Tug of War: the Story of Taiwan
Taiwan--Flash Point in the Pacific
- A journalist translates a "Popeye" comic from
English to Chinese. He is accused of making fun of the
nation's president and serves a ten year sentence for "undermining
the affection between the people and the government."
- A democracy advocate is arrested for participating in a
demonstration. While he is in jail, his mother and twin
seven-year-old daughters are murdered under circumstances
pointing to government collusion.
- Police attack and beat an elderly woman who is selling
illegal cigarettes. A riot breaks out, touching off a
widespread revolt. Troops are called in and an estimated
18,000-28.000 people are killed.
All of these events took place on an island that most
Americans know very little about: Taiwan. Until recently, many
Taiwanese did not know about these incidents either. For
almost forty years after World War II, the Taiwanese lived
under martial law, unable to learn their history, afraid to
ask. Now, their stories are told in Tug of War: The Story
of Taiwan, airing on PBS Monday, November 30, 1998, at 9pm
ET (check local listings).
This new historical documentary draws on remarkable
archival footage and on-side interviews to survey a century of
tension across the Taiwan Strait. Scenes includes the Japanese
colonial era, the tragic 1947 massacre, of the Taiwanese by
Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalists, stories of harsh
government repression, and vibrant cultural revival.
Producer: Judith Vecchione, WGBH Boston
Narrator: Deborah Wren
Assoc. Prod.: Chien-Chi Huang
Taiwan has had a long history of being tugged, twisted, and
manipulated by superpowers. For years, Chinese emperors
maintained that the small island ninety miles off its shores
was part of China. Yet in 1895, when China lost the
Sino-Japanese War, it gave the island away to Japanese
After WWII, Taiwan was returned to China. But only a few
years later, as the Chinese Nationalists lost to the
Communist, Taiwan and China separated again -- and again,
their experiences diverged.
Weaving together personal testimonies and rare archival
film, Tug of War examines these forces that shaped Taiwan's
past and present - and continue to make it vulnerable to major
power confrontations in the near future.
Today, Taiwan possesses some of the largest exchange
reserves in the world and is one of the most active members of
the world's trading community. It has a democratic political
system that is unique in Asia, boasting several vocal
Still, Taiwan is isolated in the world community -- without
official recognition from the US and without a seat in the UN-
because its neighbor, the People's Republic of China, still
considers Taiwan a "breakaway province" and
determinedly blocks international support for the island's
"China is like Jupiter", says the Director of
movie, Judith Vecchione. "Because of its size, China will
always have a gravitational pull on Taiwan, but many people on
the island also feel they have a story separate from mainland
China. They have a sense of being ethnically Chinese but not
part of China."
For the past half-century, Taiwan has been a flash point in
the Pacific. Several times it has brought the US and China
perilously close to war....... But it was a grim reminder of
how closely connected America is with the stories that unfold
in Tug of War.
"When and if the next conflict over Taiwan's
independence emerges, have we thought out what America's
position should be?" Vecchione asks. "How far are we
willing to go in support of Taiwan's democratic aspirations --
up to the point of independence? To the point of conflict with
China? Are we willing to commit America lives in support of
Taiwan? Or do we believe there are limits to democracy?
The answers Vecchione explores in her film are both complex
and fascinating, with elements of history, politics, and
personality; with generals and presidents maneuvering, and the
"weaker" partner often holding the stronger hand;
with America, Chinese, and Taiwanese interests coming together
and apart in a shifting array of alliances; with issues as
seemingly inconsequential as the arrest of a woman selling
cigarettes illegally and as global as the threat of nuclear