Tag Archives: Taipei

2-28: a libretto


Scene One 2/28/1945

Sudin, an advanced high school student, and his girlfriend Siuhua are looking at leaflets dropped by US planes.

Siuhua: God’s country promises us freedom when they have driven out the Japanese.

Sudin: Driving out the Japanese will not be easy.

Siuhua: The American president Wilson supported self determination everywhere.

Sudin: Even in Taiwan? Do you think the Americans are not fighting Japan for our freedom? No! It’s because the Japanese attacked them. The Americans want us to rebel against the Japanese, but they don’t care what happens to us.

Siuhua: Rebellionwould be suicide. The Japanese have all the guns.

Sudin: The Japanese will lose the war. Then we shall see whether the Americans really support our freedom. We’ll see if they their presidents just produce fine phrases or will do anything to ensure our right of self-determination.

Scene Two (10/12/1945)

Madame Jiang in a slinky nightgown with her black pearl slippers, Generalismo Jiang in uniform.

Mme J: There is very much wealth on Taiwan. Why are you letting Tan Ge and his gang of jackals clean its bones? You should know better than to trust him. You must know that he is feeding his gang and not us.

Gen. J: Of course they are collecting bribes. I know they are seizing what was Japanese, and not sending along all they should to the central government. Still, he has sent a lot from Taiwan since I appointed him. You must know that there are even greedier and less dependable generals than Tan Ge, and he has experience with keeping unruly semi-barbaric southerners in line.

Mme. J: At least I hope you have someone watching him and reporting back.

Gen J: Of course, of course. Don’t think that I trust Tan Ge. I barely trust you!


Scene Three (10/12/45)

A Chinese businessman and Tan Ge’s mistress are meeting in private.

Businessman: If the governor general appoints me head of the Tobacco Monopoly Bureau, I shall pay you ten percent of the profits on the tenth of every month.

Mistress: Ten percent of revenues.

Businessman: That’s a lot!

Mistress: You’ll be making much more.

Businessman: But there are others taking their cuts, and I’ll have to do some real work, not just sit back and collect a cut.

Mistress: There are others quite willing to accept my terms

Businessman: Alright: ten percent of revenues.


Scene Four (2/28/47)

A Ha, a middle-aged Taiwanese woman with a small supply of loose cigarettes is hawking them from a folding table under a banyan tree in Round Park.

A Ha: Life is hard and getting harder. I had a husband, but the Japanese took him and sent him off to fight for them in Burma, never to return. He didn’t want to go, I wanted him to stay and earn money to support our two young sons. Without him, I must try to make a little money. What can I sell but my old body or contraband? I don’t want to sell my body, so I risk having my small stock seized by the Chinese demons. I know it is dangerous, I know it is illegal, but food is more expensive every day. Life is hard and getting harder, food is more expensive every day, but my sons must eat to grow, and I must eat to earn some money for their food. Life is hard and getting harder, food is more expensive every day— (startled) Oh, no, demons have seen me.

Two Monopoly Bureau agents converge from both sides on A Ha’s table. One sweeps her stock of cigarettes off the table, the other knocks it over, and then knocks her down.

A Ha (pleadingly): My husband is dead, and I have two young sons to feed. I must make money so they may live. Please don’t take my sons’ food.

Agent 1: You know it is illegal for you to have these?

A Ha: Food is more expensive every day. My sons must eat to grow and I must sell something so they may eat.

Agent 1: That does not overrule the law.

A Ha: My husband was killed in the war.

Agent 1: Fighting for Japan.

A Ha: He was drafted, he had no choice. He did not want to go far away from his sons who needed him.

Agent 2: You are a collaborator’s widow. Your sons are collaborator bastards. Who cares what happens to them or you? It is our job to enforce the law and prevent profiteering in contraband goods.

A Ha: Have you no pity for a poor, desperate widow?

Agent 2 (striking her): You are a whore and a thief from the Chinese people.

A Ha (from ground): I have never stolen—

Agent 2: You steal from the government by selling contraband.

A Ha (nearly moaning): Life is hard and getting harder, food is more expensive every day.

Agent 2 strikes her again, knocking her flat. He begins to pistol-whip her.

Agent 1: Taiwanese whore and thief, how dare you lie. Things are getting better since we defeated and expelled the Japanese. Now it is a Chinese government that rightfully receives revenues from tobacco grown here.

Agent 2: Life is too good for you. You are still an enemy, like the father of your bastards.

Several men passing by pull Agent 2 back.

Passer-by 1: What are you doing beating up this defenseless woman?

Agent 2 (turning, glowering, ready to strike those interfering with his beating the prostrate woman): She is a criminal, selling contraband. We are doing our duty and do not require your approval.

