Some 40 years ago, 'Woodstock' changed the U.S. and world -- and maybe Taiwan
By [___] [______]
Despite the cultural differences
between what life was like in Taiwan in 1969 and how the U.S. was
transformed by that year's Woodstock musical festival, Taiwanese
filmgoers and book readers will soon be able to see what
the fuss was all about.
In those days in Taipei, the central government used the
local newspapers to characterize Woodstock as "a hippie
invasion" and most young people here had no idea what was really going
Even Ang Lee (李安), who would grow up to become one of Taiwan's most
famous film directors and make a name for himself in Hollywood and
Cannes, did not know what Woodstock was really all about at that time.
Now he does. Lee's humorous movie about some Woodstock shenanigans --
titled "Taking Woodstock" [胡士托風波] -- opens
in the U.S. this month and will open here on October 9,
according to film industry sources.
"Taking Woodstock" was a book before it came Ang Lee's latest movie. Elliot
Tiber, now in his 70s, wrote the memoir a few years ago, and it was
translated into Mandarin this year
by Josephine Liao and published locally by Yuan-Liou Publishing
Company in Taipei.
The book is subtitled in English on the psychedellic-art
Mandarin-language cover: "A True
Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life."
The book's English title, "Taking Woodstock'" -- and by extension, the movie's
title, too -- means two
things, according to the book's U.S. publisher.
"It means taking stock of your life and, in a sense, taking control of
destiny," Rudy Shur said in a recent email. "Anthony Pomes, our
came up with the title, and Ang Lee used it for his movie as well."
When a reporter asked several expats here if Woodstock was a part of
their lives and how it impacted them, the responses were like trips down memory lane.
"I was six years old in the summer of 1969, so I guess I was mostly
grubbing around on the floor and in the back lot of the apartment
complex in St. Louis where we lived," said Paul Cox in Taipei. "I was
entirely unaware of
He added: "While I don't listen directly to a lot of music from those days
anymore, a lot of the music I do listen to was influenced to a certain
extent by the music of those days (Hendrix, Santana, Dylan, as well
as blues and jazz musicians who were the inspirations for those
guys -- Buddy Guy, Albert King and John Coltrane, among others). I do still
enjoy the Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Santana."
"Maybe a bit of the Woodstock spirit lives on in the rock and other
kinds of music festivals around the world, including the annual ones in
Taiwan such as Ho Hai Yan, Formoz, Migrant Music Fest, and Peace
Fest," Cox added.
For Jerome Keating, Woodstock was close but "too far away" as well, he
said, noting: "That summer, I was just starting my doctoral program at
Syracuse University, so the concert was not too far away from where I
was, but I could not spare the time to go there."
"I still like the songs of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez," Keating, the author of three books about Taiwan, said. "The
songs expressed a philosophy of protest and need for change in
priority of values. The Sixties included the civil rights movment and
the Vietnam War protests, of course."
When asked if he felt that the philosophy of
hippie life had any
impact in Taiwan, Keating -- who worked as a university professor here and was former manager of technology transfer for Taipei's MRT systems -- noted: "Hippie life and freedom was more a
symbollic challenge to re-examine people's and the government's
priorities; it did not advocate permanency of a new structure. How it
affected Taiwan? That's hard to say. Taiwan at that time was under
martial law and the Kaohsiung Incident was still a decade away. Was
there a ripple effect? Perhaps."
For Gerrit van der Wees of Holland, who now works for the Formosan
Association for Public Affairs in Washington, the summer of 1969
brings back old memories. "Woodstock was a statement against
the establishment of those days, and it questioned authority,
especially in regards to the Vietnam War. Many of the songs at
Woodstock were anti-war
"In the summer of 1969, I was just on my way back to The Netherlands
from spending a year in Houston, where I worked on the Apollo
program," he recalled.
"After finishing my work there, I drove through the U.S. for a few
from Texas, through New Mexico, Arizona, and up to Wyoming and Montana.
In fact, during that trip, I met quite a number of folks who were on
their way to
Woodstock, driving beat-up Volkswagen bugs and even old buses."
"In 1970, a year later, I went to a Woodstock-like event in Rotterdam,
in my native Holland, where we listened to
the Byrds and other bands," he said. "But after a while, the hippie
movement drifted too far
in the direction of 'anything goes' and it lost its original purpose, I think."
When asked if Woodstock had any impact on Taiwan, van der Wees said:
"I really don't know if or how it affected Taiwan, since I didn't get
Taiwan until 1977, and I didn't really get into Taiwan life until 1979, just
before the Kaohsiung Incident."
Don Shapiro, editor-in-chief of Taiwan Business Topics magazine now,
was spending the summer of 1969 doing a fourth-year Chinese-language
course at Columbia University, preparing to head to Taiwan that fall.
"I remember reading and hearing about Woodstock when it was going on
-- particularly wondering how a New York state farm could be big
enough to accommodate the huge crowds that reportedly turned up," he
said. "I did like the music of the Woodstock groups, particularly Joan
Baez, but my tastes now run more to classical and jazz."
"Woodstock was part of a whole trend in the Sixties to break down
cultural barriers and to question what had been the conventional
wisdom," Shapiro added. "It had a big impact on the U.S. and then
gradually on the rest of the world, including Taiwan. Without that
change in mindset, the U.S. wouldn't have equality for women or the
widespread acceptance of homosexuality that exists today. And America
certainly wouldn't have an African-American as president today."
