Skip to main content

Picture books revisit dark chapters in Taiwan’s human rights history

  • Date:2020-02-15
Picture books revisit dark chapters in Taiwan’s human rights history

The National Human Rights Museum (NHRM), which serves as a repository to provide insights pertaining to Taiwan's history, exhibited eight picture book proposals that tell stories of Taiwan's dark past on Feb. 15 as part of efforts to cultivate an understanding of human rights from an early age.

In his opening remarks, Chen Chun-hung (陳俊宏), the director of the New Taipei City-based museum, said that in the past two years, the museum has promoted many educational events involving art, such as a special exhibition observing the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and another introducing the monuments of injustice across Taiwan.

Though such events, Chen said, he realized that there is a lot of creative room for picture book artists to explore human rights, which led the museum to hold an open call for picture book proposals in 2019. The director then turned to the attending publishers for support in publishing the eight proposals from the Feb. 15 showcase, noting that such materials can be used to bolster human rights education.

The eight chosen artworks were narrowed down from a pool of 54 submissions. In first place is "Train (火車)" by Huang Yi-wen (黃薏文), which revolves around a train that takes people away by force to symbolize the abuse of power and state violence, while second-place winner Lu Chen-ying (盧貞穎) provided a painful journey through the White Terror era in "I Hope (我希望)" by using the perspectives of both direct victims and their family members.

The third place went to Chien Shih-hung's (簡士閎) "Fireworks (花火)," which takes readers back to the last dinner that pro-democracy pioneer Cheng Nan-jung (鄭南榕) shared with his family from the perspective of Cheng's daughter Cheng Chu-mei (鄭竹梅).

Speaking at the event, former political prisoner Tsai Kun-lin (蔡焜霖), who was imprisoned in the 1950s under White Terror, fought back tears and said it is quite emotional to see young people not only try to understand incidents that were once taboo topics, but also transform that particular period of Taiwanese history into inspiration for their creations.

Echoing Tsai, Chen Chin-shen (陳欽生), who was wrongly convicted in 1971 as a Malaysia-born student studying in Taiwan, said many NHRM events made him realize how experiences that are difficult to put into words can be expressed through songs or picture books.

Some of these picture books are made by young parents and their children, making him feel the abundant love and warmth of Taiwan's society, which is why he is able to share his own agonizing past, Chen added.

To increase the diversity and scope of human rights topics, the museum will launch a special exhibition in April on civilians who were deprived of their freedom of speech during the 38-year period of martial law. The exhibition will also coincide with Taiwan's Freedom of Speech Day, which falls on April 7 to commemorate the death of Cheng Nan-jung.

In May, the museum will host another exhibition that seeks to put together the details of a prisoners-led uprising in 1953 on Green Island. The idyllic island once held a number of political prisoners during the White Terror period and carried out "re-education" programs through its correctional facilities.

More updates will be available from the picture book project's Facebook page.