What comes to mind upon hearing the phrase "social movements"? What kind of people do you think take part in them? From May 2019 through May 2020, the Tainan-based National Museum of Taiwan History (NMTH) will be host to a special yearlong exhibition titled "Oppression & Overcoming: Social Movements in Post-War Taiwan."
Through items and interviews, this exhibition aims to shine a light on the stories of the people involved in these movements, showing us how these Taiwanese individuals came together in the face of various pressures, whether they took to the streets or quietly worked to transform communities. Regardless of their approach, they all fought for people’s rights and built up the momentum necessary to drive societal transformation. Exhibits will change over the course of the exhibition, presenting a variety of different movers and movements.
History is not merely a record of the past, but also a lesson plan for the present that can help us move toward a better future. Taiwan underwent 38 years of martial law following World War II, and while today we may take all kinds of rights — from labor and residence to speech and environmental — for granted, the nation's transformation into a democracy was a long one. Today's Taiwan is the result of the efforts of the many people who took to the streets with social movements and who worked tirelessly to push for reforms.
This special exhibition follows in the footsteps of another effort by the museum in recent years — the "Collections for Tomorrow (為明日收藏)" initiative that preserves items from the 318 Civil Movement (318公民運動), which is better known as the Sunflower Movement (太陽花學運) of 2014. An outgrowth of the collections, research, and applied work of the NMTH, it not only encourages thinking about the retention of objects, but also of how museums can preserve contemporary memories and stories. At the same time, it also aims to share the stories of recent social movements, helping us better appreciate the rights we enjoy now while also encouraging the development of more active participants in modern society.
The exhibition is split into four main areas. By the entrance, visitors will be led through a show of the rights and indicators enjoyed by today’s citizens, and then presented with laws and movements from the nation’s history. This drives home that the rights we enjoy today are the fruit of labor of many over time who also faced the unique challenges of the past. The second area, "Warming Up," exhibits printing presses, tape recordings, press releases, and all kinds of materials from social movements, showing how groups have used different media and methods over time to mobilize, bring people together, and prepare for action.
The third area, "Starting Off: Taiwan's Social Movements in the Post-war Period," presents events from recent years that many visitors may still remember, bringing to light the full story and the factors behind the scenes through interviews with participants about what drove them to take action, what the conditions were like, and the emotional journeys they took. Through these descriptions, the exhibition aims to highlight the true diversity of these movements and add color to the monochromatic impression many have of social movements.
The fourth area is called "A Dynamic Society," where visitors will not only be able to view interviews on the public's impressions of social movements, but also see the pressures and challenges those involved were faced with through their sharing of experiences. By internalizing these feelings and making them part of everyday life, we can all be prepared for the next movement that may call out to us. This area also features parts of the NMTH's "Collections for Tomorrow," inspiring visitors to mull over their own positions and how they, through their own skills and actions, can respond to what is happening in contemporary society.
The full English-language exhibition introduction is available on en.nmth.gov.tw.