Timed to coincide with 228 Memorial Day events this week, academics got together yesterday to launch a new Chinese-language translation of Formosa Betrayed — known locally as “被出賣的台灣” — an influential book on the nation’s post-World War II political transition written by US diplomat George Kerr in 1965.
Published by the Taiwan Association of University Professors (TAUP), the new edition is an update, with corrections and numerous references and explanatory notes added, of the 1974 Chinese-language translation of the book by Ronald Chen (陳榮成) and other young Taiwanese academics living in the US at the time.
“This book had a tremendous influence on Taiwan’s democracy movement. When overseas Taiwanese students read Kerr’s original book in English in the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of them were thoroughly shaken up. They turned around to embrace the Taiwan independence cause,” TAUP president Lu Chung-chin (呂忠津) said at the book launch yesterday.
Lu added that it was the overseas students’ first encounter with eyewitness reports on the tragic events of February and March 1947, and the book also prodded them to question the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s version of events. They began to have misgivings on how much the KMT had distorted and falsified Taiwan’s wartime and post-war history.
Kerr was a teacher in Taiwan from 1937 to 1940. After the war he returned to Taiwan to serve as vice consul of the US diplomatic mission from 1945 to 1947, and later became a professor at universities in the US. He was an eyewitness to KMT forces’ atrocities in the spring of 1947, which Kerr unequivocally described as the “March Massacre” in his book.
Work on the new edition began in 2010. Chan Li-ju (詹麗茹) and Lanny Chen (柯翠園) were the translators.
Chen yesterday choked with emotion when she described translating Kerr’s original manuscript.
“It was a very painful process for me to go through the book word by word. Every so often, I could not control my tears and kept crying, and had to stop work. I was grief-stricken when I read about how my compatriots were tortured and killed [by KMT troops],” she said.
“I normally produce several thousand words a day when I do translations. However, this book was a difficult and emotional experience. It took me much longer to finish than other translations. I was only able to translate 11 chapters over five months,” Chen said.
Led by Taiwan Society president Chang Yen-hsien (張炎憲), five professors at TAUP were responsible for post-translation editing, research, fact-checking, and verification against historical documents and national archive files.
“Four decades after the first Chinese-language edition [of the book] came out, we have a rejuvenated script with restored interpretations of the contents of Formosa Betrayed. It is a very meaningful work,” Chang said.
“I believe the book should be a must-read for students learning about Taiwan’s history and the 228 Massacre in 1947,” he added.
“First, Kerr’s first-hand account is very important for historians and Taiwanese. He was there taking down his observations, becoming an important witness to history,” Chang said.
“Second, Formosa Betrayed and the translated editions are of great value for academics. It is a whole field of study by itself, for academic studies of Kerr’s lifetime body of works, with renewed interpretations of history from contemporary perspectives,” Chang added.