In Which A Sneak Preview in London Elicits Several Challenging Questions

So there’s a sneak preview screening of ALMOST HOME: TAIWAN on 10th April in London. Here’s the Facebook page on it, which is accessible to the public. If you have friends in Blightly, please let them know! It’s a benefit screening since I’m trying to figure out with my meagre means how I might travel to the NATWA conference in San Diego and Visions du Réel in Switzerland without starving too much or finding myself stranded in an unknown foreign country.

In trying to rustle up an audience, I contacted the Taiwan Centre at the University of London to ask if they could attend. Unfortunately, they are all off to Poland for a convention that weekend, but they did send the Facebook invite to several people. One of these people read the Cinevue article that I put on the invite page and responded with the following questions:

Hi Victoria, Jewel invited me to your event, but unfortunately I can’t make it. If you don’t mind, I have questions here for you:

1. You said ““But I’d like to suggest that China needs Taiwan more than Taiwan needs China” –
a. What is your suggestion based on?
b. And when was the last time you travelled in China?
c. What is your observation or experience with China travelers in Taiwan? and when?

2. What is your view/observation of Sun Flower Student Movement? And how or if it had changed Taiwan’s political landscape?

3. Why do you think Taiwan’s Sun Flower Movement struggled to get ANY mention at all in New York, whereas Hong Kong Umbrella received instant headline in New York Times?

4. “just hearing people speaking Taiwanese openly was mind-blowing since all languages except Mandarin were banned during my childhood.” That is not true. But I don’t think you meant what you wrote, so what did you mean “all languages except Mandarin were banned”?

Actually this is a bit modified from her original personal message to me. I asked her to write it on the Facebook invite wall and make it public. In her original message, she wrote for Challenging Question #4, “Oh – that is definitely NOT true. ‘just hearing people speaking Taiwanese openly was mind-blowing since all languages except Mandarin were banned during my childhood.’ Where did the idea come from?”

This was a little more of a throwdown of the gauntlet.  I couldn’t help but copy & paste her question on the ALMOST HOME: TAIWAN Facebook page since it was rather astonishing to me that someone who identifies as Taiwanese (from Taiwan to boot) did not feel the repression against the language. A few other people in the Taiwan community have written responses and someone doing postgrad in the Netherlands sent me an erudite academic article in response to this lady. Besides wide anecdotal evidence, which perhaps other people will chime in with, here’s another academic essay on the Taiwanese language that mentions the ban in public settings. It’s even on Wikipedia, both in this article on Hokkien and this article on Censorship in Taiwan.

As far as I understand, the use of Taiwanese in public settings was part of the Criminal Acts Against Seditious Speech, which was revised in 1992. Correct me if I’m wrong (I’d really be interested in knowing!) but even if I were wrong about what was actually on the books, how free did people feel speaking the language when they grew up being humiliated and fined whenever they reverted to their native tongue?  I know my mother (who is a pretty good barometer of the general non-intelligentsia Taiwanese) believed that speaking Taiwanese in public was dangerous. If that’s not a ban of the language, I’m not sure what would be. I’m only going on and on about this since the politicization of language is a subject that’s close to my heart. It’s how I was first radicalized. It’s one of my first understandings of oppression. It’s impossible not to be outraged when your speech is shackled. As the Irish, Basques, Catalonians, Kurds, and Bangladeshis know. Read Ivan Illich’s amazing treatise Vernacular Values on how a grammar book was used to subjugate Spain in the late 1400s.

And in response to her other questions, and to her message in general, let me say this:

Katy,

I feel that perhaps since Taiwan issues are so buried, you aren’t used to anyone speaking about it publicly outside of an academic context. I’m an artist, not an academic or an economist or a political pundit. So I will naturally push boundaries and take some liberties. That said, of course, I’m careful what I say about Taiwan since I know it’s on public record. I’ve answered Question #4 above. As far as the other questions, without writing a 10 page essay, here are my responses:

1. Like most Taiwanese I don’t have that much contact with China. The first, last, and only time I was there was in 1997. I think I’m the first person in my family to visit China since the 1700s. It totally blew my mind how different China is from Taiwan – and how much the Cultural Revolution had been so internalized by everyone there. My statement in the Cinevue article is based on my experience of how the US outsources its industry to other places. In the last decade or so, Taiwan has similarly been outsourcing a lot of its industry to China. I haven’t gotten around to asking, but I think that the Taiwanese don’t have the same understanding of outsourcing that people in America have. I’m not even sure if there’s a word for “outsourcing” in Chinese. My little challenging statement just begs the question of who is really in power when industry is outsourced: The country on the receiving end of the outsourcing? Or the country that is doing the outsourcing?

2 & 3. The Sunflower Movement was terribly exciting and I think it’s shifted the political landscape in Asia in ways that are still unfolding. The interview  you are reacting to was conducted in 2012, so naturally there is no mention of the Sunflower Movement since it hadn’t yet occurred. I’ve just added a mention of the Sunflower Movement to the end of the film. You can see in in the latest cut on April 10th. And as far as why there is a media blackout on Taiwan (or brownout if you want to be more polite), well I think that’s obviously the hegemony at work for you. Hopefully, with this film, we can attract more people to join our parade and shout and sing and bang on pots and pans until the media is forced to pay attention.

Come catch the film on April 10th! or buttonhole me with more challenging questions at NATWA in San Diego and I’ll do my best to not put my foot my mouth. The more discussion the better, right?

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