Kinoshita’s (1943) “The Living Majoroku”

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“Ikite iru Magoroku” (The Living Majoroku, 1943), the second film directed by Kinoshita Keisuke is rather opaque to 21st-century American viewers. I don’t know if it seemed as schizoid to Japanese viewers as the tide was turning in the Pacific War (WWII). On the one hand, it advocates dispensing with superstitions, in this instance stemming directly form a military engagement three and a half centuries earlier that gave a field to the Onagis (for service in a battle on the side of Tokugawa Ieyasu with a curse on anyone digging into it (with, say, a hoe). And there are feudal obstacles to the marriage of a pair who work on the local bus (driver and conductor). On the other hand, it honors the cult of old swords—and a new one to cut down Americans in the war raging to the south. Militarist myths about the divine Japanese spirit were not treated as superstitions.

The fulcrum of the struggle to cultivate the Onagi field that has been covered with weeds (the same pampa grass that covered it back in the day of the now legendary battle) is Yoshihiro (Hara Yasumi), who is convinced that he is dying of the curse on Onagi males (form his grandfather’s affront to the sacred battlefield) and that letting the field be turned to food production will kill him. A visiting physician (Hosokawa Toshio), who is there seeking the heirloom sword (the titular Magoroku) the family has, tests the young Onagi’s lungs and realizes that they are unusually strong, that the failing lungs have no somatic basis. (“Nervous breakdown” is the translation provided by the subtitles.)

There are some strikingly beautiful outdoor scenes, reminiscent of Murnau. I didn’t notice any shots from above, but there are quite a lot of closeups (in rapid succession before the heretofore neurasthenic head of the Onagi family pronounces his decisions).

The valorization of clinging to the past and of taking action to help the nation in its struggle seems schizoid to me. At least there is nothing I see in the way of an explanation of what distinguishing should be preserved from past (feudal) lifeways, what jettisoned.

BTW, the pressure to increase production on the virgin soil comes from local fervor rather than down from the militaristic government. I wondered why Yoshihiro had not been drafted by 1942.

“The Living Majoroku” is available on the Criterion Eclipse (barebones) boxed set “Kinoshita and World War II.”

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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Kinoshita Keisuke’s 1944 film “Rikugun” (Army)

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Whether someone views Kinoshita Keisuke’s 1944 film “Rikugun” (Army) as prowar or antiwar depends on whether s/he sees the father (Ryû Chishû) or mother (Tanaka Kinuyo) of Private Shintaro as primary. Shintaro (Hoshino Kazumasa as an adult) himself does not seem to be the protagonist Much of the film looks at both parents trying to toughen the cowardly crybaby up so he can sacrifice his life for the Emperor. (In Japanese WWII movie, the goal never seems to be imperial conquest but always to die with glory for the Emperor.)

His father, a captain, was sick far behind the lines during the Russo-Japanese War, much to his shame. Back on Kyushu, he nonetheless flaunts his status as a veteran with war buddies and stands out for his jingoism about Japanese invincibility even within a sea of flag-waving patriots. For instance, he is outraged at the suggestion of even a possibility that Japan might have been conquered if the kamikaze wind had not destroyed the fleet of Kublai Khan. Japanese spirit always and everywhere trumps mere armament in his view (one that must have been difficult to maintain in 1944).

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What made 1944 Japanese zealots denounce the movie as perniciously anti-war is the lengthy final montage in which the mother, who initially had decided not to see Shintaro off at the train station, because she knew she would cry, runs through the cheering crowd lining the street down which his unit is marching to find him, and then continues to struggle to stay even with him. Shintaro smiles at her and does not return his eyes forward. Not a word is uttered against the war or the duty to die for the Emperor (not the Empire/expansion of the Empire), though a father, Sakuragi (Tôno Eijirô), who is volunteering his abilities in service to a third war (Sino-, Russo-, and at the end of the movie another Sino- one) is shown to be anxious about his son, Shintaro’s friend who shipped out earlier, and is deployed near Shanghai.

