Chinese-American Jennifer Chow has written her first novel, The 228 Legacy, based on stories about the 228 Incident that her husband and his relatives recounted to her.
Published earlier this year, the book tells the story of three generations of Taiwanese in the US. Similar to another Taiwan-themed novel by Julie Wu, The Third Son, Wu’s book explores the events of the Incident, but also delves into the psychological ramifications it had on families decades after it occurred.
“My husband is Taiwanese,” said Chow, whose father is from Malaysia and her mother from Hong Kong. “His family immigrated to America for continued college education. They are great examples of both the American dream as well as the hard work ethic found in so many Taiwanese families.”
“Their story is motivational, as they were able to attend college in Taiwan without much in the way of financial resources and came to the US on scholarships. They remain very connected to their Taiwanese roots, especially since the majority of their extended family still lives there,” she said.
Chow said that she first heard of the massacre from her husband and his family, which led her to start researching the Incident to write her novel.
“My research ranged from historical statements from the KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party] to eyewitness accounts of the 228 Massacre,” she said. “I spoke to in-laws and relatives who shared their still raw emotional reactions to 228, even though it occurred decades ago.”
“Viewing old photographs helped me gain a better understanding of the time period involved. Resources like the 228 Memorial Foundation’s Research Report on Responsibility for the 228 Massacre and George Kerr’s Formosa Betrayed were and remain invaluable for shedding light on [the] 228 [Incident],” Chow added.
The writer also visited Taiwan to get a better sense of the land and its culture.
“I had a chance to visit recently erected monuments and museums that speak to the life and events of Taiwan’s modern history, such as the National Museum of Taiwan Literature and the Shoushan 228 Memorial Monument. Even places like Taiwan Storyland offered me a deeper picture to life in Taiwan’s past,” she said. “When I can visit a physical location and sense history in such an active way, it’s a truly transformative experience.”
When asked about the title of her book, Chow said she chose the word “legacy” because she wanted to convey the effects the massacre had on several generations within the same family.
“In a sense, 228 got passed down from mother to daughter in my book, in both subtle and significant ways,” she said. “The grandmother in the novel, named Silk, hides the event from the younger generations in her family, and I wanted to show how, even while hidden, her secret managed to affect her daughter and granddaughter.”
Chow hopes her book will resonate with Westerners. Trained as a social worker for the elderly, Chow said that when she was interning with the Jewish Family Service in Los Angeles, she spoke with elderly Jewish Holocaust survivors, whole told her their “heartbreaking” stories.
Relating what she learned there with what she learned about the massacre, Chow said: “Imagine how it would feel if a similar trauma was hidden from you, which is what happened in Taiwan. Until martial law ended in 1987, the mere mention of 228 was discouraged. I think the truth frees and helps people to heal.”
“I myself hadn’t heard about 228 at all until my in-laws spoke to me about it,” Chow said. “When I did, I wondered in what ways this tragic event could have affected people and that was the spark for my novel.”
“Although inspired by the specific event of 228, I think my book speaks to the core of who we are as individuals — how we identify ourselves, and our sacrifices for our families. I hope that the pull of my book’s emotional storyline draws in interested readers.”
Chow said she hopes her novel will help readers in the US and other English-speaking countries “come away as better people in some way, if even just more aware of the world around them or more appreciative of family relationships.”
While there are no current plans to have her novel translated into Chinese or Japanese, Chow said she would like the book to be available in both languages.
“It would be great to have both these foreign languages represented. Much of China and Japan histories are intertwined with Taiwan,” she said.
However, Chow said she hopes her book will help Americans understand a tragic part of Taiwan’s history.
“228 is actually a series of events that culminated from an incident in Taiwan starting on Feb. 27, 1947,” she said. “It led to tens of thousands of innocent people dying, including the elite of the country’s citizens and even children. Sadly, the subject was taboo for many years, but has now been recognized in Taiwan through various museums and monuments.”
Chow, the mother of two young children, graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in biology and society with a specialization in gerontology. She also received a masters in social work from the University of California, Los Angeles and is licensed as a clinical social worker.
“Our children are too young to be aware of the details of 228, of course, but we have explained some of the concepts of Taiwan’s history and I have no doubt that in the future they will learn further about the actual events,” she said. “I think those facts will help shape them to become more empathetic individuals.”
“Although the novel revolves around Taiwanese history and its culture, I think the family issues and emotions depicted are universal,” Chow added. “I hope that this story will touch readers and make them think about identity and their definition of family.”