This blog is an archive for my research, interviews with designers and museum staff, and travel experiences as I explore multilingual design practices in Taiwan.
Fulbright research abroad in Taipei, Taiwan began in March 2021.   




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“Even though Taiwan is now a peaceful democracy, the scars from 228 on the land and the bodies of Taiwanese victims will remain.”

Language: English
Date: Nov 11, 2021
Listening to: Ain’t No Sunshine by Sivuca


Republic of China (Taiwan), Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Colonial Wounds.” Taiwan Today, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan), 1 Jan. 2003, LINK.

“February 28 Incident.” Wikipedia, 12 Sept. 2021. Wikipedia, LINK. 

Memorial Foundation of 228.National 228 Memorial Museum. The 228 Incident|Memorial Foundation of 228.National 228 Memorial Museum. LINK. Accessed 11 Nov. 2021.
“Teenagers, Smoke, and Umbrellas”, “Scars on the Land”, “The 1987 Awakening of the People” — the compelling exhibition titles at the National 228 Memorial Museum stir memories of the tumultuous history of East Asia in the past one hundred years. In contrast, the name “228 Incident” appears to be an understatement to foreigners, but for the Taiwanese people who lived through that tragedy and the new generation who are shaping public discourse on past injustices, the date February 28 already carries a heavy weight. Currently, the National 228 Memorial Museum is exhibiting printmaking artworks depicting the recent Hong Kong protests against the People’s Republic of China’s Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill. By placing an art exhibit documenting a current populist uprising in direct conversation with the 228 Incident, the museum seeks to showcase solidarity between Taiwanese and Hong Kong people.

The 228 Incident occurred a year and a half after the end of World War II, when the Japanese colonial government were forced to return Taiwan back to China. At the time, the Nationalist (KMT) government in mainland China was preoccupied with suppressing the Communist Party, so welcoming the small island of Taiwan back to the motherland was not a high priority. KMT officials did not fully consider that Taiwan had been under strict Japanese control for fifty years, and during that time many Taiwanese people were forced to submit to Japanese culture, language, and laws. Therefore, when the Nationalist government reclaimed Taiwan, what was originally seen as a homecoming quickly soured as the KMT government instituted corrupt government officials and brutal military forces to “Re-Sinicize” Taiwan. The Chief Executive Chen Yi and his close officers did not take the time to understand the Taiwanese people, especially the indigenous people living on the island’s mountains and plains, before implementing catastrophic new economic plans. Like so many other uprisings throughout history, the last straw for the people of Taiwan was a widespread food shortage that lead to famine and social unrest.

On February 27, 1947, a KMT soldier publicly shot a civilian while investigating a case of smuggled cigarettes. A swell of protests rose immediately from the bystanders at the incident, and the news traveled quickly across Taipei. People took to the streets with gongs and shouting, demanding that the six soldiers involved with the incident be punished. The protests only grew stronger the next day, February 28, as more and more people closed their businesses and came out to march in protest of the killing. At 1 p.m., a crowd of about 400-500 protesters were marching to the Taiwan Province Executive's Office when they were stopped at Zhongshan Road by soldiers. The soldiers shot aggressively into the crowd, leaving people dead and wounded on the road. This violent response only made the people’s outcry louder. Some protesters managed to occupy the Taiwan Radio Station and broadcast news of what was happening and criticized the government on the air for the entire island to hear.

And that is only the beginning of the story. At the National 228 Memorial Museum, a large portion of the exhibit space investigates the escalation of the conflict, the main martyrs and organizers, and the violent government suppression of the incident. It is unknown exactly how many Taiwanese civilians were killed, but it is estimated between 18,000 and 28,000. 228 marked the beginning of the White Terror, a period of martial law and crackdown on political dissidents of the Nationalist party that would last for thirty years in Taiwan.