Passer-by 1: You are beating her to death for that?

Agent 1 (moving toward the passers-by who are restraining his colleague): And you, too, Taiwanese trash!

Another passerby grabs Agent 1, pulls his hand behind his back. The passersby gag the two agents and tie them to a trunk of the banyan tree. Passer-by 1 cradles A Ha’s head.

Passer-by 1: The Chinese pigs have made life impossible for us.

A Ha: Life is hard and getting harder. What will happen to my orphaned sons. (With more determination:) My sons must eat to live and grow.

Passer-by 2 (to A Ha): Madame Jiang is the protector of orphans, you need not worry about their care.

(aside to audience or other passersby:) With such a protector they are doomed. What have we done to be damned to such a fate?

A Ha: Life is ending for me. Woe my sons. A curse on those who have made life impossible— (her head sinks).

Passer-by 1: Her life is over. It will not get any harder.

Passer-by 2: Woe this poor woman, woe her orphaned sons, woe Taiwan, beset by Chinese locusts. Our life is getting harder, food is more expensive every day.

A spotlight picks up Sudin, who is a ways away, and cries muffled by gags come from the two agents bound to banyan trunks.

Sudin: What a time we live in! A simple woman beaten to death for trying to support her fatherless sons, selling a few cigarettes in the park. The Japanese would have provided her a pension; the Chinese give her an unjust, summary execution for the pettiest of offenses. Her sons lives were hard and now are much harder. They must have food to grow, but it is all shipped to China or gobbled up by the Chinese who enslave us, the same plagye of idlers who sat out the war beyond where the Japanese cared to push. During the war, they lived on welfare payments from the United States. Why does the champion of democracy support so unpopular and incompetent an autocrat as Jiang? Taiwanese are far better educated and ready for democracy, yet now they claim to have won the war, and these uneducated, unruly pigs claim they will educate us to be Chinese.

Siuhua enters and pulls at Sudin.

Siuhua: You must get away from here. If the Chinese kill a woman for trying to sell a few cigarettes, what are they going to do when two of their agents are overpowered and beaten? There will be much more trouble, and the Chinese have all the guns.

Sudin: We should disarm them, as these flunkies were disarmed here tonight!

Siuhua: Still they live and an innocent Taiwanese does not. I am sure there will be reprisals.

Sudin: There should be reprisals. We should be making reprisals for the thieving Tan Ge and his greedy entourage.

Siuhua (even more worried): You must be careful, or you, too, will be killed.

Sudin: There is no reason we should submit to Chinese rule. The Americans rebelled against unjust government and contemptuous colonial rule, why should we not? Why should we be a colony of the Chinese, going hungry to supply the incompetent ROC army and to fill the iron rice bowls of the Chinese officials? The Americans threw off British tyranny, they should understand our throwing off our heavier burden.

Siuhua: This is all very well in the abstract, but in the here and now, the should, the must, of the matter is that we must get away from here. Tell others what we saw, but there is no gain in staying here waiting for the slaughter to come.

Sudin: Alright! I’ll take you home. Then I will tell others of the officials murdering a defenseless old woman.

The two move across the stage. Light remains on Siuhua as Sudin exits.

Siuhua: Sudin is my love, my future, my life. I fear for his childish hot head. He is prone to get too involved in the dangerous turmoil of politics. He is too likely to endanger our future, to risk our happiness together. Yet, I know that it his passion that I love, so how can I expect a safe and easy life in endlessly turbulent times?

Scene Five (3/2/1947)

Sudin, now a Tai Da student, stops one of his professors, Lim.

Sudin: Professor, some of us are hoping you will guide us in disarming the Chinese butchers.

Lim: That is very dangerous and wholly unnecessary talk. The Chinese have had a hard time during the long war and do not find our climate easy to adjust to, but they are partners with the Americans who defeated the Japanese. The Americans will help guide us to democracy and prosperity.

Sudin: How can you possibly believe that? Before the war, China under the KMT was as badly governed as we are now. My father has told me that Taiwanese were much more prosperous during the early 1930s than the Chinese.

Lim: Are we not Chinese?

Sudin: No! What does China have to do with me? I’ve never been there. The world has been changed by the victories of democracy, and Taiwan must become a democracy.

Lim: I am sure that we are moving in that direction, but you must be patient.

Sudin: We are moving to more—and more blatant—Chinese corruption and away from any possibility of justice for our people.

Lim: You are engaging in very dangerous talk. There have been mistakes made by inexperienced, ignorant Chinese soldiers, but the government is eager to rectify the problems with our help. We do not want another civil war here.

Sudin: They don’t want another civil war, but their behavior provokes one. No wonder the Chinese people do not want to be ruled by these parasites!

