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Legacies of NTU - No. 1
Recovered Memories: calligraphy scroll in Gallery of University History

National Taiwan University is home to an abundance of educational and cultural artifacts that bear the history of the campus’ past. As a result, the NTU Museums project, a campaign that integrates the university’s ten individual museums, was launched in 2005 and officially inaugurated in 2007 so that the school’s hidden treasures could be introduced to the public. To honor the school’s past, the “Legacies of NTU” series will feature the stories of the university’s hidden treasures by taking you through the most precious items among the our collection.

Image from Iso House Facebook page
The Gallery of NTU History is home to an abundance of historical artifacts and photos of the school’s rich history. (Photo: Gallery of University History Flickr )

NTU’s Gallery of University History is located on the second floor of the Old Main Library building and is home to an abundance of the school’s historical artifacts. Among its permanent displays is the “Chronology” exhibition, a section where the historical traces of NTU’s Japanese predecessor, the Taihoku Imperial University, are being exhibited.

Entering into the plentiful collection of Japanese artifacts, one cannot help but notice a large calligraphy scroll that has been placed inside a glass cabinet which at first glance, does not seem to be connected to the Japanese university. Yet as one digs deeper, one finds that the story behind the scroll’s artistic exterior is more than meets the eye.

The story begins in around 2008 when Department of Electrical Engineering alumnus and art enthusiast You-Jia Huang (黃友佳), who had sustained a close relationship with Chinese calligraphy collector and gallery owner Yin-Qian Huang (黃銀千), came across a calligraphy scroll that had been inscribed by none other than the first president of the Taihoku Imperial University, Dr. Taira Shidehara.

Photograph from Iso House Facebook page
A calligraphy scroll written by Taihoku Imperial University’s first president placed inside a glass cabinet. (Photo: NTU Gallery of University History)

As an alumnus, You-Jia Huang felt a great sense of responsibility to return the piece to his alma mater, yet as excited as he was, Huang was uncertain as to the authenticity of the scroll as well as the identity of the former president. Upon this, Huang set out on a quest that would later lead to the inclusion of one of the centerpieces of the Gallery’s collection.

Hung contacted his former classmate and NTU Professor Hsueh-Jyh Li (李學智), and the two arrived at the Gallery of NTU History with the borrowed scroll in their hands and a great sense of excitement and curiosity stirring in the hearts. Identifying the president was the easy part. After verifying that Dr. Taira Shidehara had indeed served as the first president of Taihoku Imperial University between 1928 and 1937, the next and more challenging step was to validate the authenticity of the piece.

The Gallery approached Professor Shen Fu (傅申) of the Graduate Institute of Art History for authentication, and sought assistance from the Library’s Special Collections Division in verifying the president’s title, signature, and personal seal. As Dr. Shidehara was well-versed in Sinology, the group finally came to the conclusion that the scroll was indeed the authentic work of TIU’s first Japanese president.

Upon this, You-Jia Huang negotiated a price with the collector, after which Professor Li purchased the scroll and generously donated it to the university where then-President Si-Chen (李嗣涔) Lee gladly accepted with gratitude. Finally, the treasured calligraphy scroll returned to the location of its creator’s home, its alma mater where it had originated.

Photograph from Iso House Facebook page
Image of Prof. Shen Fu meticulously inspecting the scroll. (Photo: NTU Alumni Newsletter)

Yet that was not the end of the story. In 2013, renowned Japanese astronomer Yoshihide Kozai traveled to Taiwan under the invitation of the Academia Sinica. The 80-year-old Kozai was former presidents Taira Shidehara’s grandson, and despite his age, had insisted on walking up the flight of stairs to the where the scroll had been displayed just to get a personal look at his grandfather’s writing. The scene touched all in attendance, proving that NTU’s legacy goes beyond time and history.

Although it was by pure chance that NTU was able to learn about the scroll’s existence, it was due to the collaborative efforts of our alumni, staff, and faculty that bestowed upon us the honor of including it among our historical legacies.

Visit the Gallery of NTU’s History’s Facebook page and official website for more interesting stories, or go to the NTU Museums website to learn more about our legacies.

Click HERE to access original article written by Gallery of University History (02/19/2014).

Chinese version