It is very important to me to have a solid understanding of the history and workings of Taiwan before I arrive, so I am reading as much about Taiwanese history, culture + politics as I can before my trip. This will include Taiwanese + Chinese novels, for as Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” I have also been watching Chinese and Taiwanese movies to help me brush up on my language skills (like Girlfriend Boyfriend, beauuuutiful movie!).
Last week I finished reading Fireproof Moth: A Missionary in Taiwan’s White Terror, written by family friend Milo L. Thornberry. (Click here for a review from the Taipei Times.) It recounts Milo’s experience with his family + the community of misionaries + scholars that worked together to get political prisoner Peng Ming-min out of Taiwan in 1970. It paints an honest, frightening picture about what life was like for international visitors, Mainlanders + Taiwanese during Chiang Kai-shek‘s martial rule of Taiwan.
I was deeply moved by Milo’s story. As an activist + a person who tends to route for the underdog, I strongly admire the work that Milo, his wife at the time, Judith, + others did to help Peng Ming-min + displaced Taiwanese during Taiwan’s “White Terror.” I also appreciated hearing about the bits of American history that Milo discusses. For instance, he describes struggling with feelings of guilt that he left for Taiwan rather than staying in America to participate in the fight for civil rights + describes the odd way that he found out about Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
I highly recommend reading Fireproof Moth if you have any interest in the history of Taiwan, activism, political protest + simple humanity.
These are a couple of sections that stuck out to me:
One of the things that impressed us in 1966 was [Fox Butterfeild’s] journalistic integrity. When asked about his craft, he would reply, “I was trained to think you’ve got to write what you find, warts and all, if you believe it to be accurate.” (Page 77.)
+ in regards to vaguely negative comments from a “blonde graduate student” about the fact that the Thornberrys + other like-minded people were secretly trying to disseminate truthful information about what was happening politically and socially in Taiwan:
“The young woman’s statement,” [Peng Ming-min] assured us afterward, “was her rationalization for not getting involved. I think you will find that for many ‘scholars,’ our history and culture are simply objects to study and mean getting a career in the field. They see themselves as ‘objective observers’ with no moral or political responsibility for what they learn.” (Page 86.)
The last paragraph in the book (which I will not include here, as I really, REALLY think that you should pick it up yourself!) was particularly touching + elaborates on the themes of the quotes mentioned above.
These statements stuck out to me because they explain exactly what I want to + do not want to do in Taiwan. Of course, things are quite different now than they were in the late 1960’s. Taiwan is a thriving democracy with a free press + free speech. Yet, the last thing that I want to do in my tales from Taiwan is to sugarcoat what I find. I do not consider myself an ‘objective observer’ in America. My little mouth is just too big! I think that it would be a disservice to myself to become one in Taiwan. That being said, someone who will also be participating in the ICLP at NTU just posted in a forum that some of the best advice he has received about Taiwan is not to talk to people about politics… I just had to laugh. I guess we’ll see what happens!
Lupe Fiasco is one of my favorite, uber-political MCs, so here we go…