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Dr Fang-Long Shih
f.shih@lse.ac.uk

Hand in Hand: Summary of Discussion

With Documentary Directors Yen Lan-chuan and Chuang I-tseng

About the documentary and the directors

Date: Tuesday 24 February 2015, 6pm-8.20pm (Film-screening) 8.30pm-9.30pm (Discussion)

Venue: Seligman Library (OLD 6.05), Old Building, LSE

Chair: Dr Fang-Long Shih (LSE Taiwan Research Programme)

Respondents: Dr Kent Deng (LSE Economic History), Dr Christine Han (Institute of Education, UCL), and Stuart Thompson (LSE Taiwan Research Programme)

Motivation for making this film

Shih Fang-long: It is our honour to have the two directors with us here today. We can tell they have worked hard, spending five years, from 2006 to 2010, in making this documentary film. It examines the 60-year struggle for democracy and human rights in contemporary Taiwan from the perspectives of a couple named Dr Tian Chau-ming 田朝明and Mrs Tian Meng-shu田孟淑. Dr Tian has been awarded the title of Doctor of Human Rights, and Mrs Tian was awarded a prize in 2010 by the Taiwan Association for Human Rights. The filming began during the administration of the ‘Green’ Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and was completed during the ‘Blue’ Kuomingtang (KMT) government. First of all, I would like to ask the directors: how did you formulate this idea, starting from a political romance to make this film about Taiwan’s struggle for democracy?

Yen Lan-chuan: Actually, we were asked by the Public Television Channel (公視) to make this film in 2006 when the DPP came to power. We were considered because from our previous documentary Let it Be (無米樂) we had experience of filming elderly (about 70 to 80 years old) rice farmers. While filming, Mrs Tian was in her 80s and Dr Tian was in his 90s. It took me a few months to agree. I was touched by Mrs Tian, her romance and her love for her then-critically ill husband. Also, I think Taiwan does not have a contemporary history. So far, there are only oral records, but Taiwan’s young people were not interested in listening to these. As such, they were unclear about the contemporary history of the struggle for democracy in Taiwan, although some of the older people either witnessed or even took part in democratization movements. We therefore made this film targeting Taiwan’s young people.

Chuang I-tseng: Social movements most flourished when I was studying at university during the late 1980s. However, at that time I was ignorant of what was happening in wider society and overwhelmed by my personal questions about the meaning of life. Twenty years later, while making this film, I collected materials, studied in the archives, and interviewed participants. I was shocked and moved at what I saw and was told. As such, I put myself into the documentary; using a first-person narrative and looking back at Taiwan’s democratisation struggles.

Yen Lan-chuan: The voices of reporting during that time were used. We do not claim that we are objective. We have used the perspectives of the Tian husband and wife. We have used the angle of news reporting. We tried to create an outline of the facts. We knew more after reading more materials. 

The Tian couple as representative

Shih Fang-long: How representative is the Tian couple of Taiwan at the time? Since Dr Tian and Mrs Tian were both educated by the Japanese colonial institutions and baptised as Christians, I wonder if Christianity and Japanese education influenced Dr Tian and Mrs Tian? I am also particularly interested to know: why did Dr Tian develop such a strong sense of justice? Why did Mrs Tian wear the clothes of indigenous people (原住民), as filmed at the beginning of the documentary?


Chuang I-tseng: When he studied in Tokyo, Dr Tian was influenced by what was then progressive thought, such as socialism and communism. Mrs Tian has been very active in civic movements on various issues. Between the late 1980s and 1990s, she also joined the indigenous people, wearing their traditional clothes, campaigning for ‘the Return of our Ancestral Lands’ (還我土地). It is also possible that Mrs Tian may have some indigenous ancestors. There is an old Taiwanese saying: “We have a Han-Chinese grandfather, but we don’t have a Han-Chinese grandmother.”

