Twenty-five years after the abolishment of martial law in 1987, a group of US-based Taiwanese have launched a documentary tour across Taiwan, aiming to rekindle the memories of the country’s struggle for human rights and democracy.
A five-year brainchild of Taiwanese directors Chuang Yi-tseng (莊益增) and Yan Lan-chuan (顏蘭權), the documentary titled Hand in Hand (牽阮的手) reviews Taiwan’s road to democracy and human rights after the end of World War II.
While the film centers on the love story of married couple Tien Chao-ming (田朝明) and Tien Meng-shu (田孟淑), both democracy activists, its storyline intertwines with that of major democratic movements and social incidents that took place in Taiwan at the time, such as stories pertaining to the self-immolation of democracy movement pioneer Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕) and the murder pro-democracy activist Lin I-hsiung’s (林義雄) mother and two twin daughters.
“This is a film that aims to boost awareness of the historical facts of how the older Taiwanese generation courageously fought for freedom in this country, rather than forcing specific ideologies or political parties upon anyone,” Chuang said.
With the assistance from the Chen Wen-chen Memorial Foundation, the US-based Rutgers Taiwan Study Association (RTSA) this year initiated the documentary tour to 319 townships across Taiwan after receiving NT$1.2 million (US$39,900) in donations chipped in by people from both Taiwan and the US.
Represented by an emblem of a knight clad in Hakka-style pants and blue-and-white slippers, the RTSA is a non-profit student group at the Rutgers University, the State University of New Jersey, that has long been known for its concern for a variety of social issues in Taiwan.
The documentary has been screened about 180 times on campuses, at temples and in scores of communities in Taiwan over the past six months, attracting more than 10,000 viewers in total.
“Many of the about 500 contributors, whether from Taiwan or the US, had been blacklisted [by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime] during the Martial Law era,” said Carol Yeh, one of the founders of the RTSA. “While some may now reside far away in the US, they never cease to spread the seed of human rights education in Taiwan.”
Yeh said the student group had been inundated with public comments following the launching of the documentary tour in Taiwan.
“While there were youngsters who gave positive feedback to the film for featuring incidents that have not been written into history textbooks, there were also some middle-aged Taiwanese who said the documentary was making up historical events that had never occurred in this country,” Yeh said.
Tien Meng-shu, who is about 80 years old, was one of those who had watched the documentary.
“A woman of Chinese descent originally assumed that the film was all about romance and that she was going to laugh through it. However, as the documentary went on, her face was covered by tears,” she said.
Tien Meng-shu said a junior-high school history teacher also expressed frustration that he was unacquainted with most of the incidents featured in the documentary.
“How can I ever teach future generations of Taiwanese [our] history when I know so little about the historical events in the film?” Tien Meng-shu quoted the teacher as saying.
A National Taiwan University student said she was inspired by a scene in which Tien Meng-shu brought rice dumplings on her visit to imprisoned democracy activists and placed their hands on opposite side of the glass in a gesture of encouragement, and another one in which she took to the street with a shopping basket in her hands.
“Now I realize that participating in politics is not just about shouting and yelling. It can also be done in such a delicate and gentle manner,” the student said.
In a concerted effort to further expand the documentary tour, a number of Taiwan-based foundations — including Laiho Cultural Foundation and Civil and Law-Related Education Foundation — launched a selection campaign on Wednesday last week that invited Taiwanese educators to brainstorm on ways to incorporate the documentary into school curricula.
The campaign, which will run through Dec. 29, is scheduled to select 100 proposals on Feb. 28 next year and award the winners a public presentation edition of the documentary.