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Although censors and military sponsors were dubious about this final montage, apparently it was followed by another even more wrenching scene of the mother running down the tracks after the departing tracks (also without any spoken lines) that was censored. The suspicions about Kinoshita’s enthusiasm for the expansion of the empire were amply confirmed in his first postwar movie, “Morning for the Osones,” which included a jingoistic officer using patriotism to enrich himself. No one seems to have suspected that Ryû’s ultra-rigid character might have also been a caricature of militarism. After all, the Japanese military’s official values of Loyalty, Manners, Valor, Honor, Frugality are reiterated.

Both movies are included in the Criterion Eclipse “Wartime Kinoshita” boxed set.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Kinoshita’s “Jubiliation Street” (1944)

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I don’t think that Kinoshita’s1944 , “Jubilation Street” (1944) is nearly as good as his 1943 first one (Port of Blossoms). Both portray rather tight-knit communities, though “Jubilation Street” is a Tokyo neighborhood rather than a fishing village. The inhabitants are being involuntarily relocated—not to get them away from the ruthless firebombing of Tokyo, which had not begun yet, but for the government (a euphemism for “military”) to use the land for its own, undisclosed (either to the characters or to the viewers) purposes.

Uehara Ken plays the ingenu again in love with Moto Mitsuko, as in “Port of Blossoms” and “The Great Magoruku.” This time he played a very pure-hearted test pilot, Shindo. The mother of his beloved objects to the marriage Shindo’s mother attempts to arrange because his job is too dangerous and because his father ran off ten years earlier. (Anyone who has seen more than a few movies knows that the father will show up over the course of the movie, though not what will ensue from that return).

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The owner of the local bathhouse is reluctant to leave, while a printer is quite ready to move, though sorry to leave behind the printing press that supported his family for two generations. Etc.

The movie is very talky, was shot on a single set (though there is a Japanese movie downpour (not as much of a gale as the one in “Port of Blossoms”), lacks any of the satire of “Port of Shadows” (and later Kinoshita comedies) and, as usual for Kinoshita movies except the first one, which featured boats, trains are shown. There is some of the shooting from above that would recur in later Kinoshita movies (not quite a “God’s eye” view, but above the characters, quite unlike the setup at eye level of a kneeling adult of Ozu movies).

There is a final patriotic exhortation, but the movie until then is rather melancholic about the disruptions of the community caused by the war that Japan began (first in China, then elsewhere, including the attack on Pearl Harbor). I’m surprised not only that it passed the censors at a time of all-out military mobilization around the time Japan stopped winning and started losing the war.

Whereas, I think that “Port of Flowers” remains entertaining 73 years on, I think that “Jubilation Street” is mainly of historical interest—the history of Japan at war firstly, but also the trajectory of Kinoshita’s work. There is not a music credit and I don’t think that the director’s brother Chûji had begun scoring Keisuke’s movies yet, but, as in later movies Chûji did score, I think that much of the sentimentality in “Jubilation Street” derives from the music.

(Kinoshita Keisuke wrote the screenplays for most of his movies, but not “Port of Flowers” or “Jubilation Street.”)

 

A somewhat damaged print of the movie with more damaged sound is available in the Criterion Eclipse (#41) box set of Kinoshita’s first five movies, “Kinoshita and World War II.”

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Kinoshita’s “Port of Flowers” (1943!)

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The first film directed by Kinoshita Keisuke, the 1943 “Port of Flowers” (Hana saku minato, also called “Blossoming Port”) already began to assemble his repertory company with prominent roles as village elders played by Higashiyama Cheiko and Ryû Chishû, Kinoshita’s brother-in-law, Kusuda Hiroshi providing unobtrusive but very good cinematography, and a story (this one not written by Kinoshita, as most of his later films were) vulnerable to charges of sentimentality.

