Instead of going to Yangmingshan National Park as planned, I decided to visit a couple of museums in Taipei last Sunday. If I have to say what has impressed me the most in Taiwan, it should be Taiwanese’s flair and enthusiasm for running museums. Taiwanese has museum for hot springs, museum for specific event, memorial museums for many famous people, museum for the old bank system, museum for the aborigines,miniatures museum, astronomical museum or even museum for post office. After two weeks staying Taiwan, I have been to a few of them, including National Palace Museum, National Taiwan Museum, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei 228 Memorial Museum, Beitou Museum of Hot Spring. Among the aforementioned, National Palace Museum should be the most famous one, often mentioned as the must-visit place in Taipei for its exhibition of nearly 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks. I spent more than three hours visiting National Palace Museum on the previous Sunday (4 September) and found that three-hour walk may not be enough to visit that place thoroughly. However, in this post, I want to tell about my recent “exposure” to the history of Taiwan last Sunday. As mentioned above, I decided to visit Taipei 228 Memorial Museum, National Taiwan Museum and attended two book introduction events in Eslite Bookstore, Xinyi Branch.
In my second day coming to Taiwan, I had a chance to come by Taipei 228 Memorial Museum and listened a little bit about 228 Incident. However, as this walking tour’s purpose is limited to helping you walking through the most typical places in Taipei only, we did not get into the Museum that time. After two weeks in Taipei, reading more about the history of Taiwan, I was a little bit curious about this incident so I thought that a visit to the 228 Memorial Museum may help. Information on the Internet related to this incident is abundant as well but a field trip left me with great impression on the event (of course), or Taiwanese views towards Japan and KMT, and Taiwanese struggle for democracy during the last century. It is just a pity that the exhibition is not fully translated into English, therefore, it is difficult for the foreigners to get full insights into the incident. I tried reading lots of information in Chinese, however, there were some parts I decided to leave for its complicating usage of Chinese that went beyond my current Chinese level.
The February 28 Incident (Chinese: 二二八事件) or February 28 Massacre, also known as 228 Incident, was an anti-government uprising in Taiwan. Taking its name from the date of the incident, it began on February 27, 1947, and was violently suppressed by the Kuomintang-led Republic of China government, which killed thousands of civilians beginning on February 28. Estimates of the number of deaths vary from 10,000 to 30,000 or more. The massacre marked the beginning of the Kuomintang’s White Terror period in Taiwan, in which thousands more inhabitants vanished, died, or were imprisoned. This incident is one of the most important events in Taiwan’s modern history, and is a critical impetus for the Taiwan independence movement.
Before coming to Taiwan, my understanding of Taiwan history or political situation was very limited. I just knew that Taiwan is not the same as China, knew about the 1949 event when KMT of Chiang Kai-shek lost control of the mainland China and withdrew to Taiwan. Two weeks in Taipei offered me more insights into the history of Taiwan. I knew about its period under the Japanese rule, the White Terror period following the release of Martial Law, the struggle of Taiwanese towards democracy, which in turn led to its very first presidential election in 1996. While visiting the Museum, I was really impressed about their exhibition of stories shared about the family members of the victims in the 228 Incident, which made me feel really sad on hearing about it. I also admired the Taiwanese for their efforts of establishing their own democracy and of course their efforts of bringing out the 228 Massacre into lights, forcing the government to take responsibilities for the Incident by making a formal apology annually on 28 February. The theme of human right was also emphasized and consistently presented throughout the exhibition.
Another interesting thing struck me during my visit is the story relating to the Change of Era, specifically, the change from the Japanese rule to KMT rule.
In my first writing exercise in my Chinese Class in NCCU, there was a prompt that required students to briefly introduce history of Taiwan in Chinese. I chose this prompt for my impression on the complication of Taiwanese history then I found myself really interested in the period when Taiwan was colonized by the Japanese. It is a little bit interesting to hear that some Taiwanese prefer the Japanese colonization to the KMT’s leadership. In spite of its short period of Japanese ruling (1895 – 1945), Japanese left great impact on the Taiwanese life. During that period, Japanese even set up its Imperial educational system in Taiwan (National Taiwan University used to be the Taihoku Imperial University under the Japanese rule), many Taiwanese even participated in Japanese army in World War II. Under the Japanese rule, some Taiwanese political parties had already struggled for their autonomy and they already gained some significant progresses in becoming more autonomous. The loss of Japanese army in WWII suddenly brought about changes in Taiwan’s society. I was really moved when reading about the part Change of Era in the museum:
“During the 10 year of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and the 228 Incident 1947, Taiwanese people experienced critical historical changes. The intention of the Kominga Movement (Japanization) was to completely trying (sic) to uproot Han culture in Taiwan, while the “crackdown on traitors” by the National Government in 1946 was aimed at eliminating any remnant of Japanese culture and influence in Taiwan. Most people who experienced the 228 Incident lived through two different eras, learning two different languages, swearing loyalty to two different flags, and holding two different identities.