Lim: We are working with Tan Ge to rectify the problems of the last few years.

Sudin: You believe Tan Ge wants to rectify the problems that he and his cronies have created?

Lim: Yes, I do. I am on my way to a Taipei Settlement Committee meeting, and then we will present reasonable proposals to the Governor General.

Sudin: Tan Ge is brutal and corrupt: that is why he was installed here, after looting Fujian.

Lim: I do not believe that Tan Ge has derived any personal profit from his position.

Sudin (rolls his eyes and turns to the audience): How can we learn from those so ignorant of the world? Taiwanese built prosperity here and these so-called leaders are content to watch it be dismantled and shipped to the mainland to make a few friends of Tan and Jiang rich.

(turning back to Lim) We have formed the Public Security Service Corp, but the Chinese soldiers still have their weapons in their barracks. They should be disarmed.

Lim: The Governor General has promised not to move troops from the south or from China, and we must not make demands that will make him look bad to his superiors in the national government.

Sudin: You should not believe such promises. We need the guns.

Lim: That is not going to happen. We seek reform, not to overthrow the ROC. There is no other desire except reformation of the governing. It is foolish to suppose that democracy can sprout over the course of one night.

Sudin (to the audience): If there is no other desire, there should be. Now is when we could take control of our destinies, but our elders do not see the chance. Meeting with the Governor General is enough to make them happy.

Scene Six (3.2.47)

Gen. and Mme. Jiang are seated. Lieutenant enters.

Lt.: Generalismo, I come from Tan Ge to report an insurrection on Taiwan and to request reinforcements to put down the rebellion.

Jiang: We need all the troops we have—and more—here to fight the communists and regain control of the fatherland.

Mme: Taiwan is too rich a plum to let drop and roll away,

Jiang: Are the rebels communists?

Lt.: Perhaps not, but many do not accept that they should be ruled by Chinese.

Mme. (sarcastically): They believe they can rule themselves after being Japanese slaves for two generations?

Lt.: It would seem so, Madame.

Jiang (mulling, more to himself, but aloud): We must preserve a safe place of exile, in case we some day need one.

Mme.: And the island’s rice and tea are needed by our troops here.


Jiang: Alright. I will order troops to deploy. Let them make an example of the rebels and ensure there will be no repetitions.

Lt.: General Tan is eager to punish the impudent rebels—

Mme.: — and to resume feathering his nest. (Turning to her husband:) I wish you would appoint me governor and sack that bloated idiot you have appointed!

Jiang: You can hardly be appointed governor of a province in which communists are challenging our rule! (Turning to the lieutenant:) Tell General Tan that troops are coming and I hope they will not need to remain there long. It is a difficult time for us, and we need them back here, as soon as possible. Indeed, we cannot afford to spare them at all, but he has made it necessary to spread our forces.

Lt.: The general is making promises to the Taiwanese vermin and keeping his troops temporarily in their barracks, waiting for reinforcements. But once reinforcements arrive, we are ready to round up everyone who challenged our rule. You can be assured that order will be swiftly and completely restored.

Mme: And the flow of food and goods from Taiwan will resume?

Lt.: Most assuredly, madame!

Jiang: Tell your commander that we understand the need to make promises. We have made a few in our day that we never intended to honor. We are sure he will use force as needed to regain control and tutor the treacherous barbarian to obedience.

Lt: Yes, my president, most certainly they will be put back in their place.

Jiang: It will take a few days to ferry troops to Taiwan, but you had best fly back at once.

Lt: Yes, sir. I will return at once. Thank you, sir (pause) and madame.

Scene Seven, 3/3/47

Taiwanese meeting with Tan Ge

Tan: It is most unfortunate that mistakes have been made and our troops have on occasion showed excess zeal and employed excessive force. I and the whole government regret such excesses and look forward to working together in ensuring an orderly province here, while combating communists. Please understand that our soldiers are fighting a war and may mistake protest and criticism as treason and aiding the enemy, that devil Mao Zhedong. I have ordered troops to remain in their barracks, both here and in Kaohsiung. I am willing to try letting the Public Security Service Corp maintain order among the people of Taipei. However, if violence against state officials and state enterprises persists, I shall have to proclaim martial law—

Professor 1 (aside): Haven’t we already had soldiers killing civilians in the streets?

Professor 2 (shushing him): Shhh! We must move ahead in a spirit of generous forgiveness for past mistakes that have been admitted and we must contribute all we can to the national struggle for survival.

Professor Lim (to Gen. Tan): We do not need martial law. We can police our own people and free soldiers to fight communists on the mainland.

Tan: I hope so. I hope you are right. We cannot tolerate attacks on officials, however.