It begins with the headman of an island seemingly south of Kyushû (the Ryukus, though it was filmed at the southern Kyushû small port of Amakusa) receiving two identical telegrams announcing the arrival of a son of a man who earlier attempted to build ships there. He summons the most prominent local citizens (it doesn’t seem a formal council), which introduces the viewer to them, The way the first to arrive (Ozawa Eitaro, who would appear in many more Kinoshita-directed films) elicited information to confirm about the relationship of various prominent villagers and his father made me suspect he was an imposter. When a second one (Uehara Ken, who would also appear in the next three Kinoshita films) shows up, the first manages to sell the claim that they are brothers, though they don’t look related or sound the same (different accents) and both signed their telegrams with the same name (Kenji).

The two small-time con-men are astounded at how much money they reap from the villagers who venerate their father they claim. The second, seemingly younger one (in fact both actors were born in 1909) has qualms about ripping off such nice and hospitable people (Kinoshita does not portray them as grasping or greedy) from the start and quickly becomes attached to a local beauty.

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Though Japan has been at war in China for some time, announcement of the successful attack on Pearl Harbor (8 December 1941 Japan time, on the other side of the international dateline from Hawai’i) stirs the populace to shouts of “Banzai!” and to increased fervor in building the first ship. It is made of wood and I can’t see it as having any military use, but the locals consider building it part of the war effort.

One of them, Hayashida (Tonô Eijirô,who would appear in three more Kinoshita films and then in a number of Kobayashi ones, plus ones directed by Ozu and Kurosawa), worries that their — though he is primarily concerned with his own — investment is at risk, since their ship might be sunk by American submarines. Nobadama (Ryû) is outraged at Hayashida’s lack of patriotism. Even the con men are stirred to deliver on their phony project (an instance of becoming what they at first pretend to be—ship-builders in this case).

Though the Americans are referred to once (after they sink a local fishing boat) as “devils,” the movie is not at all jingoistic. Everyone in it is a little absurd, especially in their conceptions of contributing to the war effort. All are patriotic, however, and even Hayashida eventually decides that money isn’t everything. Though there is nothing (at least in the finished film; some cuts were almost certainly made so that the end seems abrupt) to alarm censors (in contrast to the questioning of sacrificing the lives of young men in the next year’s “Army”), to me it seems almost subversive for such a comedy to have been made in Japan in 1943. The con men dissuaded from their con are somewhat predictable, but believably swayed from their plans by the villagers’ trust and welcome and by the escalation of the war in December of 1941.

“Port of Flowers” was an auspicious debut of Kinoshita, who already resembled a Japanese Frank Capra with gentle, upbeat comedy. A fairly good print of the movie is available in the Criterion Eclipse (#41) box set of Kinoshita’s first five movies, “Kinoshita and World War II.”

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Some American Witnesses of the KMT’s 1947 Reign of Terror on Taiwan

In the summer of 1986 a group that included Yang Chonchung, Keelung Hong (Ang Geeliong), and I went to Grass Valley in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in eastern California to talk to Ed Paine, who had been a lieutenant in the U.S. Army at the end of World War II and was assigned to the Relief and Rehabilitation Unit of the United Nations. Like George Kerr, author of Formosa Betrayed, Ed Paine was frustrated that instead of reconstructing what had been damaged by U.S. bombing, KMT officials were lining their pockets and shipping off to China anything of value that could be moved (including railroad rolling stock, and most of the rice and sugar produced on Taiwan). From direct contact with officials put in charge of Taiwan by the Allies (and transported to Taiwan by the U.S. military), he learned that before losing the mainland, Chiang’s underlings considered Taiwanese as “enemy aliens” to exploit, not “Chinese brothers.” Resident in Daiba (Taipei) in March of 1947, he was a horrified observer of the bloody arrival of KMT troops to eliminate any dissent or possible dissent on the vassal island.

For Paine, even after more than 40 years, the horrible sight of corpses floating in a blood-red Keelung River remained the unforgettable part of KMT reassertion of domination. He had heard gunfire the night (March 10th) Chiang Kaishek’s troops landed in Keelung, but had not realized the scale of indiscriminate slaughter that began then.

In the following weeks, he learned of the more carefully planned murders of educated Taiwanese. He reported what he observed to Washington at the time. After returning to the United States, he wrote letters to Congress and various news agencies seeking to raise concern about what he had seen. He showed us various letters, some of which were published, and the noncommittal bureaucratic responses he received.

