Saturday, January 5, 2013

From "City of Sadness" to Tourist Madness

Photo by Kevin Willett

A film about Taiwan's Dark Days shone spotlight on Juifen
Right after the 921 Earthquake that rocked Taiwan in 1999, I spent my first Moon Festival with my gf in Juifen (Chuifen), on the north-east coast of Taiwan. Far from the madding crowds in Taipei, it felt for a while like going to heaven. A little like Banff. A taste of Japan.

As you can see, this city in the clouds is a picturesque mountainside town. But during the height of the Japanese colonial era, it was a booming gold-mining town. "Little Shanghai." It went into decline when the events of World War II forced the mine to close.

But the collection of historical buildings made Jiufen the ideal location for the filming of City of Sadness -  the first Chinese-language film to win the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in 1989.

Seen through the eyes of one family, City of Sadness was the first film to deal openly with the KMT's dictatorial reign of terror after Taiwan was "handed-over" from Japan to Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist China. 

The film was also the first to depict the infamous 228 Incident of 1947, in which thousands of people were massacred by Nationalist troops that Chiang sent from China to put down Taiwan's version of "the Arab Spring." Tens of thousands of Taiwanese and mainland Chinese were rounded up, shot, sent to prison or "disappeared."

As one war veteran told me, "Chiang's troops landed at [the nearby port of Keelung] and started firing at anything that moved."

Despite the dark and depressing story, the success of the movie had the odd effect of turning the almost forgotten town into a popular attraction full of tea houses, coffee shops, artisans and tourists. Legions. Myriads.

So - on a good day - Juifen is about one hour from Taipei by train or by car. On a bad day -  such as the last day of a Chinese holiday or a long weekend - it can take three hours or more of hellish driving. Trust me, I've done it.

Photo by Kevin Willett

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei

Photo Copyright: by Kevin Willet

Last Emperor of China and the Mandate of Heaven
Every media visit, every guided tour of Taiwan stars with a visit to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, As a temple dedicated to the Last god-emperor of China, it's deliberately modelled on the Temple of Heaven in Beijing's Forbidden City. It's the centrepiece of Chiang Kai-Shek Square, modelled on Tiananmen Square. It's meant to perpetuate the idea that Taiwan is the one true China and that Chiang Kai-shek and his KMT successors have the Mandate of Heaven.

The Democratic Progressive Party - during its eight-year interregnum (2000-2008) - re-branded Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall as "Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall" It renamed Chiang Kai-Shek Square as "Liberty Square." It was meant put the country's dictatorial past behind and highlight the way to a democratic future.

But the KMT Old Guard were up in arms (literally) and the best the DPP could do was paper over the past... literally. When the KMT got back in office (they were never out of power) the first thing they did was reinstate CKS and his family (wife Soong Mei-ling and son Chiang Ching-kou) and as the unholy trinity.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall now has a souvenir shop where you can buy the idols for your home shrine: Chiang Kai-Shek, Chiang Ching-kou, and Sun Yat-sen. Even Mao Tse-tung. Don't be surprised - the KMT has been in bed with the Chinese Communist Party since the KMT lost the presidential election in 2000.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Big Bang 2013 Taipei 101 New Year Fireworks 新年快樂

2013 Taipei 101 New Year Fireworks HD 1080p complete 2013年台北101煙火 Taiwan - YouTube

新年快樂   Happy New Year from a country where they "overwhelmingly value their democracy" but keep electing the party of dictators, while imprisoning those who fight for democracy.

But it's the same old song from a people who "want to be the masters of their own fate" and yet refuse to do anything about it - except cry to the world and deliver up their messiahs to be crucified.