Professor 1 (aside): What about attacks by locust officials.

Professor 2 (to 1): Shh! (To Tan:) Thank you, general. We are eager to work with you for the good of all.

Scene Eight

Sudin enters. Professor Lim is seated.

Lim: Tan Ge was eager to hear our suggestions and accepted your group policing the city. He seemed sincere about wanting our help and genuinely wants to rein-in greedy officials and insolent troops. He even promised to punish them. It is important that we help him save face with his superiors. He is reporting some officials’ misdeeds to President Jiang and assuring him that Taiwanese leaders support the government.

Sudin: I do not believe that old crook can be trusted. Can you really believe that what he tells you he is reporting to Jiang is what he actually is reporting to him?

Lim (smugly): I was there. I could observe his sincere concern and his genuine contrition, and his eagerness to improve the governance of Taiwan.

Sudin: You underestimate Chinese duplicity. Tan Ge is in a position of weakness right now, “making nice,” playing reformer to gain time. When he can strike back, he will do so. He wants to reassert his power, not provide better government. It is imperative to disarm the garrison troops now.

Lim: Come, come, that is far too extreme a measure. How could he explain his troops being disarmed to President Jiang?

Sudin: Jiang is losing the war in China and can ill afford to open a second front to conquer us, if we are armed and able to resist. Tan Ge’s “face” should not be our primary concern.

Lim: You are young and hot-headed.

Sudin: Tan Ge cannot be trusted, must not be trusted.

Lim: Your elders—not just me—have decided to trust him and to work with him and a reformed provincial government.

Sudin: It is a mistake we will all regret. The opportunity to control our future will be lost if you co-operate with him, believing the tiger has changed his stripes!



Scene One, night of 3/8/47

Sudin is sitting down when Siuhua knocks softly and slips inside.

Sudin: What is wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!

Siuhua: Ah— there will be many more ghosts. Many soldiers have landed at Keelung, their guns blazing as soon as they stepped ashore.

Sudin (not able to avoid the grim satisfaction of having been right): I knew Tan Ge was lying, playing for time, pretending a sudden commitment to reform, all the time planning to kill those who dared to criticize him.

Siuhua: There is no time to congratulate yourself for your foresight in the past. You must now foresee what is coming for you now, and get away from here at once.

Sudin: Away? Where? I live here.

Siuhua: And it is here they will come looking for you. You must leave at once!

Sudin (having quickly gone from grim self-satisfaction to confusion): Go into hiding? [pause] Where? In the mountains?

Siuhua: You must go away, away from Taiwan. My cousin will take you on his fishing boat.

Sudin: Are you kidding? To China? How can I hide among the enemy? How can I live among them, knowing no one?

Siuhua: Not to China! North, away from China and the Chinese.

Sudin: To Japan?

Siuhua: not that far. Only to the Ryukyus where the Americans are in control.

Sudin: Won’t they turn me over to their friend Jiang? I know no one there. No one knows me.

Siuhua: Well, then, no one there will have you on their list to round up or shoot down. Pack a few things you’ll need and can carry easily.

Sudin: Just like that?

Siuhua: Just like that.

Sudin hurriedly tosses some things into a small valise.

Siuhua: Hurry, will you? [He closes the clasp on the valise.] Follow me.

Sudin: It can’t be safe in the streets?

Siuhua: Not for long, but I know a back way.

Sudin: Could you warn Professor Lim. Although he was easily tricked and helped Tan Ge survive, he is probably in danger even for meekly advocating reforms.

Siuhua: I’ll try to warn him, but first I must get you to my cousin’s boat.

Sudin: He’s no afraid of the risk?

Siuhua: He is afraid of the risk, but he is willing to take it for our country’s future, and for me.

Sudin: Does our country have a future?

As soon as they have slipped out, soldiers appear from the other side, and beat on the door.

Soldier 1: Where is the rebel traitor?

Soldier 2: He lives here. We’ll take care of all of them and have no more traitors endangering this outpost.

Soldier 1: Should we hide and wait for him to return?

Soldier 2: Perhaps he is inside. Put on your bayonet.

Soldier 1: For the door?

Soldier 2: First the door, then the Taiwanese rebel. The government of General Tan will reward us if when we report his extinction.

Scene Two, later the same night.

Professor Lim is writing with a brush when two privates and a corporal burst in.

Lim: What is the meaning of this? How dare you burst in and disturb me—

Pvt 1(sarcastically): Oh, are we disturbing you? We did not mean to.

Lim (firmly, failing to realize his plight): Yes, you are. I am a member of the Settlement Committee that is governing Taipei. I am one of those meeting personally with the Governor General—

Pvt 2 slaps him. Lim looks more bewildered than hurt.

