East Asia


Taiwan archaeology and the Zou people

Will Zou

Society and culture | East Asia


Taiwan is an island-bound by many narratives. I would like to share with you one academic narrative and one personal anecdote from my three weeks spent in Taiwan. I was in Taiwan under the auspices of the ANU in-country learning course, aptly titled ‘Archaeology in China’. We toured by bus around almost every major city, and certainly every archaeological museum in Taiwan. The archaeology of Taiwan retraces the stories of the Austronesians, peoples who settled in Taiwan over 7000 years ago.

Austronesians are everywhere today, according to academics. They are the progenitors of a constellation of people spread from Madagascar to the Pacific Islands, and as far as Hawaii (see Figure 1). How they sojourned across the oceans remains a mystery.

[caption id="attachment_926" align="alignnone" width="300"] Figure 1: Austronesian dispersal from Taiwan (in bracket is the approximate year of dispersal)[/caption]

Evidence from the fields of archaeology, linguistics and genetics tell the same story — the Austronesians migrated far and wide across the span of five thousand years. Pottery and earrings dug up by Archaeologists on many of these disparate countries share distinct features (see Figure 2). For example, the double animal-headed earrings excavated in Vietnam and the Philippines were formed out of a particular type of jade. The jade is produced naturally only in Taiwan. Similarly, linguists believe that the people across these island countries form a part of the larger Austronesian language group. That is, the languages across the Pacific, Oceania and other regions once shared morphological, phonological and lexical innovations. Aside from the excavated evidence and linguist reconstructions, preliminary genetic research suggests the indigenous population on these disparate islands were once very similar to Taiwanese Austronesians. The Austronesian migration theory suggests that Taiwan has its own unique and enduring history. As the evidence suggests, this is a compelling narrative.

[caption id="attachment_927" align="alignnone" width="300"] Figure 2: The largest excavation site in Taiwan — Beinan[/caption]

Politics pervade Taiwan’s many narratives. That Taiwan has a history unique to mainland China is a narrative propagated in contemporary Taiwanese history, too. The National Museum of Taiwan History is one such locale where this story is apparent. Beneath the veneer of ‘scientific’ history, the museum promotes Taiwan as a unique island with a distinct and heterogeneous history and identity. Taiwan’s various ‘colonisers’ of the past four hundred years (from the Dutch, albeit for trading purposes, the Ming dynasty, the Qing dynasty, Japan and the Republic of China) are equally represented despite the fact that some of them only stayed in Taiwan for a relatively short period of time. For example, the Dutch were in Taiwan for less than thirty years, yet their representation in the museum is equal to that of the Qing, who administered Taiwan as a part its own province for over one and fifty years. The Museum attempts to enjoin its visitors (many of whom are Taiwanese students) to believe that Taiwan is uniquely different to People’s Republic of China. As a result, Taiwan’s indigenous voices and its own people’s agency are drowned out. Visitors leave the museum with the sense that Taiwan is helpless in the face of its various ‘conquerors’. The primacy and agency of Taiwan’s indigenous people, and its own agency are obscured through such a lens. Instead, what I found far more interesting was the Japanese Emperor’s speech of surrender pronounced to his people at the end of World War II. Now that was a historical moment of freedom, albeit brief, in Taiwan’s history! (See Figure 3)

[caption id="attachment_928" align="alignnone" width="300"] Figure 3: National Museum of Taiwan History — Japanese Emperor's WII surrender speech, translated into classical Chinese on the bottom half of the picture[/caption]

Culture does not live in museums. I arrived in Taiwan a weekend before the course began. A fortuitous meeting on the bus to Mt. Ali, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Taiwan, led to a weekend spent living with an indigenous community on the mountain. The Zou are one of nine officially recognized indigenous groups in Taiwan. Over the next two days, I lived with, dined with, explored with, learned from, listened to and prayed with the Zou community. They treated me with great hospitality, and they showed me how they adapted to modernity as they wished. When pesticides sprayed in tea plantations ravaged them with insidious health problems, they planted organic farms. They debunked the stereotype that tea was traditionally grown on the Mountain, tea plantations in the region began only in the past three decades. Instead, they drink coffee. In 2007, one of their brightest young entrepreneurs won the national coffee growing and brewing contest. Ever since, coffee is their source of pride.

I witnessed the power of the Christian Priestess, who spoke English, Japanese, Mandarin, Hakka and the Zou language. She was a natural leader. The church is the epicenter of the community, and a space for adults to teach their children the Zou language. With the help of others, the Priestess spent sixteen years translating the Bible into the Zou language. For her, the government’s minority language education policy could hardly be relied upon to ensure the continuity of the Zou language. After all, successive governments change education policy at a whim. For the priestess, the Church, made up of her and her own people, will last longer than any incumbent government’s policy directive.

Museums used to educate the public of living cultures. Jeff, an archaeologist research student, told me that in the 17th and 18th century, museums displayed things from living cultures, brought back from abroad, to educate the public about other parts of the world, educating them of a culture that was still thriving.

As for me, I would rather speak to, listen to, and feel the power and presence of a people who are alive and who are adapting according to their needs. A people whose concern arise from the solemn sadness in their eyes, and whose joys pulsate above the chorus of their hymns.

We are restless spirits. Our inclinations are the same as Austronesians on Taiwan, both in the past and in the present. The memories I keep are those found on the road. Below are some mementoes.

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The one thing you need to see about #OccupyCentral 和平佔中

Politics | Asia


An eyewitness insight through powerful images from the student protests.


