Ruan Weng-mong: Art and People’s Diplomacy


2017 / 1月

Su Hui-chao /photos courtesy of Ruan Weng-mong /tr. by Geoff Hegarty and Sophia Chen

After studying sculpture at college in Taiwan, Ruan Weng-mong traveled widely to the farthest reaches of Africa and to Europe during his youth. A stay in the Kingdom of Swazi­land opened new perspectives on the world of gems and metals, and sojourns in Germany provided a solid foundation in goldsmithing and jewelry design. His works bring together elements of multiculturalism expressed in his own very personal style. But though Ruan’s travels connect primarily with the contemporary global metal art and sculpture community, he has also quietly dedicated himself to promoting Taiwan’s people-to-people relations around the world.

Taiwan’s jewelry design and goldsmithing community will forever remember the German Contemporary Metal Crafts Exhibition held at the Gold Museum in New Tai­pei City from June to September, 2012.

More than 100 exhibits came from the unique Schmuck­museum (jewelry museum) in Pforz­heim, southern Germany. The city has over 300 years’ history in jewelry and watchmaking, is famous as a center for jewelry design and gold- and silversmithing, and is also renowned for its jewelry and metal crafts collections. The exhibition was organized by Taiwanese artist Ruan Weng-mong, locally nicknamed “The Happy Master” of goldsmithing.

An unofficial diplomat

From Swaziland to Germany, from age 21 to his present 64 years, Ruan traveled and studied at a number of vocational schools, particularly at Würzburg for 15 years where he earned an A-Class certification as a master goldsmith. Ruan says that during this period, “I would enroll in a course whenever I felt the need to learn more.” Ruan has also been design director for five separate jewelry design companies, and was at one time head of a design and metal art association in Frankfurt. Whenever he faced technical problems, he would seek far and wide for a solution, for example calling on university academics for help with optical cutting techniques, or traveling to Shen­zhen in China to learn fine skills of grinding gems. And due to his active promotion of Taiwan’s global diplomatic relationships, fewer Germans now mistake Taiwan for Thailand. With the rich experiences gained from several decades of overseas residence and travel, Ruan has been able to promote Taiwan’s visibility on the international stage. He has been in fact an accomplished unofficial diplomat.

Ruan is a graduate of the National Art Academy in Tai­pei (now the National Taiwan University of Arts) with a major in sculpture, but his academic career has taken many twists and turns. When he was just 13, he dropped out of junior high school to enroll in a design course with the Tai­pei Vocational Training Center. There he gained a wide range of skills such as printing and drawing design. But more valuable for Ruan than all the books he read at college was his study of Jewelry World, a book written by ­Felix ­Chang and published in 1973.

Chang was the first person in Taiwan to gain a diploma from the Gemological Institute of America, and his publication of Jewelry World, Taiwan’s first book on gemology, planted a seed in the young Ruan’s mind. 

Ruan believed strongly that he was fated for an artistic career, so he opened his mind and began methodically to explore the world of art.

Ruan laid a solid foundation for his three-dimensional perspective skills in college. “I discovered that three-­dimensional art is much more interesting and profound than the plane,” says Ruan. After graduating from college, he was recruited by the Committee of ­International Technical Cooperation (CITC, now the International Cooperation and Development Foundation, ICDF), and became one of the youngest members of a technical mission sent to teach woodcarving in Swaziland. The person responsible for coordinating between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the CITC at the time was diplomat Yang Hsi-kun, known as “Mr. Africa.” Ruan’s association with Taiwan’s foreign affairs started there.

As an artist, Ruan admits that he lacked the discipline of the typical civil servant who is required to abide by the rules, and the solemnity of a diplomat. But despite these deficiencies, he has actively promoted Taiwan’s foreign relationships through his teaching, artworks and exhibitions.

Interdisciplinary work

Swaziland was Ruan’s first foreign excursion, and he experienced quite a culture shock. In the Swaziland woodcarving center, there was also ceramic and gemstone work under way. He taught woodcarving, but also took the opportunity to learn basic gem-grinding skills, inspiring a new interest and desire to learn more about gemology. So he decided to go to Germany to study.

