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Understanding Taiwanese history through cinema

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Avatar for willow.willow.willow
1 month ago
Topics: History, Geography, Asia, Taiwan, Films, ...

Taiwan frequently appears in world news. But not many Westerners know it well.

Many simply think of Taiwan as a "renegade Chinese territory" that has been an unofficial ally of the United States. Taiwan does not show up in prominent international events. Even in the Olympics, it is forced to call itself "Chinese Taipei."

Taiwan is an island nation with a diverse and complex history. It was ruled successively by Spain, the Netherlands (Dutch East India Company, or VOC), the Qing Dynasty (the Manchu empire), the Japanese Empire, and the Republic of China (Kuomintang) before it achieved democracy in 1987.

There are three excellent (and enjoyable) movies I strongly recommend to help you gain a deeper understanding of Taiwanese history that you may never have learned in school.

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale

Directed by Wei Te-sheng (2011)

Following Japan's annexation of Taiwan following the Treaty of Maguan/Shimonoseki in 1895, the Japanese colonized the island. Japan has rapidly industrialized the island, built cities, and began exploiting its natural resources.

The mountainous terrains of eastern Taiwan were traditional homelands of many indigenous peoples, and they have resisted the Japanese incursion for decades.

The film follows the actual history of the indigenous resistance leading up to the deadly Wushe/Musha Incident on Oct. 27, 1930.


Directed by Umin Boya (2014)

By the 1930s, the flat terrains of western Taiwan between Keelung and Kaohsiung have been developed and industrialized by the Japanese Empire. Taiwan's society had become a mixture of Japanese, Han Chinese (mostly descended from Fujianese and Hakka), and indigenous Taiwanese. Nevertheless, children were educated in Japanese, under the school curriculum established by the Japanese government.

Kagi School of Agriculture and Forestry (commonly called "KANO", from its Japanese name, KAgi NOrin Gakko) was a secondary school in the southwestern Taiwan city of Kagi (Chiayi) whose student body came from all three major ethnic groups. KANO's baseball team had never won a single game. In 1930, Kondo Hyotaro, a coach from Matsuyama, Japan, arrives in Chiayi and transforms the underdog team into Taiwan's champion, overcoming racism and prejudice they faced at every turn. As Taiwan's top team, KANO qualified to play in the 1931 All-Japan Secondary School Baseball Championship Tournament at the Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo, Japan.

KANO won games after games, only to lose in the very last minute of the final game against Chukyo Commercial Secondary School from Nagoya.

KANO's legacy is seen as the origin story of Taiwanese baseball, that has produced legendary players such as Wang Chen-chih (Oh Sadaharu) of Tokyo Yomiuri Giants and Kuo Yuen-chih (Kaku Genji) of Nagoya Chunichi Dragons. Both schools still exist, the former now being the National Chiayi University and the latter being Chukyo High School.

Formosa Betrayed

Directed by Adam Kane (2009)

After Japan's defeat in World War II, Taiwan was handed back to the Republic of China. However, in China a civil war between the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and the Communist Party of China followed the ostensible liberation from the imperialists. As the Communists conquered the entirety of Chinese mainland, and Kuomintang fled to seek refuge in Taiwan from which it began their Chinese government-in-exile.

In the name of fighting communism, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek instituted a military dictatorship in Taiwan and forced people to speak Mandarin. Taiwanese, Japanese, and indigenous languages became strictly forbidden. The Military Police roamed the streets with impunity, picking up random hapless citizens accused of being a "communist spy," tortured them and murdered them. Everything was censored and protests were met with brutal crackdowns.

The military dictatorship continued until 1987.

This article may be freely used under the terms of the Cooperative Nonviolent Public License, version 7 (CNPLv7). All other uses require express permission of the author. Embedded video contents herein are those of their respective copyright holders.

First published date: Sept. 11, 2021.

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Topics: History, Geography, Asia, Taiwan, Films, ...
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