Yen Lan-chuan: It is hard to say how representative the Tian couple is. On the one hand, they are, as they share the same thoughts that my father did. However, when he worked as a civil servant, he did not dare to say anything. After he retired, he was keen to listen to the speeches given by those who identified themselves as fellow persons outside the [KMT] party (黨外). The people at that time, like Dr and Mrs Tian and my father, were living under the fear of the White Terror (白色恐怖). However, ironically, the martial law (戒嚴) period was the most stable period and there are still people who yearn for Chiang Kai-shek and his rule.

On the other hand, the Tian family cannot totally represent the people of Taiwan during martial law. The majority of the people were suppressed and silent, but the Tian family were representative of those outside the [KMT] party and therefore of activists for the opposition movement. They were representative of the self-conscious general public. However, neither Dr Tian nor Mrs Tian become a government official after the DPP came to power.

As regards Christian influence, Dr Tian was an atheist for most his life. He wasn’t baptised until his very old age. Mrs Tian was baptised when she was 40 years old. In my opinion, the influence of Christianity on her activism was not so great, since Mrs Tian started campaigning for democracy and human rights in her 20s.

From top-down or bottom-up?

Kent Deng: The period in question was transitional in Taiwan politics. The leadership of Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) changed the political landscape in response to the grassroots demand for more liberty and democracy in Taiwan. However, it is not right not to mention Chiang Ching-kuo, who lifted the martial law and ended one-party rule in the documentary. Also, it is not fair to say that the KMT government suppressed all opposition. If the KMT government had not lifted martial law, it would still be there in Taiwan. We cannot say that the Tian family changed Taiwan, as there are many people like Dr Tian or Mrs Tian in China. People cannot defeat the state. Taiwan was lucky because there was an enlightened state leader, Chiang Ching-kuo, while so far there has been no such a leader in Mainland China. It was the state that changed the political system, that meant Taiwan could then have a democracy. This was the same in Eastern Europe, i.e. a change from the top-down. The voices of the grassroots had to be combined with the changes at the top to implement changes.

Christine Han: Singapore’s government has since the last decade slowly opened up, with other voices being heard, and there are alternative narratives being put forward. It is fantastic to see this film, which is a documentary about activists, and which provides a different point of view in Taiwan. But, I wonder if the documentary is also aimed more at pro-Western audiences, not just Asian audiences?

Yen Lan-chuan: The change to democracy in Taiwan was brought by Lee Teng-hui, rather than Chiang Ching-kuo. There were not just changes from the top, but also international changes. Top and bottom are interactive. The film has mentioned martial law and showed the image of Chiang Ching-kuo. Taiwan underwent 38 years of martial law, the longest in the world. The Formosa Incident (美麗島事件) was very critical in Taiwan’s democratization movement. People at the grassroots are actually the actors in fighting for human rights and freedom from the bottom-up. 

Chuang I-tseng: Although Chiang Kai-shek allied with America in WWII, the Chiang family’s rule no longer had the support of the US government after the Formosa Incident. The parliament that represented the Republic of China was elected in 1947 and the old parliamentarians gradually died off. Although Chiang Ching-kuo lifted martial law in 1987 before he died, he was indeed the major executioner of the White Terror between the 1950s and 1980s in Taiwan.

The style of presentation

Stuart Thompson: The presentation style of this film reminds me of that of earlier KMT documentaries with a very clear, black-and-white distinction between those depicted as Saints and those portrayed as Sinners. There’s been a reversal of signs, of course, with the KMT now portrayed starkly as the Sinners, and the couple eulogised as Saint-like, unable to do any wrong.

Yen Lan-chuan: The KMT style used third-person narrative but it did not represent the people. Our documentary told its story through the real lives of the Tian couple and was not propaganda. We have read many materials and newspapers to look at KMT attitudes and techniques from that time. Dr Tian and Mrs Tian never held any official positions. Their daughter Tian Chiu-chin (田秋瑾) was the only one in the family who served in politics, elected as a legislator. This documentary is not propaganda for the DPP, and there is objectivity in presenting this couple. We have used the news reports and television news from that time. Perhaps, this is what Stuart means, in saying part of the documentary is like KMT propaganda.

Stuart Thompson: Why did you use background music to the commentary voice of the sort which seemed to be deliberately ‘plucking at the heart strings’ – reminiscent, it seems to me, of early KMT-type promotional eulogies.

