Upon stepping out of the 15 hours plane ride from NYC to Taoyuan Taiwan, I was hit with the unfamiliar density of hot humid air. Last time I was home was a year ago. The air was the same, I’ve just simply forgotten about it. As much as I have try to involved myself with the topic of 228 Massacre and transitioanl justice when I was in the states, it was not the same being back on the island. On the ride back to my quarentine hotel, I pass Zhongzheng Rd (中正路) which was named after the dictator/president responsible of this historical trauma.
History, it is in the air.
For those who don’t know I’m working with the organization called the Taiwan Youth Association for transitional justice and Kiong Seng, located in Taipei, Taiwan. They advocate the importance of remembering the forgotten history. Their research focuses on the 228 Massacre, which was not taught in history textbooks until the past twenty years. The 228 Massacre, a uprising after the regime change after WW2, marked the beginning of the seventy-year-long White Terror authoritarianism era. Kiong Seng holds history workshops, lectures, summer camps, publications, and music festivals in relation to this massacre. By educating younger generations, they hope to preserve these stories and accomplish transitional justice through the process.
Making the Website
The first project I started with was the official website for the NGO. Before my arrival this summer, I worked with my then supervisor on the preliminary website, helping him figure outthewebsite’ss platform, domain, and service. While I was in the government-mandated quarantine for seven days during the first weeks, a lot happened.
I was told that the original supervisor had resigned and that I had to find another supervisor who just returned from her vacation. A rocky start. I did not know what to expect and what to do at first, so I started brainstorming and creating prototypes of the websites on Figma before I could get a hold of my new supervisor.
But everything turned out fine. They were all very communicative, and I was able to set a meeting with my new supervisor. In our meeting, we set up new goals and deliverables and shifted the website’s purpose from blog based to archival. However, during this meeting on a Friday 2 in the afternoon, I was given very short notice that the website would launch at 7 the same day. I had four hours to fix and create just enough content before the website announcement.
We managed it! The prototypes helped a ton.
To speed up the process for the launch, we had to use a ready made template. Going forward, I will be adding and design the whole website to better suit the need of the organization.
The following week, I went to the office and started my archival work, working on collecting past event documentations and dicussion on my map making. Transfering ten years worth of documentation of events, puplications, and documentation onto my drive took a few hours. After which, I did more archival work, transfering posts and photos on Facebook, their primary use of social media and documentation, onto google drive and creating a itininary of all the events that will be shown on the website.
file names matter!note to self
Without planning it, my process of creating the offical website of the organization helped me a lot in my personal project. While riffling through all the past event documentation and files, I became a historian. I was giving the oppertunity to tell the history of this organization. And what was the first thing I did designing the website? Mapping out the flow chart of the website.
Planning and drafting the mapping project
Through mutiple discussion with my supervisors, we came to a conclusion of what this map might look like. It wil be a layered map that tells the stories of 228 massacre in different cities and a dicussion of walking tours hosted by the organization. We went through many different iteration and ideas of what the map might be. At first, we thought about telling the story in a linear fashion, while the reader scroll through the page, storys pop up chronologically, telling the overall history of the massacre. However, that had been done before by governement departments or vmemorial museum. I’ve also thought about doumenting and interviewing all the past walking tours, catologing and presenting the tour digitally. We decieded the value of these tours are that people walk within the streets and see the buidlings in-person as a immervise experience. Changing the medium into the digital lanscape will take away the impact of these walking tours. Through our dicussions, we decided to include stories from different region but also include interviews with the tour guides on how they plan the routes and their view on learning history in an unconventional way.
The second part of the map will be a project called, “Transitional Justice Cab.” I will be inviting people, such as, lecturers, students, people interested in history, and people with little knowledge of the history on a ride to the each memorial park in their city. During the ride, I would like to interview and spark conversation on how they view this historic past and what they think about transitional justice.
Overall there are three parts of the mapping project:
- 228 Massacre regional map: telling the story of what happened in each city and the people, victims involved in the event
- Kiong Sheng walking tour documentation: interviews with past tour guides and lecturers on how they plan walking tours and their thoughts on historical sites and rememberence
- Transitional Justice Cab: a conversation of understanding the past and thoughts on memorial parks and museums
Collective Memory and Maps
Through the past two weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time reading more in depth on transitional justice as well as the massacre itself. I was fond of the idea of “Personal history is collective memory.” It is easy to get caught up in numbers, statistics, and overall picture of historic events if we understand it through the lense on how history is taught in public education and media protray. However, at the end of the day, the root of which is still about people and their stories.
I’ve always been fascinated about maps. Perhaps it might be that Taiwan was not drawn in many world maps in the world or that the representive maps we had are mostly colonial maps by colonial and imperial regime. To me mapping and map reading was always a way to reconnect and understand the locality and history of my culture and identity. In some of the reading recommended by the organization, mapping was a way of storytelling.
there are some phenomena that can only achieve visibility through representation rather than through direct experience.James Corner, The Agency of Mapping: Speculation,
Critique and Invention,
I’ve begun to start thinking about my project. How do I map memory? History? Relics? Evidence? Trauma? I’ve been cautious not to fall into the pit of contributing to Trauma Porn (excuse my language), but all the articles, exhibitions, and documentaries on the subject pivot on pain.
How do I tell a painful history respectfully?
