Sun, Sep 10, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The drastic downfall of Wu Feng

Revered for almost a century, the man who sacrificed himself to stop the Aboriginal practice of headhunting was removed from history textbooks in 1989, and slowly fading into obscurity

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

The story then becomes more elaborate. During the Japanese colonial era, Wu’s motives went from protecting his people to “civilizing the savages.” The purpose was manifold: to discourage Han Chinese from fighting against other races, to show that Aborigines can be civilized through kindness and also serve as an example for colonial officials. The tale was made into movies, plays and entered elementary school textbooks.

The KMT adopted wholesale the Japanese version of the legend into its textbooks, promoting Wu as a beacon of Chinese virtues that people should look up to.

But to Aborigines, it brought feelings of shame.

“As a half Aborigine, I felt angry when I read this story. I was angry that I had the blood of such an uncivilized people in me,” writes Huang Hsiao-chiao (黃筱喬) in the study Sense of Identity Beginning from Wu Feng (身分認同從吳鳳說起). Others spoke in various reports of being looked down upon because of the story and even attacked by Han Chinese children who wanted to take revenge for Wu Feng.

Wu’s downfall began in 1980, when anthropologist Chen Chi-nan (陳其南) wrote an article for the Minsheng Daily (民生報) titled A Fabricated Legend: Wu Feng (一個捏造的神話: 吳鳳).

The Aboriginal rights movement soon took off, and during the 1985 ceremony, several Aborigines showed up wearing white shirts that read: “Wu is not a hero” and “Wu Feng’s story is the shame of education.”

The rectification of Wu Feng’s story became a focus of Aboriginal protests, and in 1988, local pastor Lin Tsung-cheng (林宗正) led a group of Aborigines and destroyed the Wu Feng statue in front of Chiayi train station with a chainsaw.

At least one of Wu’s descendants, ninth-generation descendant Wu Liao-shan (吳廖善), didn’t seem to mind.

“It doesn’t really matter to me whether Wu Feng’s story remains in the textbooks or not,” Wu Liao-shan told the media. “The Aborigines say that the story causes people to look down on them, to bully them in school, so I guess it’s for the best to not include the story. But really, this is a problem with the teachers. They should teach their students not to bully others. Then we wouldn’t be facing this problem.”

Taiwan in Time, a column about Taiwan’s history that is published every Sunday, spotlights important or interesting events around the nation that have anniversaries this week.

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