This Labour Day week­end, Taiwanfest shines a light on how a for­eign oc­cu­pa­tion led to a na­tion find­ing its way in the world

The Georgia Straight - - Front Page - BY CHAR­LIE SMITH

Re­tired Rich­mond physi­cian Charles Yang’s life has been marked by a se­ries of dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ties. He was born in 1932 in Tai­wan, which was then un­der Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion. At the age of two, he moved to the Ja­panese pup­pet state of Manchukuo, which had been es­tab­lished in Manchuria, where his fa­ther stud­ied medicine. At the time, Yang had a Ja­panese name.

Then at the end of the Sec­ond World War as the Sovi­ets were in­vad­ing Manchuria, his fam­ily fled back to Tai­wan. In a re­cent phone in­ter­view with the Ge­or­gia Straight, Yang said that re­turn­ing to the is­land of his birth at the age of 13 was a mas­sive cul­tural shock be­cause he felt Ja­panese.

“In Manchuria, I spoke Ja­panese,” Yang re­called. “I at­tended Ja­panese school.”

For the next 12 years, Yang lived un­der mar­tial law in Tai­wan be­fore mov­ing to Amer­ica to study medicine. In 1964, he im­mi­grated to Canada, where he and his wife raised their chil­dren, and he be­came a suc­cess­ful ob­ste­tri­cian-gy­ne­col­o­gist.

Yang’s story is chron­i­cled in a new book, Shad­ows of the Crim­son Sun: One Man’s Life in Manchuria, Tai­wan, and North Amer­ica, by Van­cou­ver writer and teacher Ju­lia Lin. She has deep in­sights into what it’s like to be dis­placed in child­hood, hav­ing moved from Tai­wan to Viet­nam be­fore im­mi­grat­ing to Canada when she was nine years old.

Yang ex­pressed deep ad­mi­ra­tion for Lin for turning his recol­lec­tions into a co­he­sive book. “She did a fair amount of his­tor­i­cal re­search about the geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Manchuria at that time and I learned a lot from that, too,” the re­tired physi­cian said. “I’m very grate­ful to her.”

As part of the an­nual Taiwanfest cel­e­bra­tion, Shad­ows of the Crim­son Sun will be launched at the Or­pheum An­nex (free ad­mis­sion) at 1 p.m. on Mon­day (Septem­ber 4). It will be a bilin­gual pre­sen­ta­tion in Man­darin and English cel­e­brat­ing the life of Yang, one of the pi­o­neers and most in­flu­en­tial fig­ures in Canada’s com­mu­nity of Tai­wanese ex­pats.

Yang’s strug­gle to come to terms with his iden­tity re­flects the theme of this year’s Taiwanfest, which is cel­e­brat­ing the is­land na­tion’s con­nec­tions with Ja­pan. The slo­gan for this year’s fes­ti­val, which takes place in down­town Van­cou­ver from Satur­day to Mon­day (Septem­ber 2 to 4), is “Kan­pai Ja­pan”. In ef­fect, it’s a toast to the for­mer colo­nial power for its con­tri­bu­tion to a more out­ward-look­ing Tai­wanese coun­try in the 21st cen­tury.

Taiwanfest will ex­plore Tai­wan’s ties with Ja­pan in a mul­ti­tude of ways, in­clud­ing through an art ex­hibit called Who Am I? on the north side of the Van­cou­ver Art Gallery and through work­shops on origami, which was brought to Tai­wan by the Ja­panese. That’s in ad­di­tion to a food-paint­ing ex­hi­bi­tion by Ja­panese dessert spe­cial­ist Yui Aida (for more, see page 22) and sev­eral mu­si­cal per­for­mances high­light­ing the links be­tween the two na­tions.

Tai­wan came un­der Ja­panese rule in 1895 as a re­sult of the Treaty of Shi­monoseki, end­ing the first Sino-ja­panese war. One Van­cou­ver expat born in Tai­wan dur­ing the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion, ac­coun­tant James Chou, ac­knowl­edged to the Straight by phone that Tai­wanese were of­ten treated as sec­ond-class

cit­i­zens. But he also said that the Ja­panese cre­ated the foun­da­tion for the mod­ern Tai­wanese state by de­vel­op­ing rail­way lines, a hy­dro­elec­tric power plant, ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems, and other im­por­tant in­fra­struc­ture.

“When Ja­pan took over Tai­wan in 1895, they did not plan to give it up,” Chou said. “They treated it as their new earned ter­ri­tory. It was part of their coun­try. They didn’t treat it like a tra­di­tional colo­nial area that you ex­ploit and you leave.”

Ja­pan also played a piv­otal role in the devel­op­ment of Tai­wanese cul­ture in the 20th cen­tury. That’s be­cause Ja­pan’s rulers looked to the West for ideas, and then trans­planted these con­cepts to Tai­wan.