How were the Taiwanese people supposed to deal with the fast identity switch as they moved from one regime and culture to another, going from relative self government before the war, colonization during the war, and tyranny after? How to adjust themselves of (sic) successive regimes that were equally violent, my Taiwanese people?”
(The Change of Era)
Such an open question that stimulated the audience’s thoughts is really difficult to find in Vietnamese museum. The museum has done a good job in not only reminding people about the past but also raising a question or a discussion relating the impact of changes in regime as well as the identity of Taiwanese people. I read elsewhere that current Taiwanese government also tries its best to promote Taiwan as a metropolitan “nation” or promote its ethnicity diversification in an effort to distinguish Taiwan from the “Han” culture or Chinese Mainland. National Taiwan Museum is currently conducting an exhibition relating to the Taiwanese aborigine (原住民）(Actually it is a little bit boring to me) and there are more and more trips to discover the aborigine’s culture. Recently, Taiwanese President, Tsai Ing-wen, even offered an official apology to Aborigines for Century of Injustice, making her the very first Taiwanese president officially apologizing Taiwanese aborigines (Link). I read some comments on Facebook that she just made a lip service and heard some Taiwanese people complaining about her recently but I thought such effort should be appreciated though.
National Taiwan Museum is also inside the 228 Peace Memorial Park. Actually, the exhibition theme is not really interesting but you may consider having a look at it. Remember to visit the Land Bank of Taiwan, which is opposite the National Taiwan Museum as well. The exhibition in the Land Bank of Taiwan is more about the old bank system in Taiwan. The topic may be a little bit boring but having a look at the old bank vault or the old bank uniform is not really bad, especially when the visit is free of charge.
After visiting National Taiwan Museum, I headed to Xinyi District to participating to a speaking event relating to Taiwanese citizens’ responsibilities towards the Sustainable Development Goals set by United Nation. My first intention was to improve my Chinese listening skill by not confining my learning environment within the class settings only. My second intention was to understand more about the life of the Taiwanese people. I hope that my three-month experience in Taiwan will not be limited to enjoying the Chou Doufu, visiting Taiwanese night markets or checking-in famous places like Jiufen, Kenting, Sun Moon Lake only but getting more insights about the local life, at least life of the young Taiwanese people like me. After arriving at the Taipei City Hall MRT, I got lost a little bit so I decided not to go to the Bookshop where the event took place but visited Eslite Xinyi Bookstore instead. It was not a bad decision indeed because I got the chance to participate in two book introduction events taking place in the 3th Floor of the bookstore. It was also interesting that the two books were also related to history of Taiwan. The first event’s name was 《日曜日式散步者——風車詩社及其年代》 (Le Moulin), relating to Taiwan’s first group of modern poets gather in the 1930s in a quiet protest against the cultural superiority of the colonial power. (Link) The second one was “百年歷史的千種變貌” (100-year history that underwent various changes) by Yang Zhao/ 楊照, which was to introduce his newly published book “《1981光陰賊》. For the first event, due to its more intensive use of language related to the arts and the presence of about five speakers, it was a little bit difficult for me to catch the ideas of the speaking event. However, it is still an insightful one for its mentioning of attitudes of Taiwanese people towards the Japanese colonization. The second event was much easier for me to catch the speaker’s speech (in comparison with the first one – I was not so confident about my listening ability). I was really impressed when the author mentioned about the relation between Taiwan and the US in the past, the year of 1966 when the US secretly established relations with the Chinese Mainland and how Taiwanese people felt about such “betrayal”. I, however, associated such incidence with the 1971 Incidence when Taiwan’s ROC was no longer considered as the representative of China in United Nations and expelled in almost every political playground since then. Even in the sport events like Olympic, Taiwan is not allowed to use its anthem and its national flag and even their name but it is forced to participate as Chinese Taipei. Admittedly, I was a little bit emotionally affected on hearing about that. From the view of an outsider, it should be difficult for Taiwanese to undergo such resolution, let alone ROC was among the founding members of UN. Such resolution then led to the termination of diplomatic relation between Taiwan with many countries in the world, turning it into one of the countries that don’t exist (Link). As one of the tour guides told me in my second day in Taiwan, the political status of Taiwan still remains controversial, however, given its possession of its own government, its own legal system, its own educational system, its own currencies, etc. should it be considered a legitimate nation? Of course, he also shared his own opinion, admitting that the Mainland China is too powerful, which makes it a little bit difficult to realize such independence idealism.
To end this post, some photos of the bookstore are offered here. This was the third time I visited Eslite bookstore during my two weeks staying there but I was still amazed by it. It is a must-visit place in Taipei for a book lover. Of course, you must expect that Chinese books are dominantly offered here but I think its offering of English books is also satisfactory as well. (But I do not feel as overwhelmed at its offering of English books as I was in Kinokuniya Bookstore in Bangkok last year).