An exhibition of once banned dangwai (黨外, “outside the party”) movement magazines published between the 1970s and 1980s has opened in Taipei as part of the nation’s commemorations of the 30th anniversary of the lifting of martial law.
Featuring more than 20 different covers from Formosa (美麗島), 1980s (八十年代), Freedom Era Weekly (自由時代周刊) and other magazines, the exhibition covers several walls of To-uat Books x Cafe Philo (左轉有書x慕哲咖啡), a prominent bookstore and coffee shop operated by several labor and human-rights advocacy groups.
“Our own group was established in 1984 during the Martial Law era, so we also had to deal with the effects of government repression,” Taiwan Labor Front secretary-general Son Yu-liam (孫友聯) said. “The resistance of dangwai magazines played a crucial role in Taiwan’s democratization, so we hope to use this exhibition to help more people understand the sheer number of people involved in pushing for the end of martial law and Taiwan’s eventual democratization.”
The most notable exhibits are two editions of Freedom Era Weekly from the week before and week after the lifting of martial law on July 15, 1987, he said.
Published in numerous incarnations by democracy activist Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕) from 1984 to 1989, the magazine repeatedly evaded attempted government bans, only ending publication after Deng immolated himself in the magazine’s offices to resist arrest for publishing a draft constitution of a proposed “Republic of Taiwan,” that challenged a ban on advocating Taiwanese independence.
Beginning this year, the April 7 anniversary of his death is to be celebrated nationally as “Freedom of Speech Day.”
National Chengchi University history professor Hsueh Hua-yuan (薛化元) said that Deng was also notable for his ability to take advantage of loopholes in magazine publication regulations to keep Freedom Era Weekly alive in the face of repeated government bans on the publication of sensitive articles.
“There were different requirements you had to meet, including having a ‘proper’ stated purpose — but you could re-register the same magazine if you changed the name and found someone who was willing to attach their name to it and Deng was able to find a lot of willing people,” he said.
According to the Nylon Cheng Liberty Foundation (whose name incorporates Deng’s English nickname) figures, the magazine was published under 23 different titles, with commemorative issues for the lifting of martial law published during a brief period in which it resumed its original title.
While alternative title issues of Freedom Era Weekly are not on display, viewers can still see the “title switch” tactic up close by examining covers of the magazines 1980s and Asian Monthly (亞洲人), a later incarnation.
It also features covers from the short-lived 1979 magazine Formosa, which had a huge impact on the nation’s after numerous staff members were arrested for organizing a pro-democracy rally in Kaohsiung.
Many staff members — including now Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) — went on to become prominent figures in the Democratic Progressive Party, as did their defense lawyers.
“At the time, you had to use magazines, because only magazines could be registered,” said Hsueh, referring to a ban on new newspaper registrations during the Martial Law era.
The exhibition runs through Sunday at 3 Hao Shaoxing N Rd in Taipei’s Zhongzheng (中正) district near Shandao Temple MRT station.
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