Louise Bystrom, who is from Sweden and edits Taiwan This Month
magazine, says she was in her middle teens that summer of 1969. "I
just turned fifteen at the time and was still living with my parents,
of course. I didn't understand the real impact on what was going on at
Woodstock. In addition, at that age and that time, I was very
conservative, much more than what I am now, so all those strange
clothes and flowers and people walking around naked that I saw on
television, it was nothing I could relate to, personally. But, of
course, I was curious about all that. Later, the influence of
Woodstock filtered into Europe and Sweden, and it began to have a
greater impact on my life, but not in any big way. However, I still
listen to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, and I enjoy them, but I don't have
their CDs at home here."
When asked how Woodstock might have influenced Taiwan, Bystrom said:
"From what I can see, it hasn't had much impact on Taiwan at all.
Taiwan's society is still very conservative and traditional. Here,
young couples are just beginning to hold hands in public, and it's
still unusual to see people expressing their real emotions in public
or in private."
For Syd Goldsmith, who served as director of the AIT branch office in Kaohsiung from 1985 to 1989, first came to Taiwan in 1968, he said. "I barely had heard of Woodstock at the time," he added.
"The songs of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were good, and I liked them, but
I can't remember when I last had a chance to listen to them,"
said Goldsmith, who is the author of a prize-winning novel about Taiwan
titled "Jade Phoenix."
Don Silver, an editor for Taiwan Review magazine in Taipei, was just
seven years old in the summer of 1969, he said, so he was "too young
for Woodstock to have any impact."
He added: "My parents are pretty conservative, so I can't even recall
any conversation about it at home. The summer of 1969, the thing I
remember is the moon walk -- the first time I'd ever stayed up so late
to watch TV -- 11pm, waiting for the moon monsters to attack the
Silver said he "still listens to Neil Young on occasion, as well as
Dylan's new stuff -- his last CD was pretty good."
When asked about Woodstock's impact on Taiwan, if any, Silver said:
"If the US was in the 1960s at the time, Taiwan was in the 1950s, and
probably stayed that way until the late 1980s. I do think that young
people in Taiwan today are kind of Woodstockish --looking around at
the area near the Red House in Ximending shows me that they're much
more individualistic, more free-spirited than their parents. Not much
tie dye, though..."
For Bo Tedards, Woodstock happened before he was born, but he says: "My mother always says she blames me for 'missing the culutral event of
my generation,' because she was eight months pregnant with me at the
When asked how the Woodstock era and the 1960s might have influenced
Taiwan, Tedards, who is a longitme social activist here, said: "It's hard to say how or whether
Woodstock had any direct effect on Taiwan or the Taiwanese people,
since those days were the depth of the White Terror period here.
However, at least one group of Taiwanese activists living overseas was
inspired by the events of 1968 -- not Woodstock per se, but the more
militant, political 1960s movements in the U.S. and Europe -- to take
matters into their hands, and that's the group who attempted to
assassinate Chiang Ching-kuo in New York."
Tedards went on: "It might be true -- but also pure speculation on my
part -- that the hippie, or at least the progressive culture and
counterculture of the 1960s influenced the emergence of social
movements here in Taiwan in the late 1970s, with a bit of a lag time,
of course. Michael Hsiao has written how these social movements in
Taiwan began with the literary and cultural movements first, so the
news about Woodstock in 1969 might have been an entry point for such
ideas here in Taiwan, but again, I'm just speculating."
"But there were also indirect effects, I think, such as when Taiwan
absorbed later waves of U.S. popular culture, which themselves were
influenced by Woodstock and the Sixes," Tedards said.
David Reid, who hails from Australia where he was born in 1973, said
that he still listens to music from the Woodstock days -- "Neil Young
(he was with Crosby, Stills & Nash), Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin."
Reid, who is a blogger and a master's/post-graduate student at
National Chengchi University here, notes: "At the time of Woodstock,
Taiwan was still under the
dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek. White Terror and and the lack of
freedom associated with it were hardly the conditions for a
counter-cultural movement to flourish."
For Brian Chiu, Woodstock happened before he was born, but he does
have some thoughts to impart. "I was minus three years old in 1969 and
an accident waiting to happen," Chiu said in a recent email. "But my
parents were the Taiwanese equivalents of 'hippies', and they may have
heard of the concert in America. My folks used to play the Byrds, some
CSN, and lots of Beatles/Lennon on Sunday mornings. I still like the
Byrds and CSN -- in fact, folk and bluegrass, in general."
"From what I've heard, freedom was kind of illegal in the 1970s in
Taiwan," Chiu went on. "My uncle got free room and board at a
political prison on Green Island for wanting freedom and love and
fields of flowers -- and he sadly lost his mind in there. A few of my
dad's friends lost their lives in those times of martial law and white
terror. For any aspiring hippies in Taiwan back then, I'm afraid it
was a more grim affair than "free love" -- any extra-state body (such
as a free-love hippie commune would have been seen by the authorites
"Music in the park? The closest we came to music in the
park back then was probably that old catchy patriotic tune about the
superiority of the Chinese race (down to the very controlling-preoccupation
with hair color and eye color) that they taught me to sing in school
when I was 'young and impressionable' in Taiwan. "
"However, I think
that the Woodstock 'philosophy' did guide my parents to react to my
singing those patriotic songs in horror and move us all the hell out
of Taiwan. So we came to America. One Woodstocky memory I have as a
kid in California was in high school in San Diego, being dragged by my
parents to boring evening gatherings where political speeches had
acoustic guitar accompaniment."
How the Mandarin translation of the Woodstock book by Elliot Tiber -- and the movie by Ang Lee -- will be received by Taiwanese readers and moviegoers in Taipei will be interesting
"Woodstock is not really very well understood by most
people in Taiwan, but the movie, and now this book, will help to serve
as a kind of cross-cultural guide about what hippie and
'counterculture' life was like in
those days," said a Taipei publishing industry source.