Yen Lan-chuan: We have used 20 songs in the film, and we understand there was a problem of too much music. However, the background music is intended to make a closer link with the different era of Taiwan during the democratization struggles and processes. Each song represents and expresses the pains of that era. 

Stuart Thompson: I do like the contemporaneous songs and music, which added an atmospheric soundtrack. But, I wonder whether the sentimentalization through music was a deliberate choice? It amplifies the emotions of what is being said. Isn’t it too sentimental to young audiences?

Yen Lan-chuan: In the Japanese colonial period and the White Terror period, folksong writers could not directly express what they really thought and meant, due to various political conditions. As such, it was very painful for us to decide on some of the 20 songs, whether and which era to be inserted. Moreover, it was even more painful for us to pay a lot of money for song copyrights. The copyright for a few minutes was very expensive.

UCL student: The directors attempted to use the music to make us (young people) feel the sentiments of that period. It works on me. I like how the old songs presented a different era in the film and they help me to connect to the sentiment of the particular period of the struggle. What were the responses of other young people to the documentary?

Chuang I-tseng: Many of the young people are not interested in the contemporary history of the struggle for democracy. Textbooks have not mentioned this part of history. Textbooks are still under the control of the government.

Yen Lan-chuan: Young people have grown up in a democracy, with freedom of speech that they take for granted. The government suggested that the 228 Incident should not be remembered, and therefore young people do not want to know what happened. Some of them even thought that the 228 incident was when Japanese people slaughtered Taiwanese people. This is why we emphasised at the beginning of this panel discussion that we are targeting young people as the audience in making this documentary film Hand in Hand. 

Stuart Thompson: Did the Tian couple also take part in other movements, such as fighting for land for the indigenous people, for residence rights and/or for labour rights?
Chuang I-tseng: The Tian couple participated in seven out of ten social movements in the 1980s. They extended social justice to every area. What they were concerned with was not politics, but justice.

To forget or to reconcile

Shih Fang-long: After the documentary was completed in 2010 when the KMT was in power, the directors were asked by the Public Television Channel to cut two-thirds of the tragic incident of Lin Yi-hsiung (林義雄), as well as the whole section on the self-immolation of Cheng Nan-jung (鄭南榕). The issue is whether to forget or to reconcile and whether it is good or bad for democracy.

Yen Lan-chuan: It was an undemocratic request. We decided not to accept it, so that we broke the contract and did not receive funding of about three million New Taiwanese dollars (GBP 60,000) to cover our costs. We instead sold our land to pay our own costs, and Hand in Hand turned out to be an independent film. Our documentary was therefore unable to be shown on the Public Television Channel. Instead, we submitted it for the 2010 competition for the Taiwan International Documentary Festival, and it was awarded the first prize of that year. Our documentary was thus shown in theatres all over Taiwan.
LSE student: The young people of Hong Kong still commemorate the June 4th Incident as part of the democratic movement.

Francis Wan: Hong Kong people’s identity is based on the fact they can commemorate June 4th. The localization of June 4th is the carrier of local culture, which matches with the narratives in HK. Hong Kong people fight for democracy but think they are still Chinese.

Yen Lan-chuan: Taiwan is already fairly democratic. Hong Kong’s social movements are like those of Taiwan 30 years ago. When Taiwan pursued democracy, democracy brought out the 228 and Formosa Incidents for people to remember and to talk about. The Sunflower Movement (太陽花運動) occurred because Taiwan people’s living space was threatened. They were not able to compete with Mainland China.

Taiwanese audience member: There are different angles from which one can look at Taiwan history as a Taiwanese. The story was a little sad. One must have profound and rich experiences to be able to talk about so many events.

Yen Lan-chuan and Chuang I-tseng: We showed the film to young people via the Taiwanese associations in the US. It was just an outline, and not a discourse. Each point was not very deep. We just want to evoke the imagination of young people so that they will be enlightened and continue to study Taiwan’s contemporary history in more depth. The students of the Sunflower movement have all seen the film.

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