Out of the many factors that fed this tragic massacre, the one that stands out to me is the impact of language. I already mentioned that the Japanese colonial government forced Japanese language on the Taiwanese people for fifty years, and the outcome of that is that some people only understood Japanese and/or a regional dialect of Taiwanese, and did not understand or read Mandarin at all. So when the KMT forces implemented Mandarin as the national language, many people suddenly experienced a language barrier in their own hometown. This led to a deep disconnect with the new government officials in many regions, leading to resentment that eventually boiled over during 228. However, another more dire consequence of this language barrier is that when the KMT announced martial law and a curfew during the aftermath of 228, “Many local people who did not speak the national language Mandarin or other local languages of China were shot dead on their way to school or work during curfew hours, simply because they did not understand the soldiers' verbal warnings.”  This is a compelling example of Taiwan’s history as a complicated multilingual state, whose linguistic landscape is still being fought over today.

The National 228 Memorial Museum is located in the historical location of the KMT surveillance headquarters in Xiaonanmen, Taipei, where many decisions on how to suppress the 228 uprising were made. After I entered the building, there was a museum worker sitting on the right hand side who sleepily welcomed me in and confirmed that the exhibit was, in fact, free of charge. I love a free museum, so I stepped right through to the bilingual wayfinding sign in front of the grand staircase at the center of the entrance hall. As a historical building, the layout is not suited for a clear visitor pathway, but I feel that the building’s historical significance makes up for the disconnect between the interior design and the exhibition design. The exhibitions are located on the second floor, bathrooms and public meeting rooms on the first floor. Making my way up the large staircase, I wondered if I was the only visitor in the building. As it was midday on a Thursday, sparse attendance can be expected, but I have walked through too many empty museums this past year to not be painfully aware that the continued pandemic restrictions weigh heavily on all museums and cultural sites in Taiwan.

On the second floor, the permanent exhibition on the 228 Incident has physical signage in mainly Mandarin Chinese with a few exceptions in English titles. As I walked in, there was a large introduction that explained how to access audio guides in Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese, Hakka, English, and Japanese. With the exception of English, I noted that these languages that were all involved in the linguistic landscape in 1947 still have cultural value in Taiwan today. I scanned the QR code on my phone that will take you to the audio guides before I read that free audio guides were also available at the front desk. Oh well, those public headphones kinda gross me out, anyway. Because the audio guides were actually videos hosted on Youtube but posted on their museum website, they loaded slowly but still worked. The audio guides break the exhibit down into 12 pieces, moving around the room in a zig-zag path. I enjoyed the exhibit writing and narration, which felt very professional yet sympathetic to the tragedy it was reporting about. However, the exhibit was confined to one large room and listening to a slow narration of each piece meant that I was in that room for nearly and hour and a half, which is clearly a lot to ask of a more casual visitor.

Just across the stairs on the second floor is the temporary exhibition space, which currently hosts Malaysian printmaker Tekkhean Lee’s extraordinary collection of prints depicting the chaos of the Hong Kong protests. The bold black and white wall title reads: “Teenagers, Smoke and Umbrellas: Printmaking Artworks on Hong Kong's Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement”. A soft, handprinted fabric wall hanging separated the introductory wall text from the artwork. On the main wall was a large collection of black prints on white paper, each print slightly bigger than a postcard. Taking them all in, the wall becomes a high-contrast scene of umbrellas, ambulances, violence, and dramatic gestures of revolution. The effect is striking, pulling you in as if you were following the action unfold in a scene-based comic book or flip book structure. As I walked through the prints, a quote from Lee in the introduction stuck in my mind: "Since it is impossible for people in Hong Kong, I feel the need to do as much as I can on this free land."

Taiwan is now a free land, a stunning example of multi-cultural democracy. But, as the 228 Incident exhibition shows, freedom comes at a high price, and even then it may take years to be realized. The 228 Incident represents a hinge point in history where a people’s uprising failed to create a Taiwanese state but instead led to thirty years of strict martial law. Even though Taiwan is now a peaceful democracy, the scars on the land and even on the bodies of some older Taiwanese victims will remain. It is clear that the curators of the National 228 Memorial Museum see a historical “rhyme” between the 228 Incident and the Hong Kong protests, and orchestrated the tone of the exhibit “Teenagers, Smoke and Umbrellas” to demonstrate solidarity between Hong Kong and other historically oppressed East Asian countries, including Taiwan and Malaysia. Even as Hong Kong’s protests seem to echo the 228 Incident, they also color the present-day shared historical memory that the Taiwanese people have of the 228 Incident and raise new questions about the responsibilities of the common man to stand up against authoritarian regimes in support of human rights.


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