For a time he and George H. Kerr worked on a book manuscript. Although they had received an advance from a publisher, Kerr stopped work on the book without giving Paine any satisfying explanation, and only much later (1965) published Formosa Betrayed. That book is very critical of Chiang and his subordinates. It would have had a greater impact, however, closer to the time of the events (and closer to the time when it appears to have been written). I wrote to Kerr asking about the sequence of writing and publication of Formosa Betrayed, but in two letters Kerr avoided the direct (and repeated) question of why a book about his observations did not appear much earlier. (My guess is that the virulent attack on American experts for “losing China” in part for reporting the unpopularity of Chiang Kaishek had traumatized and/or deterred him, but this is a surmise for which I have no evidence.)

Ed Paine also told us that he had recommended a young Taiwanese with whom he had worked to translate for (Captain) Vern J. Sneider when Sneider came to Daiba. Sneider’s first novel, Teahouse of the August Moon, is a bemused account of the education of a U.S. Army of Occupation officer by Okinawan villagers. It was a best-seller, the basis for a hit Broadway play, a Hallmark Hall of Fame television production, and a movie (in which Marlon Brando played the Okinawan employee of Glen Ford; it was released on video in 1990).

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The book Sneider wrote about Taiwan, A Pail of Oysters, published in 1953, also contains some amused accounts of an American’s incomprehension of Pacific Islanders’ ways of doing things that is similar to the central comedies of inter-cultural misunderstandings in Teahouse of the August Moon and in The King from Ashtabula, his later novel about a Micronesian student in Missouri who suddenly is recalled (by another U.S. Army occupation) to be king of an American-administered island.

A Pail of Oysters is much less light-hearted than those more popular works of Sneider’s fiction. It describes not just the foibles of confused Americans out of their depths across the Pacific, but accounts of KMT terror, including the shooting of Li Liu, the character based on the interpreter Ed Paine recommended to Vern Sneider.

The book opens with a KMT patrol seizing oysters gathered by Taiwanese coast dwellers (on the coast of Changhua). The first chapter also appeared as a story in a 1950 Antioch Review and was reprinted in the 1956 collection of Sneider’s mostly-set-in-Korea short stories, A Long Way from Home. Sneider makes very vivid the terror in which Taiwanese lived during the late 1940s and beyond, under the oppression of KMT bandit-troops. He also makes clear the common Taiwanese views that what land reform was really about was breaking up any Taiwanese power bases.

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Even with a white American charcter, journalist Ralph Barton, Hollywood did not evidence the same interest in A Pail of Oysters as in his other books. Although well-reviewed, it was not a popular success. Even more than Formosa Betrayed, copies of A Pail of Oysters disappeared from most libraries, probably on instructions issued to the student spies paid by the KMT to monitor Taiwanese on U.S. college campuses.

Informed estimates of the extent of killings of Taiwanese continue to mount (from ten thousand to 150,000). Despite the attempt of a Hoover Institute book to downplay both the number of fatalities and the responsibility of the “Republic of China” government, since the lifting of martial law, scholars in Taiwan have finally been able to discuss the extent of the horror since the end of martial law. A Pail of Oysters continues to provide a vivid contemporary picture of the terror in which adult Taiwanese lived in the late 1940s. It has just appeared as an e-book with a very useful introduction by Jonathan Benda that includes discussion of CIA and USIA attempts to smear Sneider as communist for showing how the Chinese (KMT) acted in the colony of Taiwan they took over from Japan, which was only possible with US logistical support. (A sample is available at https://archive.org/stream/strategytacticso0105unit#page/98/mode/2up)

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In addition to Kerr’s Formosa Betrayed, see New Zealander Allan James Shackleton’s eyewitness account in  Formosa Calling It was written in 1948 but not published until 2009.  And there is a new novel, Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan, l hinging on the White Terror with a female protagonist who moves to the US without being able to escape the damage inflicted by the KMT to many Taiwanese families.

