8/14/2011

New 228 Museum in Taipei

Taiwan Culture Hall, Japanese Colonial Era

White Terror Era (1949 -1987)

228 Museum, August 14, 2011

I finally found time to check out the new 228 museum, which is about a 15-minute walk from my place in Wanhua (萬華), Taiwan. The building it is in previously housed AIT offices, so I have actually been there many times. I used to make use of the library when I lived in Yonghe (永和), just over Chung Cheng (中正) Bridge. The door to library was in the back and fed right into the stacks. Thus, I never really appreciated the beauty of the building's interior. They've also pulled down the fence in the rear. Now that it's an open space, more of the exterior is visible from the street.

The museum has been roundly criticized for providing scant information on 228, for doing a gloss over. I think this will be evident to anyone who enters the main gallery on the ground floor. It dons paintings of fish, bamboo and the like. There is a mock vintage theater. The film playing on a loop highlights a Western-looking female circa the sixties spinning a couple of hula hoops whilst playing the trumpet. There is also a warning in the documents' room that cameras won't be tolerated. When I went upstairs, a volunteer usher dipped and weaved through the viewers to single me out and tell me, for some reason (like I couldn't figure out a "no cameras" sign as well as anyone else), that I could not take shots. I still don't really get why I, of all the people in the museum, suddenly became the focus of her attention.

There are some pretty cheesy hands-on exhibits too. You can sign your name on a ribbon and say something like "Go Taiwan!" (加油台彎!), and hang it up on a pole if you like, for example. The information on the history of the building is interesting though. During the Japanese era, it was the Taiwan Culture Hall, a place people could take in displays of local art. After the Japanese surrendered to the Americans to close out World War Two, the building became home to Taiwan's first provincial senate. This is the English take on what occurred, which I did photograph. The bracketed words are my comments: 

"On May 1, 1946, the First Senate of the Taiwan Province [no insight into how Taiwan came about to be a province or the legality of the process is brought forth] held its inauguration ceremony in this building. The chamber was located in the 2nd floor auditorium in the right (North) wing; it was a significant palace of democracy [oxymoron] in postwar Taiwan.

Shouldering the expectations of six million Taiwanese people, the Provincial Senators responded to the many problems that arose after the National Government's take over of Taiwan in a way that not only pointed to the core of the issues, but in a way that always [probably an overstatement -- let's go with "usually" here] accurately reflected public opinion and rigorously criticized the government. The eagerness reflected in their political reform touched the people's hearts [ a.) I wonder what this political reform entailed because I have never heard of it b.) I bet there were a lot of people simply asking, "what the f*&^ is going on?"]. After the 228 Incident [do you mean "massacre"], most of the Provincial Senators stood on the front line of reform [source?]. Consequently, they were arrested or killed, and this left the impression that Taiwan's talent was being destroyed by governmental violence. That was why the building was chosen as the 228 Incident National Memorial Hall."

I think the last sentiment is pretty much accepted by anyone who has looked into 228. It was a power grab. The incoming KMT bureaucracy needed Taiwanese professors, doctors and politicians whacked so they could fill these positions. Calling the killing of some 30,000 people an "Incident" is a downplaying of what happened. It reads like an act of whitewashing something horrific and a dereliction of a proper accounting of history. 

3 comments:

John Scott said...

I think by the time I first saw this building (in 2001), it was no longer being used for anything. I often walked by there over the years, and for long periods it was just boarded up.

But what really makes me curious is the fact that I have watched it undergo at least 3 major renovations since then! Why does a building need to be re-renovated 3 times in nine years?? Changing policies at city hall, I guess.

I was in there several times in between a couple of the renovations (the last time was probably 2008), and saw that year's version of a 2-28 museum.

I recall hearing that the museum in 228 park is "national" and this one on NanHai Road is "municipal". Is that correct? I was also given to understand that the actual content and presentation of historical events in both of these museums is continuously subject to change, depending on who is mayor or president.

I also hate the fact that "incident" became the accepted English translation for all of the years of killings and injustices of the late 40s and beyond. But it is the standard and accepted translation of the accepted Mandarin description of those events.

"Incident" makes it sound like it all took place on one day on Nan Jing West Road, and the next day it was all over.

Somebody really needs to come up with a better term to replace "228 Incident Museum", like "Museum of the KMT's Spring 1947 island-wide massacres of Taiwanese that began decades of injustice under authoritarian one-party rule".

Or would that be a little too "in-your-face"?

Patrick Cowsill said...

"I recall hearing that the museum in 228 park is "national" and this one on NanHai Road is "municipal". Is that correct?"

It hadn't occurred to me, but that certainly makes sense (especially with all the delays and the pictures on the walls of Ma Ing-jeou and Hau Long-bin looking concerned at related ceremonies).

I think you need to work on shortening the name. But it's hard. I suggest a colon, something like: "The KMT Massacre and Authoritarian Behavior Museum. According to Webster's Dictionary, a massacre is: "the act or an instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty." An incident, on the other hand, is, "an action likely to lead to grave consequences especially in diplomatic matters."

Guy said...

John,

In fact the museum on Nanhai Road is "national"; the one in 228 Peace Park (what a strange mixing of words!) is operated by Taipei City (it opened in the 1990s when Chen Shui-bian was mayor--and has been subjected to some serious dumbing down in the latest round of renovations).

I hope this helps.

Guy