Lim: Are you communists?

Pvt 1 (laughing): Are we communists? No! We fight communists and Taiwanese rebels who help the communists.

Lim: I’m no rebel. I work with the government to promote smoother operations of the provincial government.

Corp: There is no provisional government, and your committee has been judged guilty of sedition for making outrageous, unreasonable demands.

Lim: What demands were unreasonable? Sedition? What sedition? We smooth the troubled waters.

Corp: You so-called leaders have stirred up the people here—

Lim (firmly, still a lecturer, annoyed but not understanding the lack of the deference with which he is usually addressed): Not at all! We calmed the people and prevented a rebellion.

Corp: There can be no rebellion—

Lim: There is none, General Tan agreed to self-policing.

Pvt 1: That’s all over.

Pvt 2: Yes. [short pause] I’m tired of this pretentious vermin. [Looking at corporal:} Permission to shut him up?

Corp: Yes, gag him.

Lim sputters as Private 2 gags him.

Corp: And make sure he can’t run away.

Private 1 hobbles Lim, tying his ankles so he can only take short steps. The corporal roughly jerks Lim’s hands behind him and binds them together.

Corp: OK, men, let’s take this rebel in and move on to pick off the next piece of Taiwanese scum.

The two privates prod Lim out with their rifle barrels. They pass Siuhua, dressed as an old lady.

Siuhua: If the moderate reformers are treated like this, what would they do with my hot-headed Sudin? He would struggle and they would surely kill him. Professor Lim went along and may be released. But Sudin clearly was right. The Chinese only say they are our brothers when they want to take things from us. They forget they ran awya from the Japanese until the Japanese tired of chasing them. Now they claim to have defeated Japan. What will become of Taiwan when there is nothing left to loot here? Thank heavens I got Sudin away in time. The Chinese would cut him down if they found him, but they will not find him. If only the whole island could float away from the Republic of the Chinese and the cruel louts besetting us. Woe is our future as a slave of the ROC? When will we be free? When can we seek our own happiness in safety? It was easier under Japanese guard dogs. Our freedom was limited and some of what we produced was taken away, but now we have no freedom and everything is shipped to China.

Scene Three, very early in the morning of 3/9/47

A prison cell with four Settlement Committee members. (Professor Lim is #4). They are disheveled from physical mistreatment, and shocked by being rounded up like violent criminals.

1: Why were we so naive? How could we have believed in good faith from Tan Ge?

2: Perhaps he does not know what the newly arrived troops have done.

3: More likely, he ordered it, begged for more troops, claimed communists were rising against him here.

4: Rebels against the kingdom of heaven—

1: — or hell.

2: Well, someone must have led President Jiang—

1: His only interest it Taiwan is in what can be extracted from us and shipped to enrich his circle.

2: I believe that if we could alert him about what is going on—

3: He would be pleased.

1: He must have ordered severe measures. Who do you think ordered troops to come here? You don’t think he knew how they would behave, how they behave?

2: But Tan Ge promised us a larger role. He promised not to bring in more troops.

1: Obviously, he lied. How can you believe anything he said when he felt cornered? He knew reinforcements were on their way here.

3: He must have requested them.

2: So his only concern was to buy time for them to arrive? But what of the Americans here. Won’t they report what’s happening?

1: Come on! It was the Americans who brought the locust here.

4: What of the four freedoms. Did not the United Nations proclaim a universal right to self-determination?

1: That was all wartime propaganda. Now they’ve won the war, and they let the Chinese treat Taiwan as spoils of victory for their allies—

3: Little as Jiang’s armies did to defeat the Japanese.

4: I hope to breathe open air again, to see our beautiful homeland, not through prison bars. My hope whispers we shall be free.

Chorus of all four: Will freedom rescue us? Will freedom ever come to Taiwan? Will foreigners forever suppress us? Will we be free, or is imprisonment for believing Chinese promises our just punishment? Will we be free?

Two privates and a corporal enter.

Soldier 1: What is this caterwauling? Form a line and march!

Still hobbled, the prisoners shuffle rather than march, followed by smirking soldiers. They pass out the cell door.

Soldier 2: Pick up a shovel.

Professor 2: We are not ditch-diggers, we are teachers.

Soldier 2: You were ignorant and bad teachers. Probably you are not good ditch-diggers, either, but at least you will not be misleading students any more.

P2: We have been removed from our jobs?

Corporal: You could say that.

P2: This is not fair. We must be allowed to speak to Tan Ge.

Corporal: You are even more foolish than I supposed. Whose orders do you think we are following?

P2: We are going to do hard labor?

Soldier 1: Only for a short time.