©2016, Keelung Hong and Stephen O. Murray; an earlier version of this posting was included in our book (published by the University of Nebraska Press), Looking Through Taiwan. That book also includes a reprint of “A Case Study of Pseudo-Objectivity: The Hoover Institution Analysis of 1947 Resistance and Repression in Taiwan.”)

Three generations of Taiwanese-American Angelenas shaped by the Chinese White Terror on Taiwan

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“Scaring people into saying nothing in public that could be construed as critical of the armed forces…is more than the production of silence. It is silencing, which is quite different. For now the not said acquires a significance and a specific confusion befogs the spaces of the public sphere, which is where the action is…The point about silencing and the fear behind silencing is not to erase memory. Far from it. The point is to drive the memory deep within the fastness of the individual so as to create more fear and uncertainty in which dream and reality commingle”

— Michael Taussig, The Nervous System,  1992, p. 27)

228 Legacy is an ambitious first novel by Jennifer J. Chow, who, according to the book’s author blurb is” a Chinese-American, married into the Taiwanese culture. The 228 Legacy was inspired by the family stories she heard after viewing photos of a two-million-person human chain commemorating 2-28 [1947]. ” I think that it is the first American novel dealing with the Kuomintang (KMT) white terror since the 1953 A Pail of Oysters 1953 by Vern Sneider (better known as the author of The Teahouse of the August Moon).

Sneider’s too-little-known novel is set entirely in Taiwan, drawing on the experiences of his Taiwanese interpreter. In response to protests challenging KMT (mis)rule that began on 28 February 1947 (hence the label “2-28”) Chiang Kaishek sent troops sent to quell the “rebellion.” The slaughter and targeting of the Taiwanese elite (trained during 50 years of rule by Japan) began when troops landed in the port of Keelung in the early hours of 9 March 1947. Thus, I find it unlikely that the husband of the grandmother (Silk) was disappeared on 2/28. And, given that Chow acknowledges the standard account of the KMT white terror and US acquiescence to it, George Kerr’s Formosa Betrayed, she should know the chronology.

Silk recalls her husband, a technician, going off, never to return, to a meeting or rally 2/28/1947. They did not know that Silk was pregnant. Chow’s narrative does not mention how she got out of Taiwan and to LA, where she has worked in a vineyard into 1980. (Silk recalls that she was accepted into the US as a “displaced person.” Even if that is an official category from the late-1940s, the question of how she got from Taiwan to San Francisco is still begged in the book.)

That the four narrations are not set in the recent past did not dawn on me until Silk and her daughter Lisa and grand-daughter Abbey visit Taiwan while Chiang Kaishek’s son Chiang Chingkuo was ruling (he lifted martial law after 40 years in 1987 and died 13 January 1988).  Near the end, the 1980 US presidential election is mentioned (Lisa votes for Reagan). There are no other period details, and Silk being 55 when her grand-daughter begins sixth grade (and Lisa 32) seems possible but pushing it (for no good reason!), while Abbey seems older than a plausible fifth-grader. (Abbey’s father is a nonentity, not recalled as Silk does her disappeared husband.)

Silk remains terrified, not wanting her daughter or grand-daughter to risk being educated (since the KMT targeted the educated on Taiwan during the White Terror). Abbey is vying with Ara Aroyan, the son of a prominent pediatric dentist, to be valedictorian of their grade school (is there really such a thing? With ranks updated publicly on a regular basis?). For a time, she gains admittance into the grade school’s in-crowd (which seems much more like middle school/junior high) and attends a party at Ara’s, at which his uncle drugs and molests some girls. Abbey escapes and tells the police about a classmate tied up and screaming. The Aroyans cover up the predation, and Abbey is ostracized for slandering Ara’s beloved (not in the sexual sense) uncle. (I find it difficult to believe that even a local newspaper would headline “AROYAN FAMILY DEFAMED,” btw.)

