Last time I visited the National 228 Memorial Museum, I complained about the challenges in navigating the English translation of the otherwise excellent Scars on the Land: Midnight Commotion (土地傷痕:午夜喧囂) display. This time, there is no English at all in any of the three new special exhibitions — at least not yet.
It’s really a shame, as this is a national-level museum that consistently puts out well-designed, compelling and informative content about the lesser known aspects of the anti-government uprising on Feb. 28, 1947 and subsequent violent crackdown that many Taiwanese presumably don’t even know about. What happened to making Taiwan a bilingual nation by 2030?
LANDMARKS OF TRAGEDY
Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times
The latest show is part three and the second physical installment of Scars of the Land (part two was online due to the outbreak), this time highlighting landmarks related to the incident in Taichung, Changhua, Yunlin and Nantou.
There are supposed to be English, Japanese and Korean translations, albeit in the same clunky format as last year, fit into one exhaustingly long Web page, making it inconvenient to match the text to what’s on the wall. But as of yesterday — four days after the exhibition opened — the QR codes on the wall do not work, nor can the translations be found anywhere on the museum Web site.
If translations won’t be ready for another two weeks, why use broken links without informing visitors?
Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times
When the language issue is fixed, however, this exhibition may be even more interesting than the first, which mostly covered sites in Taipei commonly included in the main narrative of the 228 Incident. For those familiar with the general events, this display delves even deeper into the lesser-known corners of the aftermath, where people across the nation reacted in different ways upon hearing of the unrest in Taipei.
The short-lived armed struggle of the Taichung-based 27 Brigade and their last stand at the Battle of Wuniulan (烏牛欄) is probably the best known development from this part of Taiwan, but how many know about what happened in places like Jhushan (竹山), Douliou (斗六) and Beigang (北港)? Even if you do, it’s still fascinating to see the events organized by site, each with a then-and-now photo comparison and link to a Google map showing its location.
English translations of the previous installations are still available online at www.228.org.tw/en_exhibition.php, and it’s worth browsing through while waiting for the museum to sort out its translations.
Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times
NAMELESS ACTIVISTS
The adjacent display, Nameless Heroes of the Changhua Plains (彰化平原無名英雄), complements well the theme of local resistance, highlighting numerous activists who fought for various causes before and after the lifting of martial law in 1987. Unfortunately, there is no English available.
From railing against corporate pollution to calling for direct presidential elections to seeking justice for the 228 Incident, the people of Changhua took part in countless nationwide or local struggles, many of them happening on their home turf. The faces and names of more than 30 participants are arranged on a long wall, and I did not know a single one of them.
Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times
That’s why I like coming to this museum, because it really focuses on the obscure and unsung people whose stories deserve to be told. Visitors probably won’t remember them all, but at least they won’t remain unknown.
THE CHILDREN OF ‘47
The usually closed third floor of the museum was opened last month for a special exhibition featuring the calligraphy of poet Lee Min-yung (李敏勇), who was born in the year of the 228 Incident and started writing about it in the 1970s.
It’s admittedly not practical to translate all the poems into English — and there’s a lot here — but there could have been some information about Lee and at least the titles of the work. It doesn’t matter if English-only readers can understand the prose or not; the highly-stylized calligraphy is captivating and Lee’s spirit is moving.
The 228 Incident was a taboo topic when Lee was growing up during White Terror. But as a teacher at Kaohsiung High School, which was shelled by government forces in March 1947, he began to learn about this lost history through the bullet holes in the school buildings.
Shortly after the lifting of martial law, he formed Group 47 (四 七社, named after the postwar German writers’ group), comprised of more than 30 creatives and intellectuals born during that “year of death” (死滅年代) to help facilitate Taiwan’s “awakening and rebirth, transformation and reconstruction.” In 1992, the group made a public call for the government to apologize for the incident and establish a memorial museum.
Lee wrote the words to two of famed composer Tyzen Hsiao’s (蕭泰然) 228-themed symphonies: 1947 Overture (1947序曲) and Ilha Formosa –— Requiem for Formosa’s Martyrs (啊! 福爾摩沙: 為殉難者的鎮魂曲).
His prose displayed at the museum mourns the victims of a shackled past, but also offers hope toward a freer future. One of them particularly stood out to me, and I will attempt to translate it:
“For freedom, some choose to go into exile
Some collect the fingerprints of suffering in their country
I choose to have a voice on my own land.”

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