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Representing Atrocity in Taiwan

Representing Atrocity in Taiwan: The 2/28 Incident and White Terror in Fiction and Film

Sylvia Li-chun Lin
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Representing Atrocity in Taiwan
    Book Description:

    In 1945, Taiwan was placed under the administrative control of the Republic of China, and after two years, accusations of corruption and a failing economy sparked a local protest that was brutally quashed by the Kuomintang government. The February Twenty-Eighth (or 2/28) Incident led to four decades of martial law that became known as the White Terror. During this period, talk of 2/28 was forbidden and all dissent violently suppressed, but since the lifting of martial law in 1987, this long-buried history has been revisited through commemoration and narrative, cinema and remembrance.

    Drawing on a wealth of secondary theoretical material as well as her own original research, Sylvia Li-chun Lin conducts a close analysis of the political, narrative, and ideological structures involved in the fictional and cinematic representations of the 2/28 Incident and White Terror. She assesses the role of individual and collective memory and institutionalized forgetting, while underscoring the dangers of re-creating a historical past and the risks of trivialization. She also compares her findings with scholarly works on the Holocaust and the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Japan, questioning the politics of forming public and personal memories and the political teleology of "closure." This is the first book to be published in English on the 2/28 Incident and White Terror and offers a valuable matrix of comparison for studying the portrayal of atrocity in a specific locale.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51281-7
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Prologue: Looking Backward
    (pp. 1-14)

    Four hours after its installation, the cenotaph commemorating the 1947 February 28 (2/28) Incident in Taiwan was destroyed, and the copper plaque bearing the inscription describing the incident was pried off its base and thrown into a nearby fountain in the Memorial Peace Park in Taipei. Apparently dissatisfied with the official version concerning the causes and aftermath of the incident, relatives of the victims trashed the cenotaph to vent their anger and frustration. Although later the plaque was restored, it continues to anger the opponents of its content.¹

    After a study entitled Research Report on Responsibility for the 2/28 Massacre...


    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 15-18)

      The literary representation of atrocity in Taiwan can be divided into three periods. The first covers the immediate aftermath of the 2/28 Incident and is mostly composed of short stories, some of which have only recently been unearthed.¹ After the initial response to the conflict and massacre came a long period of silence, largely because of the oppressive political atmosphere but also because so many members of the Taiwanese elite died in 1947. Not until the early 1980s did writers begin to break through the taboo and re-create from their imagination or personal experience stories about the 2/28 Incident and...

    • 1. Ethnicity and Atrocity
      (pp. 19-46)

      “Ethnicity,” as anthropologists have observed, is a term that “invites endless and fruitless definitional argument among those professional intellectuals who think that they know, or ought to know, what it means.”¹ This sense of frustration is understandable, since anthropologists have been searching for decades for answers to how and why a particular group of people consider themselves to have the same ethnic origin. The array of theories is dazzling. The primordialists argue that there is an “‘overpowering’ and ‘ineffable quality’ attaching to certain kinds of ties, which the participants tend to see as exterior, ‘coercive,’ and ‘given.’” The instrumentalists, however,...

    • 2. Documenting the Past
      (pp. 47-72)

      Historical documents and fictional re-creations of events complement each other in the transmission of historical knowledge, particularly after an extended period of suppressed information and a forced absence of political dissent. During the martial law era (1949–1987) in Taiwan, information about the 2/28 Incident of 1947 and the Formosa Incident of 1979, as well as their impact on people’s lives, was withheld from the populace, buried behind a facade of harmonious existence under the predictable pretense of national stability and economic prosperity. Even the discussion of these and related events could, and often did, lead to dire consequences. The...

    • 3. Engendering Victimhood
      (pp. 73-96)

      While it may be coincidental that a female cigarette vendor was beaten by the authorities, thereby opening a floodgate of Taiwanese discontent and Nationalist brutality, women and the images of women have often played a crucial role in times of crises in both actual national politics and popular imagination. In “The Female Body and Nationalist Discourse: Manchuria in Xiao Hong’s Field of Life and Death,” Lydia Liu examines the co-optation of Xiao Hong’s work by male critics throughout modern Chinese literary history. Beginning with Lu Xun and Hu Feng, Xiao Hong scholarship has been subsumed into a national discourse that...


    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 97-100)

      We have seen that under martial law, the political climate in Taiwan was inhospitable to literary portrayals of government atrocity against its people. Nonetheless, writers devised a variety of strategies to circumvent the restrictions and subvert the taboos. In contrast, cinematic re-creation had to wait until 1989, when Hou Hsiao-hsien filmed A City of Sadness. To be sure, there were many reasons that cinematographic representation took so long to appear. All things considered, in terms of venue and finance, it was easier for writers to publish their work and to pass censorship, as long as the portrayal was not overly...

    • 4. Past Versus Present
      (pp. 101-127)

      Earlier chapters discussed the narratorial functions of contrasting the past and the present in literary representation. For instance, in “Three Sworn Brothers of Xizhuang,” Lin Shenjing uses the contrast to highlight better, more harmonious ethnic relations, as opposed to an earlier time when misunderstanding and distrust wrecked the lives of the Taiwanese villagers and the nameless mainlander. Chen Yingzhen’s “The Mountain Road,” in contrast, privileges the past over the present in its condemnation of capitalism in Taiwan. Whether the past is rife with ethnic conflict and the present is free of tension, or the past is praised for political idealism...

    • 5. Screening Atrocity
      (pp. 128-153)

      No film in taiwanese cinema history has received as many accolades or as much criticism as A City of Sadness (henceforth referred to as Sadness), directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, the first Taiwanese film ever to win Venice’s Golden Lion Award for Best Film. Immediately after its release in 1989, the film and its director came under scathing attack by critics from the entire range of Taiwan’s political spectrum. A collection of essays entitled The Death of New Cinema, whose main target of criticism was Hou and his film,¹ was followed by another wave of articles to counter the charges. Almost...

    • 6. Memory as Redemption
      (pp. 154-172)

      When hou hsiao-hsien’s idea for Good Men, Good Women changed from the problems of adjustment for a newly released political prisoner and his daughter to a film within a film,¹ the original inspiration from Chu T’ien-hsin’s story “Once upon a Time There Was a Man Called Urashima Tarō” took on a life of its own. Hsu Hsiao-ming’s Heartbreak Island also takes up the issue of reintegration into society but focuses more on the betrayal of political ideals. And Wan Ren’s Super Citizen Ko uses the iconic figure of a political prisoner and sets up a sharp contrast between past and...

  8. Epilogue: Looking Forward
    (pp. 173-182)

    It has been twenty years since martial law was lifted in 1987, which ushered in dramatic changes in every aspect of Taiwanese citizens’ lives. Most noteworthy are the unprecedented civil liberties that guarantee the freedoms of speech, press, and congregation. Gone are the thought police who patrolled their daily lives; no longer do they have to fear persecution for expressing dissenting views now that the White Terror has become a part of Taiwan’s less than glorious past. These two decades have also witnessed a surge in remembering the past, especially the 2/28 Incident and the government persecution during the White...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 183-214)
    (pp. 215-234)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 235-240)