Stay out of the conversation.
Twenty to forty years ago, speaking of this massacre was not only prohibited but many were also executed for even mentioning it. I’d never heard of the stories as a kid. What I have observed throughout my journey, there was a definite fear of remembering the past. Although it has been thirty-plus years since lifting more than half a century of martial law, terror and miscommunications exist.
“We don’t talk about politics” or “Keep politics out of this” was what I got a lot of times when starting conversations about the massacre.
For one of my past projects with Kiong Seng, we made a poke-a-present game filled with stories of the massacre and had the public interact with it. The game was laid out like the map of Taiwan. We walked out into the streets and invited passersby to participate and “win a prize.” When they poke through the map, they will find stickers and a letter. In the letter, we wrote the stories of the massacre in that region. Then, we encouraged the participant to write their thoughts on a post-it note and cover up the hole they had just made.
The purpose behind the game was not only to spread awareness of this historical event but also to start a conversation. We saw many parents telling their children about this historical event and many elders willing to share their stories with us. However, there were still many that refused to write anything. Some think we were bending the truth, and few told us not to dwell in the past. Despite the mixed results, this activity presents the current situation of transitional justice and remembrance of the massacre.
A pop sound is made when they poke through the map, made of heavy-weighted paper. It is an aggressive and nerve-wracking action of breaking something that looks perfect and well-sealed. Similar to the process of uncovering injustices in the past. The participants read the stories of the past. Some stayed silent while they absorbed the pain in the letters, while others were in awe that they had no idea of a story so close to them. When they choose to write on the post-it note, they are in conversation with the past and themselves. It perpetuates the constant revisions, understanding, and reimagining of history, thereby preserving it. In the end, the map was filled with colorful post-its representing the beauty of diverse opinions and people on this land. Even though some holes are not poked through or covered up, it also shows the continuation of working through and discovering more stories and more conversation.
Keeping the conversation going
For this recent mapping project, I was interested in the act of remembering and memorial. There are many ways to remember a historical event. Though in recent years, the government has made 228, February 28th, a national remembrance day of the massacre, I realized that many still don’t know what that day is for.
I begin by thinking of how to map the act of remembrance. The first thought that came into my mind was the few memorial statues and sculptures in each city. Upon further research, most of these sculptures had misinformation or that it had a lack of maintenance. Conversely, we also have a lot of statues of the past dictator in almost all public schools. This dichotomy of historical sculpture and statue preserving two different ideologies interested me.
I began to invest in different memorial sculptures and designs, trying to understand why people don’t know about them or don’t care. I organized and collected all the other monument places on a spreadsheet. I wanted to apprehend how younger people, like me, think about this issue. Therefore, I planned a road trip, inviting many to join my conversation on the 228 massacre. Many were students like me. Most of them had little to no knowledge of this historical event. I started the road trip by introducing the historical event in the city we were in, encouraging them to ask questions and share their thoughts.
I was really surprised by how a lot of the conversations turned into. One of the participants, whose political stance was more towards the party involved in the massacre revealed that their relatives were political victims. Though they understand the historical trauma, they still believe in their political views. While I traveled to the different cities, telling stories and talking to people, I kept reflecting on the purpose of this trip.
After the conversation – now what?
Why is it essential that we talk about the past?
This is a question I asked all my interviewees and myself.
History is not about the past. It is the present and the future.From the tour guide for GinSan 228
It’s important to talk about it because we can now. Being able to speak freely and have conversations about it, whether pleasant or not, is a privilege.one of the interviewees as we drove through the city of Pingtung
To me, the current conclusion I have, talking about the past, is human nature. We like to remind ourselves of what happened yesterday. When the elders speak about the past, they are not just talking about the horrendous past, but also about their past. The history they lived through. Just like how in some of the historical tours, the purpose was to learn about the city’s past.
Learning about the collective past is a way through personal history. Regardless of what side of the story you are on, active learning and listening are love. Love to the land.
This is similar to those whose loved ones were lost during the massacre. Preserving history was an act of preserving their loved ones. Giving their stories truth was a way that we, who were fortunate to not have to go through the same trauma, can respect their love.
Remembrance of the traumatic past of this land is to remember it was once loved.
Remember the land.
Love the land.
Sidenote: There have been dramatic political changes recently with the visit of US Congress Representative Nancy Pelosi. Broadcasts of China’s aircraft and military drills around the island report non-stop.
Regardless of what happens, life goes on. There will be hope as long as we’re alive.
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.