understanding, respect, and tolerance for all the world's religions. The Museum was officially opened in November 2001 at a ceremony attended by many religious leaders from around the world.

    On the MWR's website Master Hsin Tao says he hopes "the museum is a first step in propagating the ideals of love and peace to all corners of the world that will enable every person in this time of discord and disturbance to rediscover the tranquility of their inner spirit."

    The MWR has displays of artifacts and items related to ten major religions: Hinduism, Shinto, Judaism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and two rotating displays dedicated to ancient religions and indigenous religions. The latter two displays are initially represented by ancient Egypt and the Mayan religion. There is also a display dedicated to Taiwanese beliefs.

    As well as displays of religious artifacts, the museum includes interactive displays that show the role religion plays in daily life from birth through to death. Master Hsin Tao believes society needs a diversity of methods for popularizing religion.

    The MWR aims to create a dialogue and interaction with the audience, providing real-life experiences from which to choose one's religion rather than presenting a comparative criticism of different religions. As such it makes not only an essential contribution to the field of museums but to promoting peace and understanding among people of all religious faiths.

    David Reid

    This article was published in Seeds of Peace Vol. 18 No. 3 September - December 2002 pp. 16-17

    We need our own museum

    I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed in the editorial "Put Taiwan in the Palace Museum" (Jan. 5, page 8). The National Palace Museum could sometimes be more accurately called the Chinese Nationalist Museum. The decision to create a branch of the National Palace Museum in Chiayi County should be applauded, but exactly what the museum displays deserves consideration.

    I suggest that the branch museum be called the Taiwan National Museum to avoid confusion.

    While providing additional display space for the National Palace Museum's collection it should also work to develop a collection that shows Taiwan's history, which is very different from China's.

    There is not only the question of what should be displayed, but how it should be displayed. The exhibits in the National Palace Museum are too static and do not take advantage of the latest multimedia technology.

    A visit to another of Taiwan's museums, the Museum of World Religions, shows what a museum of the 21st century should be like. From the moment you enter, it creates an interactive environment that promotes learning. Museums should be places that people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy and learn something from.

    David Reid

    This letter was published in the Taipei Times on 8 January 2003.

    David's Guide to Taiwan
    © 2003 David Reid