P4 (Lim): We have been sentenced without a trial?

Corporal: There is no need for a trial. It is obvious that you are enemies of the republic.

P4: We are supporters of the republic, trying to make it work.

P2: Yes! Working in harmony with Tan Ge to improve its workings.

P1 (aside): It works only for thieves

Soldier 2: Tan Ge does not need your help.

P4(despairingly transposes words of earlier question to the same notes): Freedom will not rescue us. Perhaps some day freedom will rescue our people, but freedom will not rescue us. Hope whispered falsely.

The four professors simulate digging.

P2: This is not proper use of our abilities.

S1: You are not worth a bullet.

P2: What do you mean?

Soldier 1 strangles him and the other soldiers strangle the others, then go through the pockets, taking whatever they find in them.

Corporal: Taiwanese vermin will learn from their example that they have Chinese masters now. There will be no more rebellion here for a very long time.

S2: Or even any complaints.

Scene Four, evening of 3/10/47

Tan Ge is seated. The Lieutenant enters and salutes. Tan returns the salute.

Lt. Our face has been restored. The impudent traitors have been rounded up and have disappeared from the face of the earth forever.

Tan: They made me look bad. They made our glorious republic look bad and must be eliminated. How can our great nation lose control of a small, insignificant island that the Japanese turned to a profit?

Lt: The rebel Taiwanese have disappeared from the earth forever, my commander. The Keelung River ran red with rebel Taiwanese blood and the harbor is full of their stinking corpses. The corpses of the communist traitors will never be found and buried. Their ghosts will wander, desolate for ever.

Tan: You have done well and are overdue for a promotion. It is regrettable that we had to ask Jiang for help. I do not like to be deeper in his debt. His bitch will make sure to collect by debt with thousandfold interest.

Lt: Better that than to lose control. There are riches still to be drained, and profits will revive.

Scene Five, later in the evening of 3/10/47

Siuhua enters. Sudin is hidden in shadows.

Siuhua: Sudin? Were are you?

Sudin (quietly): Over here. Are you sure no one followed you?

Siuhua: I was very careful and changed directions many times. It is a terrible time to be Taiwanese. Our people are being slaughtered—shot in the streets, dragged out of their homes, tortured, humiliated— Your professor was taken away by soldiers before I could warn him.

Sudin: Professor Lim! He was so sure the Chinese would respect his sincerity, that Tan Ge and Jiang Kaishek really wanted good government and the help of Taiwanese leaders.

Siuhua: You were right not to trust them, but that only increases your danger. You really must flee our homeland tonight.

Sudin: But what happened to Professor Lim?

Siuhua: The Chinese soldiers treated him like a violent criminal, bound his hands and feet and took him away at gunpoint.

Sudin: Professor Lim, violent! We should have taken all the weapons from the Chinese who were here before—

Siuhua: It would not have helped. Armed soldiers poured in, shooting as soon as they got off the boats. What could you have done about that?

Sudin: Shot each one who tried to disembark on our homeland!

Siuhua: Of, Sudin! Sometimes you are such a child! [pause] Yet now you are in such very real danger! Will I ever see you after tonight?

Sudin: Of course you’ll see me again. We will marry and roast the last mountain pig for the wedding guests. Then we will start manufacturing little Sudins and Siuhuas.

Siuhua: More childish bravado! Sometimes you are such a child—though Professor Lim was sillier still to trust the Chinese who must have killed him by now.

Sudin: Are you sure? Did you see them kill him?

Siuhua: No, but I saw him stumbling along, his arms twisted behind his back, his ankles hobbled, only able to take baby steps. I didn’t dare follow him, but I doubt he will ever come back.

Sudin: You believe they killed him?

Siuhua: Yes, as they’d murder you, if the could find you.

Sudin: They won’t find me!

Siuhua: Only a few hours and you’ll be out of their reach.

Sudin (sighing): Back under Japanese rule.

Siuhua: The Japanese treated us better and protected us more than the Chinese have.

Sudin: But the Japanese are ruled by Americans now.

Siuhua: It would be better if we were, too.

Sudin: If the Americans believed in the democracy their leaflets promised, they would have done something to aid us, they would have supported the reformers, at least, but they continue to supply Jiang and Tan. The Americans have forgotten what it is like, what they rebelled against when they were misruled colonies of the British.

Siuhua: That was very long ago. Now they carry locusts and put them in our rice bowls.

Sudin: Yes, despite what they said, they have supported restoring colonies in Asia to Europeans and connived in making Taiwan a colony of Jiang’s misrule. They have forgotten their foundation, the challenges to injustice they once made in their own behalf.

Siuhua: I hear something. We must hide and be quiet.

