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{short description of image} On 30 November 1998, Public Broadcasting System stations around the United States started airing Tug of War: the Story of Taiwan, an important new documentary about Taiwan and its history.

Air times:

  • WGBH Boston and most other PBS stations: 30 November 1998, 9:00 pm
  • WETA Washington: 14 December 1998, 9:00pm
  • KQED San Francisco: 14 December 1998, 9:00 pm

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 victors.

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 political parties.

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 independence.

"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 confrontation.

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