Vietnamese culture under the spotlight at this year’s TAIWANfest, with room for food, music, film and democracy
Vietnamese culture under the spotlight at this year’s TAIWANfest, with room for food, music, film and democracy

Chinese journalist Alison Zhao will discuss democracy when she comes to TAIWANfest, which runs from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2.



When: Aug 31 & Sept 1-2

Where: various locations

Tickets: at

When Alison Zhao comes to TAIWANfest, the Chinese journalist will discuss democracy. As someone who grew up in Guangzhou and discovered the relative freedoms of Hong Kong — through TV broadcasts from the region — and then Taiwan, she has some experience in that area.

“I’m going to talk about Taiwan, and how it changed my understanding of democracy and how it made my career possible,” said Zhao, who is now in the Master of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University in the U.S. “It gave me a lot of help in terms of security and approval and opportunities.”

Zhao is one of many guests at the festival, which dates back to 1990, although it didn’t become known as TAIWANfest until 2006. In 2016 organizers expanded programming to include other cultures in the Dialogue with Asia Series.

“It’s a way to elevate our conversation on diversity to the next level,” said Charlie Wu, Managing Director for Asian-Canadian Special Events Association, the festival’s organizing body.

This year’s focus is on Vietnam.

Wu notes that Vancouver has a large Vietnamese population (2.2 per cent, according to 2011 statistics), and that mixed marriages in Taiwan between Taiwanese and Vietnamese is common. According to a 2017 statistic, there were nearly 100,000 Vietnamese spouses in Taiwan.

Some of the festival’s guests are Vietnamese, including Vietnamese-Canadian world music artist Vi An Diep. She joins musician Suana Emuy Cilangasay, descended from the Taiwanese Indigenous people the Amis/Sakizaya, and Vancouver vocalists Tiffany Moses and Ginalina for what the news release describes as “a dialogue about music and identity.”

Other notable music acts coming to the festival include Taiwanese groups Ju Percussion and indie-rockers Sorry Youth. “They sing in Taiwanese,” Wu said of the latter, “but they’re working with two visual artists, and through their work together they think people can get a taste of Taiwanese culture.”)

Home Winds is an exhibit of work by Vietnamese photographer Bao Khanh Vu. In Friendship Kitchen, chefs from Vietnam, Taiwan, and Vancouver engage in what Wu called “dialogues with food. We’re going to take a deep dive into how food reaches the two culture.” The film programming, too, has a Vietnamese component, including the well-received 2018 comedy/drama Go Go Sisters. Caroline Nguyen will talk about her experiences as a Vietnamese woman who fell in love with Taiwan after moving there as a student.

Nguyen’s appearance is part of a series of Hope Talks that includes Alison Zhao’s discussion. The winner of two Society of Asian Publishers Awards and six Hong Kong Human Rights Press Award, Zhao is also the author of Her Battles, a book about female activism in China. Zhao says the book has been translated to English but has yet to find a publisher.

She was originally going to talk about Her Battles but with events transpiring in Hong Kong, it was decided that she would share her thoughts on democracy when she speaks at CBC Studio 700 on Sept. 2 from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m.

One thing she has come to realize is that there are no knights-in-shining armour who are going to ride to the rescue.

“There’s a lot of international media advocacy saying that the U.S. should do more to support Hong Kong,” she said. “But when considering the trade war and the U.S. economy and jobs, the Hong Kong issue is not a primary issue. The U.S. is not just a lighthouse for democracy. For any country or people in a society that is pursuing democracy, the U.S. is not the first thing they can count on.”

Those who want democratic freedoms will have to fight for them. “They can ask for international help and pressure, but the responsibility is primarily taken by the society and pro-democracy activists. It’s not likely that anyone can come to a foreign country to achieve democracy anymore. It’s not the Cold War.”