The days of study in Germany were very hard. The language, Ruan says, especially the specialist vocabulary of goldsmithing and gemology, was all Greek to him. “At the beginning I had to look up every word.” And at the same time that he was studying the theory, he was also apprenticed to a jewelry store to gain hands-on experience, an interesting aspect of Germany’s dual education system. He had no idea at the time that more than four decades later he would become a walking textbook for Taiwan’s vocational education.

Ruan tried his best to integrate into German society and was very keen to learn the theory and techniques of goldsmithing and silversmithing: not only art history and aesthetics, but the physical techniques—the materials, the physics and chemistry of different metals. And then there was psychology, and even Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

Ruan was confident that with the experience he had gained working for jewelry companies, he could become a first-rate commercial jewelry designer. But what he really wanted to do was to create works of art using all kinds of gems and metals and differing techniques to reflect his observations of nature and his inner thoughts and emotions. This goal is reflected in works such as Original Decoration, Humanistic Texture, Golden Subtropical, Hill Silhouettes, Seeds of Life, and Ruts of Homeland displayed in the Post · Vision · Form—Ruan Weng-Mong Solo Exhibition at the Tai­pei Museum of Contemporary Art from October to December 2016. The exhibition transcended the limits of metal art, while displaying an amazing diversity of techniques. Ruan has virtually rebuilt the concepts and forms of traditional sculpture. His philosophies are faithfully demonstrated through these works, which in general present a German rational and minimalist style, but at the same time reveal a nostalgia for his home nation—Taiwan—and accurately convey his interdisciplinary, intercultural, and international attributes.

A humanistic perspective

Ruan believes that contemporary art is the art of the present, a form of aesthetic exploration and linguistic expression derived from continuous interaction and collision between individual creativities, life experiences, and surroundings: the physical environment, space and things.

Ruan has become involved in a broad range of studies including the biological nature of seeds, and the hidden world of archaeology.

Beauty is intuitive. Beautiful things impress Ruan and inspire his creativity. For him, seeds are beautiful, and excavating antiquities is beautiful. Ruan pondered on how to represent the texture of an object in metal. So taking one step at a time, he analyzed textures from a cultural perspective to express a meaning to and for human beings. These contemplations led finally to his work Humanistic Texture. “When looking at art, we need to be able to sense the artist’s original idea. The critics tend to get in the way, to prioritize their own interpretations, to come between the artist and the people.”

Taiwan is home, and Germany provides the nutrients to grow. But Ruan doesn’t carry the burden for a nation because for him the world is his home. He will continue to display the brilliance of his work on the international stage.

Art without borders

With a free spirit and unrestrained creativity, Ruan was offered a prestigious position at the National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute in Nan­tou County during President Chen Shui-bian’s term of office, and then another post by the Gold Museum in New Tai­pei City. He declined both offers, feeling that his ambition to expand his artistic horizons should take priority.

For the future, Ruan wishes to divide his time between creating art and promoting Taiwan’s diplomacy through culture and art. He will also manage the Ruan Weng-mong College of Metal Art, to be opened in the spring of 2017.

It’s a virtual college with no physical facilities—all the courses and activities will be offered from the cloud. Classes will be mobile, depending on where exhibitions are held, so they could be in Tai­pei, Tokyo or Frankfurt, and will use whatever equipment is available locally. “As long as the content is rich, students will attend regardless of distance. It may also be possible to promote Taiwan’s image through Taiwan Panorama,” says Ruan.

Ruan trusts no particular ideology, but continues to show his love for Taiwan through his art. He is well aware that his name represents Taiwan whenever it is mentioned across the world. He is in many ways an extension of his native country, linking it to the world.



繁體中文 日文

金工旅人鑄精技 藝術揚外交──阮文盟世界巡迴展藝

文‧蘇惠昭 圖‧阮文盟 翻譯‧Geoff Hegarty and Sophia Chen














藝術生命開啟 風格跨界多樣







人文思考 美學造就








阮文盟金工學院 全世界奠基展志





阮文盟の世界巡回展 自由な心と創作による民間外交

文・蘇惠昭 写真・阮文盟 翻訳・松本 幸子































X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!