Lisa has difficulty holding onto a job (even before the Reagan recession). She is hired by a Chinese-American, Jack, whose beloved wife recently died. Jack worked as a janitor in the school Abbey attends and lived in an upscale nursing home from which Lisa was laid off. He becomes something of a father figure for Lisa, who never knew her biological father. But Jack makes the mistake of assimilating Taiwanese to “fellow Chinese” that enrages Silk. (I have seen Taiwanese bristle at the equation, particularly Taiwanese who grew up discriminated against by Chinese, whose governance was similar to that of white South Africans, but Silk’s reaction seems unrealistically extreme to me.)

Jack is the fourth POV (not narrator, the book is entirely in the third person) and further clogs the narrative(s) by sponsoring a homeless person, temporarily housing him in the nursing home with him and getting him the janitorial job that has been kept open for Jack’s return.

All four protagonists do some good deeds, including Silk taking Lisa and Abbey to visit Taipei (where she grew up and met her husband) and Kaohsiung (where she was living in 1947 when she lost her husband).

With some flashbacks for Silk, the novel moves linearly, alternating chapters reporting what Silk, Lisa, Abbey, and Jack do and think. It’s a lot easier reading than the most famous novel alternating four narrators, The Sound and the Fury. Chow’s characters are sympathetic and the insecurities of the three generations of women are credibly a legacy of the White Terror (which Taiwanese lump into the category “2-28”). The simultaneous (and unrelated) finding peace of all three generations strains belief some, however.

The many acknowledgments do not include any to an editor. Some of the dialogue seems clunky to me (e.g., “I thought I’d have to wrestle with deep sorrow when I came back, but it’s been the opposite experience” that I can’t imagine anyone actually saying), and an editor might have balked at the newspaper headline I already mentioned, diction such as  “Abbey imbibes the ambience of downtown Fairview… Downtown Fairview possess an urban, gritty feel,” or “At first glance, the tall swan-like woman with undulating hazel hair and grey eyes seems very different from her,” and proofreading might have caught a missing preposition in “I didn’t want return to Monroe.” Still, I thought the book engaging and worthwhile.

(BTW, Chow studied gerontology at Cornell, worked as a geriatric social worker, and writes a blog (http://www.jenniferjchow.com) that is mostly foodie—much more so than 228 Legacy, though Lisa takes a job at a coffee shop that leads to starting a support group for women taking care both of older and younger family members that turns into a paying gig.)

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With Keelung Hong (both reprinted as chapters in Looking Through Taiwan, published by the University of Nebraska Press), I have written about “Some American Witnesses of the KMT’s 1947 Reign of Terror on Taiwan” and  “A Case Study of Pseudo-Objectivity: The Hoover Institution Analysis of 1947 Resistance and Repression in Taiwan.”

In addition to Kerr’s Formosa Betrayed, see New Zealander Allan James Shackleton’s eyewitness account in  Formosa Calling. Though focused on later KMT murder of a Taiwanese-American professor considered a “dissident,” see the movie that borrowed Kerr’s title: “Formosa Betrayed.” And there is a new novel, Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan, l hinging on the White Terror with a female protagonist who moves to the US without being able to escape the damage inflicted by the KMT to many Taiwanese families.

 

©2013, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

 

“Green Island” by Shawna Yang Ryan

 

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Less than one percent of Shawna Yang Ryan’s new novel Green Island is set on the volcanic island off the east coast of Taiwan where political prisoners were incarcerated. Its name is a specimen of Kuomintang (KMT) doublespeak.* Until 1949 it was known as “fire-seared island” (Kasho-to in Japanese). Though a major character, Dr. Tsai, the father of the narrator, was held at “Oasis Village” (more KMT doublespeak) for ten years, it seems that he was already broken by torture and the murder of his neighbors before his long prison sentence on the desolate island of the title.

Before the never-named female narrator’s birth, her father went to medical school in Tokyo and was deployed with the Japanese colonial army in Burma, where he nearly died of dysentery. Had that happened, there would be no story, the narrator would not have been conceived or delivered by her father.