Sudin: Ah, the Taiwanese fate!

The move into shadow as a patrol passes, shining flashlights here and there. The patrol exits.

Siuhua: You must go to the boatmen now.

Sudin: I don’t want to leave you with these pigs rutting.

Siuhua: I don’t want them to kill you.

Sudin: I want to stay and resist.

Siuhua: You cannot resist here. To resist you must leave. If things don’t improve in a year, I’ll follow you.

Sudin: Promise?

Siuhua: I promise we’ll be rejoined, come what may.

Sudin: Tormented Taiwan, cursed to renewed Chinese tyranny.

Siuhua: Robbed, exploited, mistreated., still someday Taiwan will be free.

Sudin: You’re sure?

Siuhua: I’m sure. I only hope it will be sooner rather than later.

Scene Six, years later on Okinawa.

Sudin: We are still here. Our neighbors are able to decide their fate. Are we condemned to permanent exile? Is Taiwan condemned to eternal Chinese misrule? Are Taiwanese damned to eternal mistreatment?

Siuhua: Someday we shall return. Someday Taiwan will be free. Hope whispers we shall be free. Freedom will yet rescue Taiwan.

Sudin: What about us? Will we live to see a free Taiwan?

Siuhua: Defeated Japan has democracy now, why not Taiwan?

Sudin: Why never Taiwan? Why should we be after Japan? Japan was the enemy, not Taiwan, but the Americans helped Japan and gave Taiwan to the gangster pigs. Did not our ancestors flee China and the oppression of the Chinese? Why must Taiwan continue to swallow the bitterness of Chinese arrogance and incompetence?

Siuhua: You must keep on believing that freedom will come to our homeland.

Sudin: It is hard with the blood-sucking Jiangs and Soongs pretending to be emperors of the Middle Kingdom, but only able to extract tribute from Taiwan. America imposed them on us and now adds insult to injury by calling “Free China” part of a “free world.”

Siuhua: Taiwanese remain unfree, but not forever. Taiwanese persist. Taiwanese wait. Taiwanese persevere. Someday Taiwan will be free and our Taiwanese children will prosper.

Sudin: Only Taiwanese children born in exile. And what of those who murdered our brothers and sisters and teachers?

Siuhua: They will die badly, bleeding copiously from seven orifices.

Chorus: Freedom will yet rescue Taiwan. Someday we will be free.


©2018, Stephen O. Murray



New Park was rennamed 2-28 PeacePark

Also see American witness accounts here.

More thrills based in a Taipei night market


Incensed (2016, Taiwanese-American Ed Lin’s second novel Ghost Month was the first) centered on Taiwanese UCLA dropout Jing-Nan (has many aspects that are mysterious to the owner of a Night Market sausage and skewered-entrails stand. Jing-Nan’s proprietor persona, the tout “Johnny,” is less shy than the orphaned Taiwanese 25-year-old Jing-Nan, and uses his fluency in English to draw American tourists to his stand.

It is an especially family-focused time of year (the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival), and Jinh-Nan is called upon by his Taichung gangster uncle, Big Eye, to watch over Big Eye’s rebellious 16-year-old daughter, Mei-ling. Big Eye wants her to finish high school. Jing-Nan wants to be a singer (though both her father and her older cousin don’t think she has any talent).

There is an Indonesian she has broken up with and whom her father abhors on principle (xenophobic principles) and wants to ensure is distanced from his daughter. There is the Taipei primo capo (to borrow an Italian Mafia term) from whom Big Eye has won a lot of money gambling. There are Big Eye’s fierce and fiercely loyal bodyguards, and a similar formidable pair of employees Hing-Nan has inherited along with the market business. One of them, Dwayne, is Ami (one of the aboriginal Polynesian peoples) and the book illustrates inter-ethnic animosities (aboriginal peoples against Chinese who arrived from the 17th through the 20th century, Holo-speakers (Taiwanese), Hakka, the predatory defeated Kuomintang who fled defeat on the mainland after WWII, and the swarms of tourists from the PRC) as well as explaining (with a light touch) the multitude of gods and goddesses Taiwanese attempt to get to aid, or at least not to obstruct their endeavors. Not just temples and the night market, but other parts of Taipei geography are also revealed, with a major lynchpin of the plot occurring on the relatively new (since 2007) Maokong string of gondolas above Taipei.

Although there are two murders, the novel is not at all a whodunit. There are many surprises for Jing-Nan, who is alarmed at the responsibility for a wild 16-year-old forced on him by a ruthless gangster. There is a lot of humor, not least about celebrity. Jing-Nan is a minor celebrity for having deflected a bullet with his main cooking pot (back in Ghost Month). And the novel begins with a droll account of a contest to eat especially rank stinking tofu between a Japanese and a Taiwanese who alternate winning contests wolfing down food. They put their minor celebrity to work at a rally in the night market for a protest rally involving Jing-Nan’s activist girlfriend Nancy (politicized since Ghost Month).