This is a question I will continue to ask myself in my journey of mapping.
First week: defining and grouping
Hello, dear friends.
Welcome to the first week of my journey. If you are reading this post, then I am fortunate to have you witnessing my project to protect the Sino-Tibetan environment with public education and design thinking.
My name is Yuheng (Helina), and I am a senior in Industrial Design with a minor in Art History and Theory. I was born and raised in an ethnically multicultural area in China (Guizhou province), and therefore, I naturally sought to help and protect a minority culture (the Tibetan culture in Sichuan) when I decided to apply for the Maharam fellowship.
Many of you might ask: who are the Tibetans? And why are they significant to the environment as well as the cultural landscape in China? Well, let me throw in some explanations so that it will be easier for you to follow my upcoming updates.
The Tibetan people are spread across different countries. In China, the Tibetan area is located in the west, extending over four provinces of the country—Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunan. They have their own language (Tibetan) and religious tradition (Tibetan Buddhism) that are different from Han Chinese (the majority Chinese ethnic group). The Tibetan environmental group that I am helping sits in Sichuan province, the one of the four that has most frequent communications with Han Chinese.
Located in the Himalayas, Tibet holds the highest mountain peaks and the most extreme cold weathers. It is dubbed the “pure land”, attracting numerous tourists, hikers, and naturalists every year to witness the breathtaking beauty of the area. Besides, any pollutions to the land will be directly reflected on the mountains and rivers in Tibet.
The environment in Tibet is facing danger due to industrialization. The snow line of the mountains has been rising. Poachers also appear around the forests in Tibet to steal animal skins and fish. In response to this crisis, many individuals and grassroot organizations have stood up. One of them is the organization I’m working with, LDONGTSOG (Chinese: 玛嵘峒格). It is located at Kehe Village, Aba County, in Sichuan province. Organized by a previous Tibetan monk, LDONGTSOG employs Buddhism concepts1 to educate local people as well as poachers. LDONGTSOG is a very small-scale organization based on local villagers. They accepted my help this time because they wanted to extend their influence beyond the village level, reaching out to youths in the city. With my Maharam fellowship, I want to bridge the conceptually “marginalized” Tibetan group with Han Chinese people and convey their organization’s value through visual means.
Although the idea seems charming, my plan was messed up by the sudden COVID outbreaks in China. The government tightened the border and required people from abroad to be quarantined for around a month (update: 2022/6/20) before they could move freely.
I was hesitant to go back to China due to these restrictions. Is it worth traveling for? What will I face when I return home and live in their village? Finally, I decided to seize the chance and embrace the uncertainty that this journey would bring.
The COVID outbreaks also means that I have to change my initial plan, which was to spend my first two weeks with the villagers and learn the culture before doing any design work. Obviously, it will not work out, and I will have to be remote for the first couple of weeks. Tibet is so unique that I do not want to make any assumptions about it before actually doing fieldwork there in person. My teacher once told me, “You will design differently once you breathe the air in Tibet.” I do not want to rush.
So, I stepped back and asked myself, “What is my goal in this journey?”
“To define a strategy of environmental protection derived from Kehe villagers’ unique perception of nature.” I answered.
“To connect people from outside and inside, sharing Tibetan’s holistic approach to nature with city inhabitants.”
“To unwrap my design process as an art historian student and designer, and honestly record Tibetan folk cultures in relationship with their environmental protection.”
With the answer in mind, I decided to shift my focus to online engagement with Chinese youths for my weeks in quarantine. My first and foremost task is to back up my knowledge of Tibetan culture by connecting to other professionals, since I have limited insights at this point.
The first organization I connected with is called Machik, which built the first K-12 school using Tibetan as the major instruction language in Litang County, China. Their founder, Dr. Lobsang Rabgey, was so kind that she offered me a free language lesson.
Then, I traveled to Philadelphia to meet another Chinese scholar in Linguistic Anthropology who researched environmentalism in Sichuan-Tibet. She provided me with information about other environmental activists in Tibet and inspired me to not measure the Tibetans and their culture against the western standard of environmental protection. She also emphasized the importance of fieldwork, which she believes is the best way to pay respect and attention to ethnic culture.
I also visited the Robin Museum of Art in New York. And I was delighted to discover how Tibetan knowledge and tradition were continued and transformed into contemporary visual languages.
After the initial research, I found that so many Tibetan young adults and residents doing social innovation works related to cultural and environmental preservation. The current issue is that these social innovation organizations are usually localized and fragmented.
Then it raises the question of how to create civic engagement effectively? I know that many Chinese university students have endless curiosity to the unique environment and culture in Sino Tibet, so I decided to make them as my major audience group in my online campaign.
My following days in quarantine will be dedicated in the planning of online forums targeted at Chinese international students and scholars aged 20–30. I reached out to one of the biggest community-based youth organizations in China named 706 (https://706ny.com/706). I will use their platform to produce 2-3 live broadcasts in communication with outstanding youths and groups that have engaged with the Tibetan environment or culture.
This diagram serves as my road map for the forum. Currently, I am in the phase of outreaching to speakers. I believe this forum is a great opportunity for me to learn more about the Tibetan community that I will enter, and for other Han Chinese students as the first door step to connect Tibetan Chinese.
This is my report for today. Please keep an eye out for the upcoming posts if you are curious how the online forums will develop.