“Early on, I think the Ja­panese wanted to use Tai­wan as a model for col­o­niza­tion to show peo­ple around the world how well Ja­pan can rule and how a so­ci­ety can pros­per,” Taiwanfest man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Char­lie Wu told the Straight by phone. “So dur­ing that time, Tai­wan ac­tu­ally ben­e­fited tremen­dously.”

ONE OF THE HIGH­LIGHTS of Taiwanfest will be the Metropoli­tan Van­cou­ver Orches­tra’s Satur­day-night con­cert at the Queen El­iz­a­beth The­atre. Mae­stro Ken Hsieh is the son of Tai­wanese im­mi­grants to Canada and he stud­ied mu­sic in Ja­pan. Among the pieces that his orches­tra will per­form is “For­mosan Dance”, which was writ­ten by a Tai­wanese com­poser, Bunya Koh, dur­ing the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion. It won hon­ourable men­tion at the 1936 Ber­lin Olympics when Koh was work­ing un­der his Chi­nese name, Jiang Wen-ye.

Hsieh told the Straight by phone that Koh’s iden­tity as a Tai­wanese dur­ing the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion has re­sulted in his work not re­ceiv­ing its due in the mu­sic world. Hsieh de­scribed Koh’s com­po­si­tions as a cross be­tween those of Sergei Rach­mani­noff and Igor Stravin­sky, al­beit with a Tai­wanese folk-dance el­e­ment.

“I think there’s a lot of tal­ent with this com­poser, but it’s just a pity that his pieces never got played,” Hsieh said. “So I’m re­ally happy that we’re able to show­case it.”

Hsieh cred­ited the Ja­panese col­o­niz­ers for bring­ing clas­si­cal mu­sic to Tai­wan. And at the Queen El­iz­a­beth The­atre con­cert, Tai­wanese child prodigy Lin Hao-wei will per­form. The 12-yearold pi­anist will also per­form on Sun­day (Septem­ber 3) at noon at the Van­cou­ver Play­house.

It’s not just clas­si­cal mu­sic that emerged in Tai­wan as a re­sult of the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion. Wu

noted that Ja­panese artists also in­tro­duced west­ern water­colour paint­ing to Tai­wan in the early part of the 20th cen­tury. Ishikawa Kinichiro and Shiot­suki Toho, to name just two, tu­tored sev­eral cel­e­brated Tai­wanese artists, in­clud­ing the most fa­mous, Tan Ting-pho.

A book of es­says called Tai­wan Un­der Ja­panese Colo­nial Rule, 1895-1945: His­tory, Cul­ture, Mem­ory tells the story of Ishikawa. Only a few months af­ter he ar­rived in Tai­wan, he wrote an es­say, “Water­colour Paint­ing and Tai­wan Land­scape”, in which he ex­pressed his love for the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the is­land and parts of his home coun­try of Ja­pan.

“How­ever, Taipei’s colours ap­pear more beau­ti­ful, with red roofs, or­ange walls, and green bam­boos, con­trast­ing strongly against the viri­des­cent tree leaves,” he wrote. “Can we imag­ine such serene and solemn scenery of sub­lim­ity in Ja­pan? Un­der the blue sky Tai­wan shines even more brightly.”

Ishikawa taught part-time at Taipei Mid­dle School from 1907 to 1916 and then full-time at the Taipei Nor­mal School from 1923 to 1933. In the 1920s, there was greater em­pha­sis on the arts and hu­man­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to the book, and Prince Hiro­hito him­self ex­pressed sat­is­fac­tion with the level of art ed­u­ca­tion dur­ing one of his vis­its to Tai­wan.

Mean­while, Tan grew up lov­ing Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture, ac­cord­ing to Wu, and im­mersed him­self in the Man­darin lan­guage. This fas­ci­na­tion with Chi­nese cul­ture led him to Shang­hai, where Tan taught west­ern art at Xinhua Col­lege of Art and Chang Ming Art School. Wu noted that be­cause he had come from Tai­wan, which was a Ja­panese colony, this be­came a prob­lem when the Sec­ond World War broke out in Asia.

“His fam­ily be­came wor­ried about their sta­tus so they re­turned to Tai­wan,” Wu said. “While he was in Tai­wan, he also tried to build this Tai­wanese iden­tity among the Tai­wanese artists.”

That came back to haunt him when the Kuom­intang rulers in main­land China be­gan as­sert­ing their con­trol over Tai­wan fol­low­ing the de­feat of the Ja­panese in 1945. Be­cause Tan spoke Man­darin, he be­came a lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial and ne­go­ti­ated with the KMT.

“Be­cause he was con­sid­ered a mem­ber of the elite of the so­ci­ety, be­ing an artist, he was ac­tu­ally killed by the KMT gov­ern­ment,” Wu said.

It oc­curred amid the carnage of the no­to­ri­ous Fe­bru­ary 28 In­ci­dent, a.k.a. the 2.28 In­ci­dent, in

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which an es­ti­mated 10,000 Tai­wanese were mas­sa­cred on this date in 1947 for re­sist­ing KMT rule.