It is difficult for me to suspend disbelief about several crucial plot points, beginning with Dr. Tsai leaving his newborn child (and wife and older son and daughter) to attend a meeting airing grievances about KMT misrule. It was speaking there that got his name on the list of people to be rounded up when KMT reinforcements were deployed by Chiang Kai-Shek who had not yet retreated from mainland China to Taiwan.

It is also difficult for me to credit the University of California, Berkeley retaining one of its own graduates, the narrator’s husband Wei. It would have been more plausible for him to have earned his Ph.D. in physics somewhere else, then to be hired by Berkeley. More crucially, it is hard for me to believe that he would (1) risk returning to Taiwan with the ashes of a comrade in the anti-KMT movement’s armed wing in 1982, before the end of martial law on Taiwan (2) with his very pregnant wife, and (3) though blacklisted, would receive a visa.

In contrast with these implausibilities, the torture and killings (estimates range from 10,000 to 50,000) of the White Terror, which began when the KMT army reinforcements landed when the narrator was seven days old, the KMT spying on US campuses, and the murder and intimidation of Americans who had been born on Taiwan is all too plausible, if unknown to most Americans not born on Taiwan. The book brings the pressure to collude with KMT spies deployed in the US vividly to life. In effect, family members in Taiwan were hostages who could and were used to discourage documentation of the ongoing reign of terror and suppression of dissent against the apartheid-like Chinese Nationalist regime. The psychically and physically fragile Dr. Tsai is an example of this. Also the collusion in KMT/ROC cover-up of the torture of US citizens in 1982 (during the Reagan administration) is all too plausible.

A lot of history is stuffed into the novel with the character of the maternal grandfather consisting entirely of reporting on events long before the birth of the narrator. Even with that device, there are switches to omniscient narration of events the generally dominant first-person narrator could not have witnessed. The one historical point I think is misleading is that in the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué of 1972 the US recognized that the PRC (and, for that matter, the KMT) considered Taiwan a province of China without accepting that view. What she quotes on p. 183 was the PRC position, NOT something agreed upon by US and PRC officials. (The second quotation’s “creative ambiguity” of “all Chinese” does not include the Taiwanese majority living on Taiwan. The whole document is online at https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v17/d203) Though Henry Kissinger was quite willing to sell out Taiwan and the ROC, the communiqué was not ratified by the US Congress the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 requires the US to defend Taiwan from any PRC invasion. (I also think she confuses the PRC denial of SARS in 2003 with that of the ROC public health bureaucracy; the PRC coverup is undeniable; see the lengthy analysis at http://www.asianresearch.org/articles/1502.html. PRC blocking of ROC membership or een observer status in the World Health Organization (WHO) was more important than any denial of cases on Taiwan.)

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The combination of White Terror on Taiwan and immigrant life in the US for Taiwanese was also the subject of Julie Wu’s 2013 novel The Third Son, (which begins in Japanese Taiwan of 1943) and of Jennifer Chow’s three-generation 2013 novel The 228 Legacy; the White Terror on Taiwan was the focus of A Pail of Oysters by Vern Sneider (better known for The Teahouse of the August Moon) published in 1953. “Formosa Betrayed,” the title of George Kerr’s belated (1965) report of what he witnessed (as US vice-consul) on after 2-28-1947 was used for a 2009 thriller about an FBI agent’s investigation of a KMT-sponsored murder of a Taiwanese professor at a Midwestern US university (that combined the murder in Daly City, CA of journalist Henry Liu and the death while in KMT secret police custody of Carnegie Mellon University professor Chen Wencheng, whose corpse was dumped on the campus of National Taiwan University).

 

  • In a New York Times interview (online at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/23/world/asia/taiwan-shawna-yang-ryan-green-island.html?_r=0), Ms. Ryan, who teaches writing at the Unversity of Hawai’I’s main campus in Honolulu, said that she thinks of “Taiwan as a ’’green island’ as well — verdant and beautiful — but during martial law, it had become a kind of prison itself.” Taiwan was long called “Formosa” in English, based on the Portuguese “ilha Formoa,” “beautiful island.”

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Discussion of Japanese literature and movies (in translation and subtitled, respectively).