Today, Central was occupied by peaceful citizens who gathered to demand a democratic election for our Chief Executive. We have never had a chance to elect our own leader. Instead, the Chinese government has decided to summarize the public opinion by a group 1200 representatives who are not popularly voted. The Chief Executive candidates will be decided by them, and this selected group of candidate will be our only choices to vote. This is not democracy.

We had no reply despite demanding a formal conversation with the government. Instead, we were attacked by tear gas, pepper spray, and perhaps rubber bullets (not confirmed by my own eyes) despite most of us not attempting any violent attack. I am not a good writer; I can only show you the anger, the sorrow, the fear and the sweat via my lens.

“If we left, there will be no one to record this heartbroken history.”

我不懂說話,寫作. 我只可把我看見和感受到的拍下來.
鏡頭下, 今天的憤慨, 害怕, 激動, 汗水, 還在心中抖動.
我也中了催淚彈, 但流下只有心中的淚.

My motivations for photography? To tell a story. To reflect on our lives. For pure aesthetics.

- Andrew Fan, Hong Kong


Images originally published at:
Facebook: http://goo.gl/T8yGxE
500px: https://500px.com/andrewfan/sets/occupancy_of_central_hong_kong



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The forgotten people: A trip to North Korea

Anna Pavlakis

Society and culture | Asia


Anna Pavlakis journeys from mainland China to Pyongyang, and her findings are remarkable.

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Dubbed by many as a land of ‘man-made misery’, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) makes regular headlines worldwide for its vitriolic threats, infamous nuclear weaponry program and its seemingly unbaiting longevity under the iron fist of current leader Kim Jong-Un. Desperate to witness, at least to some degree, the dogged persistence of a regime that was suffered the full spectrum of socioeconomic setbacks in its 65 years; I decided to fulfill a long-standing dream to visit the Hermit Kingdom.

Boarding the 22 hour train from Beijing to Pyongyang, I expected to enter the country second-guessing everything I saw, rebuking every comment made by tour guides, and scoffing with humorous disdain at the obvious lies propounded as we toured the country. I expected the confirmation of ideas put forth in my countless essays, and to have a surreal experience akin to visiting East and West Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. What I didn’t expect to see, and what I had forgotten to consider, was the human factor.

My first interaction with a North Korean was when a throng of stern faced guards carrying large guns and adorned with military medals boarded our train at the border crossing. We had been warned to have all electronic items, all books and all identity documents ready for a thorough inspection. We were told to scribble out any indicator that our cameras had GPS, and to hide all map applications on our phones and tablets. We were tense. They did search our bags, they flicked through our books, our electronics were inspected, but the first indicator that there were more to these guards than fervent fealty was when the our cabin’s guard, who had been inspecting the photos on a Russian man’s camera, started to laugh. He beckoned us closer and showed us a ridiculous selfie the traveller had taken. Together we skimmed through the photos together, the guard showing his delight and interest at photos of Moscow and Beijing, and even zooming in on a skimpily dressed Russian girl at a club and remarking in broken English “very good, beautiful, beautiful”.

Driving from Pyongyang Train Station to our hotel I waved at children coming home from school, neatly dressed and holding hands walking along the clean wide streets of Pyongyang. Their faces lit up, grinning at me, and they started to run and wave along the side of the bus until we couldn’t see them any more. Throughout the week, amongst visiting the DMZ, the enormous bronze statues of former leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, and then seeing their embalmed bodies in the Kumusan Memorial Palace, I witnessed an array of human emotions from North Koreans that shattered my misguided preconceptions of them as emotionless pieces of an autocratic regime. We drank beers almost nightly with our tour guides, who would often drunkenly grab a microphone and sing Western songs in thick Korean accents. We visited a theme park where despite a crazed moment where the power went out mid rollercoaster ride, we screamed with joy with the people of Pyongyang. We walked through a park on the national holiday of May Day where we danced and sang national songs with strangers we met.

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I also saw children who would look at us fearfully on the subway, and women pull their children close and give us a wide berth when we walked past. I watched in shock as grown women cried and wailed upon sighting the bodies of their former leaders at the mausoleum. I witnessed laughing families jokingly spoon-feeding each other at picnics, only to be silenced when a guard walked past.

There was a point during that week where I realised I had to some extent been conditioned into feeling a strong albeit warped type of affection for North Korea. The majority of footage on my camera was of smiling children, elegantly dressed women, gargantuan monuments in spotless Pyongyang streets and memories of the voices of our tour guides whose every word dripped with a deep ardent love for their country and its leadership that I had never witnessed before. It took significant effort to shake myself back to the reality that I had seen only the lucky 1% of the country, in the richest city they had. That less than 20km from the splendours of Pyongyang was the gulag that Shin Dong-Hyuk famously escaped from, and that much of the population is said to be living in abject poverty.

I won’t deny that there were many inconsistencies with what I saw. The tour guides often spoke of the compulsory 12 years of education for all children, but from the train I saw groups of dirty children ploughing fields during weekdays. They also adamantly denied knowledge of the existence of prison camps, but a UN worker I met on my final night told me in hushed tones that he had personally seen trucks of corpses. My preconceptions of the ruling party had been somewhat confirmed, but my holistic approach to the country had utterly changed.

I had come into North Korea seeking to further understand its seemingly crazed leadership, but had come out of it with a deeper perspective of its people. Behind a veil of suspicion and apprehension, the North Korean people I met were open and warm. They laughed and cried for the things they loved and were as multi-faceted as any other human. The people of North Korea are the forgotten faces of a country depicted only for the policies of its leaders.

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