For the past two weeks, alongside continuing to make the website and mapping the historical event, I have been interviewing people who have previously worked with the organization with walking tours about the massacre. Due to geographical constraints and timing, some were online, and some were in-person.
The purpose behind these interviews was to gain an insight into how these researchers and tour guides organize and develop the route. In addition, I want to hear their thoughts on this issue. They are the medium for us to look into the past.
I was fortunate to participate in the walking tours for some of the lecturers I’m interviewing. Learning history by foot was a different experience than in the books. This experience inspired me to create this project where I interviewed these tour guides. At first, they were hesitant about why I would be interested in their story. They have always been the ones telling others people’s stories. I explained that I feel the stories being passed down might encounter alteration due to the people telling the story. I want to know their thoughts and why they are passionate about the issue. Their story is very much part of the narrative of historical memorization than the stories of victims or their descendants.
Walking tours, I believe, are very much a process of mapping. And active mapping where visitors and audience are forced to be in the landscape while imagining the past. While these routes are carefully designed considering time, geographical constraints, and storytelling, every tour is unique due to the people participating, the weather, and other unforeseeable circumstances. It is a device to the past through the people telling the story. It is also a pathway of the present.
The main thing I have taken away from these interviews is that knowing the history of the massacre is only part of these walking tours. The core purpose is to learn the city’s history. In the process of knowing where you are from, telling the story of the massacre is inevitable. Due to the nature of this historical event, the accounts of the massacre are embedded in the bricks of architecture, roads, and waterways.
For example, in one city, Tam Sui, the tour guide I interviewed, said that she didn’t care about this part of the history until her late 40s (she is now in her 60s). When she was little, she would hear from the elders that the Tam Sui River was once dyed red with blood. Ports were places one should not go, for many spirits resided there in the past. She didn’t believe what the elders said. “How is it possible that the whole river was dyed of blood? That is impossible!” It was not until she started reading more about the city’s history that she connected what her elders told her and what was documented. The port, they said, was a place where all those captured in the name of treason were excuted. Hundreds were killed, thrown into the river, reding the river with terror.
Emotionally, it was hard to process all these stories. Older generations I’ve interviewed were much more emotional and passionate about the issue. They were closer to this part of history. All of them heard stories from elders, and the terror of knowing became a passion for sharing. When I asked why it is essential to learn about the massacre and continue advocating on this issue, they said it was for the truth to be seen.
“When I was talking to the descendants of victims, they don’t want the compensation or reparation. They just want to know why. “Why was my father taken one night and never came back? “
In a text chain I had with the historian, he said,
“We must not give up the pursuit of the truth in history. The connection and emotions through the process are personal, humanitarian, and societal.”
“This is very true. Thank you so much for what you are doing. 228 is about the history of the land, but it is also the scar and pain of the land.”張文義 (Writer of Kavalan 228, oral history historian of Kavalan region, tour guide of 2022 Kavalan tour)
I am very grateful that I have this opportunity to keep their story alive.
Younger generations, like me, had little understanding of this issue until we were much older (high school or university). Most of them are passionate about this issue not because of pain but because of the unjust. There is a diaspora of identity due to the change in education. We were not taught much about the massacre in our educational system, and most of us are fortunate not to be related directly to this massacre.
When asked the same question, “Why is it important that we, the younger generation, remember and learn about this part of history?”
One answered, “It’s about justice. Why is it that the descendent of one of the generals in charge of the massacre in Kaoshiung was able to be a famous architect and have something out of him? At the same time, the descendants of the victims suffer mental disorders and societal trauma?”
Another thinks that knowing the history of your city, country, and land is important because it ties to other social justice issues such as human rights, environmental, and other political issues.
It was fascinating hearing from both sides of the generation. I started with this project wanting to know the thought process of organizing walking tours and the opinions of these historians and tour guides. I ended up with a more in-depth understanding of the gap between generations and the importance of this issue. For the older generations passionate about this issue, it is a matter of survival. Talking about this puts a light on this part of the history that is vanishing.
It is to keep this story alive, for these stories die with them.
On the other hand, for the younger generation, it is a choice. It is a choice of personal growth in learning about your history. It is recommended to choose to recognize the land and care about this humanitarian issue.
“Ms. Hung, this is a very traumatizing story for me. If it were twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have accepted your interview request.”
For me, I’m touched by their love for the land. It was hard emotionally to hear such a traumatic story. Like a boulder in my heart, I often feel unbearable emotionally. Sadness is inevitable in this process.
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.