Reflecting on human rights

Today is Human Rights Day. It also marks 33 years since the Kaohsiung Incident, a key event which set Taiwan on the path to democracy. While Taiwan has made many advances in human rights since the days of White Terror and Martial Law it is worth taking some time to reflect on the state of human rights in Taiwan today.

Many of Taiwan’s human rights problems are rooted in a transition to democracy without transitional justice. The legacy of the authoritarian party-state that governed Taiwan during Martial Law still influences the politics of the present.

The case of Chiou Ho-shun (邱和順) has spanned almost the entire post-Martial Law period. In many ways Chiou’s case is symbolic of Taiwan’s human rights problems.

Chiou was first sentenced to death in 1989. The case against Chiou was based on confessions under torture which were later retracted. In 1994, two prosecutors and ten police officers were convicted for using torture to obtain confessions in one of the cases. Chiou remains on death row and Amnesty International are campaigning for a re-trial of his case. Continue reading

Visit to two 228 museums in Taipei

Relief in the Taipei 228 Museum

The Taipei 228 Memorial Museum (台北二二八紀念館) reopened in February this year after being closed for almost a year for renovations. The reopening created some controversy over how the new exhibits interpreted the events of 228. On Sunday I went to visit the museum to see for myself how it had changed.

I had visited the museum about five times since my first visit in 2007 so I had a good understanding of the previous layout and content of the exhibits. The first thing I found on arriving was that the audio guide, which was previously available in English and several other languages, was not available. The staff said that it wasn’t ready yet and did not know when it would become available. All the exhibits are described in Chinese characters with only a small amount of English and Japanese. Continue reading

Formosa Betrayed: a quest for truth and justice

Formosa Betrayed movie posterAfter a long wait Formosa Betrayed (被出賣的台灣) has come to Taiwan. I saw the film at the Taichung premiere on Monday night. The premiere was well attended and producer Will Tiao was there to to introduce the film. Tiao said it was the first ever Hollywood film about Taiwan’s White Terror period. He also said that as the film was produced in the USA and Thailand some details are not accurate, but the important point was to tell this story about Taiwan to the world.

The film is described as “inspired by actual events”. The murder of a Taiwanese American professor at the beginning of the movie is an obvious reference to the murder of Taiwanese writer Henry Liu in California in 1984. The Kaohsiung Incident, the Lin Yi-hsiung family murders, spies on US university campuses and the 228 Massacre are also alluded to in the film in varying degrees of detail.

Audiences in Taiwan will already be familiar with much of the historical background to the events portrayed in the film. Those with background knowledge of Taiwan’s history might find some of the details are not accurate or don’t concord with the chronology of the White Terror period and the early 1980s the film is set in. However, the focus should really be on the story of how an American FBI agent discovers the truth about the true nature of the ROC regime on Taiwan. It is this process of discovery by FBI agent Jake Kelly that forms the central part of the story. Continue reading

What is justice? 正義系啥米

What is justice? (正義系啥米) was held at the Leader University (立德大學) in Tainan yesterday. The event featured a concert with a number of leading Taiwan bands as well as an exhibition about 228 Incident. The event was organised by the Leader University Hot Rock Club (立德大學熱音社) and the 228 Memorial Foundation.

An exhibition about 228 was set up at the edge of the hall with many people walking through it during the afternoon. Many of the bands encouraged people to go over and have a look at the exhibition and think about what the 228 means. Every year on 28 February there are events to commemorate the 228 Incident, but it shouldn’t be an issue that is just put in the spotlight one day a year. Events like this give people another opportunity to learn about and reflect on the meaning of 228. Continue reading

Tears and transitional justice

I reviewed Tears (眼淚) last year after I saw it at the Golden Horse Film Festival. The movie is officially released in Taiwan today. The movie tells the story of Guo, an old policeman who employs some unethical policing methods and eventually has to face up to his past.

The movie is being widely discussed in Taiwan for its theme of transitional justice. I have selected a couple of articles on the topic and translated part of them. In the Liberty Times (自由時報) Wang Dan (王丹), who recently spent six months in Taiwan as a visiting professor at NCCU, wrote:

做為「轉型正義」三部曲的第一部,鄭文堂並沒有去處理白色恐怖這個政治性的轉型正義議題,而是從員警執法的 社會層面入手,我認為這是很值得肯定的努力。關於轉型正義的議題,我一向認為過去的討論太政治化,反而不利於這個議題的深入進行。其實在社會層面,也有很多轉型正義的面向要去處理,這些面向涉及的是人性和人與人之間的關係的問題,因而來 得更加復雜。同時,這也是政府和國家權力無從處理,而需要公民社會本身來處理的問題。

In the first of a trilogy of films about transitional justice, Cheng Wen-tang didn’t deal with the issue of the White Terror period. Instead he began by looking at how the police enforce the law in society. I think this is a commendable effort. With regard to the topic of transitional justice I always believe the discussion in the past was too politicised and it’s not really favorable to discussing this topic deeply. Actually at the social level there are many issues of transitional justice that need to be faced. These involve human nature and the problems in relations between people. As a result they are more complex. At the same time this is something that the government or the power of the state can’t manage. It requires the citizens and society itself to manage.

Continue reading

Green Island experience

I participated in a “Human Rights Camp” on Green Island from 19-22 July. The article that follows are my thoughts after returning.


When the boat arrived at Green Island (綠島) my first impression was that the island was incredibly green, verdant, a rich tropical paradise. Most people come to the island for a holiday, but I was here to join the “Human Rights Camp” (綠島人權之路青年營) along with sixty other students and a group of teachers and former political prisoners. It was a different experience of Green Island, but it was incredible and something I will never forget. Continue reading

A tale of two nations

It might seem hard to imagine now but 20 years ago there were many similarities between the political situation in Taiwan and China. Both countries had an authoritarian polity with strict controls on freedom of speech. On university campuses the party-state (KMT or CCP) maintained tight control over student organisations and political activities. The situation in Taiwan was less repressive and there was a formal opposition movement in the DPP.

In The Perils of Protest, Teresa Wright makes a comparative study of the 1989 student protests in Beijing and the March 1990 Wild Lily Student Movement in Taipei. She examines in detail the organisational and decision making behaviour of the students. The actions taken by the students in Beijing and Taipei had many similarities including the launching of hunger strikes and separation of students from non-students during protests. Continue reading

German magazine about Taiwan

dianmo-coverDianMo, a German student magazine about Sinology, has just released a special edition about Taiwan. You can download a pdf of the magazine from their website.

Most of the articles are in German, which I know a few readers of this blog can read. There are two articles in English. One is “Reviving Ethnic Diversity: Preserving Taiwan’s Austronesian Aboriginal Languages” by Jeffrey Campbell. The other is an article I wrote titled, “A Comparison of Transitional Justice in Taiwan and East Germany”.

Transitional justice is an issue which is an ongoing theme on this blog. East Germany and Taiwan both emerged from authoritarianism at around the same time. The comparison between the two countries raises some important issues. Any comments on my article or the magazine generally are most welcome.

*You can download a pdf file of the article here.