“He was killed be­hind the scenes,” Wu said. “He loved Chi­nese his­tory, lit­er­a­ture, and ev­ery­thing, but he didn’t re­ally get the ben­e­fit of be­ing Chi­nese be­cause of this un­cer­tainty at the time. Dur­ing the Ja­panese era, he was Chi­nese and was a sec­ond-class ci­ti­zen. In China, he was Ja­panese. So who ex­actly was he?”

A sim­i­larly sad fate be­fell Koh. He moved to China, where he en­joyed adapt­ing folk mu­sic into clas­si­cal com­po­si­tions. But even­tu­ally, he was con­sid­ered a traitor be­cause of his “Ja­panese” ties.

Tai­wan’s his­tory has been marked by col­o­niza­tion not only by the Ja­panese but also by the Dutch, the Qing dy­nasty, and af­ter the Sec­ond World War by the KMT (Chi­nese na­tion­al­ists) led by Gen. Chi­ang Kai-shek. In De­cem­ber 1949, he moved his gov­ern­ment to Taipei and was fol­lowed by two mil­lion main­land Chi­nese af­ter los­ing the Chi­nese Civil War to the com­mu­nists led by Mao Ze­dong.

Re­tired Rich­mond physi­cian Yang called the KMT un­der Chi­ang a “se­vere re­pres­sive regime” that “car­ried out ter­ri­ble things”. Among them was the so-called white ter­ror, in which tens of thou­sands of Tai­wanese were killed or im­pris­oned, or went miss­ing.

“I lived through my en­tire life in Tai­wan un­der mar­tial law,” Yang said.

So did Yang feel that life was bet­ter un­der Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion than un­der Chi­ang’s KMT? “I think so,” Yang replied. “It’s a fa­natic an­ti­com­mu­nism that made the KMT be­have the way they did.”

Chou echoed that point of view, say­ing life was bet­ter in Tai­wan un­der Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion than it was un­der Chi­ang’s dic­ta­tor­ship. He said that when he was a young boy, his sis­ter once had to hide him in a garbage can on the street when au­thor­i­ties were look­ing for peo­ple to ar­rest.

THE IS­LAND OF Tai­wan’s ear­li­est in­hab­i­tants were Proto-malays whose lan­guage and cul­ture were “char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally In­done­sian”, ac­cord­ing to Tai­wan’s 400 Year His­tory: The Ori­gins and Con­tin­u­ing Devel­op­ment of the Tai­wanese So­ci­ety and Peo­ple, by his­to­rian Su Bing. These In­dige­nous peo­ple lived com­mu­nal lives and are the an­ces­tors of to­day’s Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple in Tai­wan, who are two per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

Prior to Dutch rule in 1624, there were ap­prox­i­mately 25,000 Chi­nese peo­ple liv­ing on Tai­wan, which is roughly the size of Van­cou­ver Is­land. That grew rapidly un­der the Qing dy­nasty, which ruled from 1683 to 1895, ac­cord­ing to Su.

This trou­bled his­tory had an im­pact on the Tai­wanese sense of iden­tity. “I of­ten won­dered: what is my cul­ture? Am I Chi­nese? Am I Ja­panese?” Yang said. “Even­tu­ally, I would iden­tify as a Tai­wanese Cana­dian.”

Along sim­i­lar lines, Taiwanfest’s Wu had this to say: “Peo­ple will say to us that you bleed Chi­nese, you read Chi­nese, you speak Chi­nese. Then you have Chi­nese her­itage. That’s how I grew up. And we never thought of the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing some­thing other than what we were told.”

But then he cited the ex­am­ple of Vin­cent van Gogh, who em­braced Ja­panese paint­ing style even though he wasn’t Ja­panese. Wu also men­tioned the Ja­panese adopt­ing the pa­per fan from China and turning it into some­thing re­flect­ing their unique iden­tity.

“Some peo­ple call it cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion, but if it’s some­thing you like and you em­brace it and it be­comes part of your cre­ation, then it’s not,” Wu in­sisted. “It’s only if you’re us­ing it [cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion] to pre­tend you are some­one else.”

Tai­wanese artists of the 20th cen­tury em­braced west­ern sym­phonic mu­sic and paint­ing wa­ter­colours. Does this make them any less Tai­wanese? Not ac­cord­ing to Wu. At the same time, Wu said that im­mi­grants from China have some­times shown a ten­dency to want to force Tai­wanese Cana­di­ans to self-iden­tify as Chi­nese rather than hold­ing back on im­pos­ing their be­liefs on oth­ers.

“It’s self-de­ter­mi­na­tion,” Wu said. “You de­ter­mine who you are rather than be­ing forced to be who you are.”

Taiwanfest takes place from Satur­day to Mon­day (Septem­ber 2 to 4) at var­i­ous down­town lo­ca­tions.

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