An indigo paradise in Taiwan

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View of one of the gardens at the Zhuo Ye Cottage indigo dyeing centre, in Miaoli, Taiwan.

View of one of the gardens at the Zhuo Ye Cottage indigo dyeing centre, in Miaoli, Taiwan.

Willem Vogelsang writes on Easter Sunday, 2019: For long I have been convinced that the Textile Research Centre in Leiden was absolutely unique in its combination of research, display and teaching. I was wrong, fortunately. I found a little textile paradise elsewhere in the world: Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Zhuo Ye Cottage, south of Taipei, in Taiwan, famous for its indigo dyeing centre.

This centre is beautifully located against the wooded flanks of a mountain ridge, and was built up since the early 2000s by a gifted couple, Mr ZUO Ming-Bang and his wife, ZHENG Mei-Shu.

It now includes a small picturesque village, but more importantly, it also includes a group of buildings that are used for indigo production and indigo dyeing. There is also ample space for workshops, and students and others who are interested can attend courses in various aspects of indigo dyeing. And all of it is surrounded by beautiful gardens and indigo fields. It really is an unique resort for the study of an ancient craft and tradition in Taiwan. 

Yesterday, a Saturday, saw hundreds of people visiting the centre, enjoying the gardens, the village, and seeing the workshops and indigo plant fields. People can also stay here for the night, or longer, in simple but very attractive accommodation. The restaurants provide a wide variety of healthy, vegetarian food.

But most of the visitors enjoyed the various places that displayed and sold the local produce. Indigo dyed products are indeed becoming more and more popular, and the quality of the products from the centre compare favourably with the indigo dyed textiles from mainland China.

I visited Zhuo Ye Cottage together with my colleague from Leiden University, Dr. Elena Paskaleva, who is teaching an MA course in critical cultural heritage studies. This course, and the related MA programme with the same name, was instigated and is still being promoted by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), also in Leiden. The MA programme forms part of a Double Degree programme, run together with academic institutions in Korea and Taiwan.

Zhuo Ye Cottage, Miaoli, Taiwan: From left to right: Kay Chiang, ZUO Zi-luo, Willem Vogelsang, Elena Paskaleva, ZHENG Mei-Shu, and Liling Huang.

Zhuo Ye Cottage, Miaoli, Taiwan: From left to right: Kay Chiang, ZUO Zi-luo, Willem Vogelsang, Elena Paskaleva, ZHENG Mei-Shu, and Liling Huang.

It was against this background that Elena and I last week visited Korea and Taiwan, and which took us yesterday to the fairy-tale atmosphere of Zhuo Ye Cottage. It was fascinating to see the full process of indigo growing and production, onto that of design and ultimately the dyeing itself. 

Our hosts in Taiwan were Prof. Liling Huang from National Taiwan University and Prof. Kay Chiang from the Taipei National University of the Arts. They took us to Zhuo Ye Cottage and introduced us to ZHENG Mei-Shu and her artist/craftsman son, ZUO Zi-luo.

But the introduction was not needed: We knew both of them! They visited Leiden and the TRC some years ago, in November 2013, in the context of a Spotlight Taiwan Programme, which included various workshops in indigo dyeing at the TRC. 

And what is even more pleasing, Zi-luo will visit Leiden again this summer (16-19 July) for the large International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS), co-organised by IIAS, which will attract more than 2000 participants from all over the world. And as part of ICAS, the TRC organises its own special Asia Week with an exhibition, lectures and workshops.

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