I think the book is just a bit too long. There are too many punk-rock (and post-punk) references for me (especially the Joy Division obsession), but I enjoyed the voice of the young somewhat Americanized Taiwanese narrator and the atmosphere of scrambling to succeed in Taipei.

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

Gripping thriller/romance based in Taipei Night Market


Ghost Month (2014), the first of the (to-date two; the second is Incensed) Taipei Night Market mysteries by Ed Lin, is a somewhat chaotic mix of opinions about various facets of Tawan’s culture and history with a thriller plot. The latter involves government(s) collusion with Chinese gangs, covert technology transfer to the PRC and the murder of Julia Huang. Julia grew up with the narrator, Jing-nan. Both of their parents had stands in a Taipei night market. She was a better student than he, but he was good enough to get into UCLA (while she went to NYU).

They had agreed not to have any contact until they graduated, at which point they would wed. Because Jing-nan’s father was dying, he returned to Tapei and his mother was killed in a traffic accident on the way to pick him up from the airport. After which his father died and he inherited gambling debts from his grandfather, so had to run the night market stand. Fortunately, he also inherited a staff of two very competent cooks, the burly Ami (one of the fourteen recognized aboriginal groups on Taiwan), Dwayne, and the son of a mainlander, Frankie. Jing-nan is a benshengren (Han who went from Fujien to Taiwan before it was ceded to Japan in 1895), so the stand provides a sample of interethnic antagonism with a descendant each of the original Austronesian inhabitants, of the early “settlers” (who, like American ones pushed aside the aboriginal inhabitants), and of the Chinese who fled the loss of the civil war to the communists and took over what the Japanese had developed (jobs, housing, infrastructure).

Jing-nan has renamed the shop selling skewers of sausage and internal organs of pigs “Unknown Pleasures” in honor of his favorite album by his favorite post-punk band, Joy Division. Its lead singer, Ian Curtis, committed suicide in 1979, something like a decade before Jing-nan was born.

Jing-nan is shocked to learn that Julia (1) has been murdered and (2) was working as a scantily clad seller of betel nuts at a roadside stand on an exit to Hsinchu City (35 miles south of Taipei’s international airport in Taoyuan). He did not know that she had returned to Taiwan and finds it difficult to believe that she could have been employed as a near-prostitute (or a more than near one).

After visiting Julia’s parents (and being warned off trying to find out what had happened to her by seeming gangsters), Jing-nan contacts two of their schoolmates who had also gone to NYU, Peggy (from a very affluent mainlander family of entrepreneurs) and a doughy boy everyone called “Cookie Monster.”

At a music emporium called Bauhaus, he meets a young woman three years his junior who idolized him when they were in high school, Nancy. (Peggy also had a major crush on him, though he was very visibly focused on Julia.) Thus, most of the major characters other than the Unknown Pleasure employees went to school together

Jing-nan has also inherited the illegally constructed shack in which his grandfather and father died. It is near the major tourist attraction temple in Taipei, Longshan, one that also has heavy traffic, especially during Ghost Month (the seventh lunar month) from Taiwanese, with altars to multiple gods, the goddess Mazho, and the bodhisattva Guan Yin. Julia and Jing-nan scoffed at the profusion of Taiwanese deities and their worshippers, but he ends up going there on instructions beyond the grave from her (she visits him in dreams).


(offerings at a Taipei temple (Hsian Tian Kong)


(worsipper in Longshan Temple)

In addition to two major romances and the longings of the two other Taiwanese who went to NYU, where they had little contact with Julia, and a dogged murder investigation opposed by police and the dominant (Black Sea) gang, Jing-nan opines at length about punk and post-punk Anglophone bands (I only recall one mention of a Taiwanese singer and no mention of any Taiwanese or Japanese bands), Taiwanese religious syncretism (placating gods and deities to be on the safe side even if one is not convinced they exist), love/sex, and official corruption (both police and building inspectors and permit-issuers), and the complicated history of expropriations).

I find Jing-nan convincing, albeit very in the noir tradition of a non-professional investigator who is clueless about how gangs and government collude, and there is plenty of plot with developments I did not foresee. There is lots of specificity about Taiwan geography and traffic, weather and pollution (the latter has improved considerably since the completion of the subway system). Other than not caring about his “musical” favorites, I thought there were too many dreams in the book. And I thought the characterizations were strong, varied, and interesting.

©2017, Stephen O. Murray