"Portrait of the Families" was created by choreographer LIN Hwai-min（林懷民）and premiered in 1997 by the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. This 100-minute work of the last 100 tumultuous years of Taiwanese history from the point of view of the family, incorporating abstract dance, modern slide projection, and the recorded voices of Taiwanese telling their life stories in a variety of regional dialects. I was deeply touched by this master piece because LIN Hwai-min told the story of my mother land by means of dance art. To me, Portrait of the Families is not only a work of art but also a mirror to reflect my self-identity. However, compared with Legacy (1978), Portrait of the Families is the turning point of LIN Hwai-min’s self-identity from China complex to Taiwan identity. Basically I agree with LIN Hwai-min’s opinion. My study attempts to analyze the text of Portrait of the Families and focuses on the dialectical process of the alteration of LIN Hwai-min’s self-identity.
History of Taiwan
Owing to its special location and complex history, culture of Taiwan is unique. Taiwan island also known as Formosa (from the Portuguese means "beautiful island"), is located in East Asia off the coast of mainland China, southwest of the main islands of Japan but directly west of the end of Japan's Ryukyu Islands, and north-northwest of the Philippines. It is bound to the east by the Pacific Ocean, to the south by the South China Sea and the Luzon Strait, to the west by the Taiwan Strait and to the north by the East China Sea. Since ancient China times, Taiwan appears its military importance because of its location.
About four thousand years ago, ancestors of Taiwanese aborigines settled in Taiwan. These aborigines are related to Malay and Polynesians. Han Chinese of ancient China might have known of the existence of the main island of Taiwan since the Three Kingdoms period (third century, 230 A.D.). In 1544, a Portuguese ship sighted the main island of Taiwan and dubbed it "Ilha Formosa", which means "Beautiful Island." In 1624, the Dutch established a commercial base on Taiwan and began to import workers from Fujian and Penghu as laborers, many of whom settled. The Dutch made Taiwan a colony with its colonial capital at Anping, Tainan.
Since 1662, troop forces from Sothern Fujian led by ZHENG Cheng-gong（鄭成功）and his family defeated the Dutch for recovering Ming Dynasty of China. In 1683, armies led by Admiral Shi Lang of the Ch’ing Dynasty formally annexed Taiwan, placing Taiwan island under the jurisdiction of Fujian province. During this time, Chinese immigrants mostly from Southern Fujian (so-called Min-nan) continued to enter Taiwan. Unfortunately, there were lots of conflicts between Chinese from different regions of Southern Fujian, and between Southern Fujian Chinese and aborigines.
In the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95), Japan defeated Ch’ing China. Therefore, Ch’ing government ceded Taiwan to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Japanese forces entered the capital at Tainan and on October 21, 1895. Taiwan became the colonization of Japan formally. Japanese government paid much attention to development of Taiwan. They extended the railroads and other transportation networks, built an extensive sanitation system and revised the public school system. Meanwhile, the ethnic Chinese and Taiwanese aborigines were classified as second- and third-class citizens. Many intellectuals delivered anti-Japanese movement. Japan's rule of Taiwan ended when it lost World War II and signed the Instrument of Surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945.
On October 25, 1945, Republic of China troops representing the Allied Command accepted the formal surrender of Japanese military forces in Taihoku. The ROC administration, led by Chiang Kai-shek, announced that date as "Taiwan Restoration Day". In 1947, the 228 Massacre was an uprising in Taiwan that began on February 28, 1947 and was suppressed by the Kuomintang (KMT) government, resulting in between ten thousand and twenty thousand civilians killed. This brought Taiwan the reign of White Terror. In 1949, on losing the Chinese Civil War to the Communist Party of China (CPC), the Kuomintang (KMT) , led by Chiang Kai-shek（蔣介石）, retreated from Mainland China and moved the ROC government to Taipei. From then on, Taiwan was under the Martial Law. In 1986, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed illegally and inaugurated as the first opposition party in Taiwan to counter the KMT. A year later, President Chiang Ching-kuo（蔣經國）, son of Chiang Kai-shek lifted martial law. In 2000, DPP became government for favoring an eventual and official declaration of Taiwan independence.
Still now, two kinds of ideology keep in Taiwan people’s mind. The point is Taiwan belongs to China or not. Most people believe Taiwan is independent but some people regard Taiwan as part of China. Taiwan lives under the minacity of China. International society assists in Taiwan independence but it is afraid of China government. Taiwan is usually called “Chinese Taipei” in international competitions. The current situation of Taiwan is as complex as its history.
Biography of choreographer Lin Hwai-min
Lin Hwai-min was born in Chia-yi in 1947. 9 days later, the 228 Massacre（二二八）happened. As a grand-grandson of Lin Wei-chiao, a scholar of Ch’ing Dynasty, tradition of his family education is very austerely. His ancestors immigrated from Longshi, Zongjo of Fujien Province to Taiwan in middle 19 century as “native Taiwanese”. His father LIN Gin-sheng（林金生）and his mother ZHENG Pien-pien（鄭翩翩）both studied abroad in Japan and high-educated. His father was a high official of KMT government. Since Lin Hwai-min’s childhood, he was educated to be a man of duty.
When Lin Hwai-min was 5 years old and a half, he saw a ballet movie "The Red Shoes"（紅菱豔） and was exactly fascinated by dancing. Ten years later, Jose Limon Dance Company came to Taiwan, junior-high-school-student Lin Hwai-min attended their performance Moor’s Pavane. He was hooked to the performance. “How attractive it is! I want to be a dancer someday.” Lin Hwai-min said a prayer. In the same period, 14-year-old Lin Hwai-min appeared his first novel. As an excellent novelist, Lin Hwai-min wrote several fictions about anxious young generations such as Homecoming and Cicada. After finishing his school life from News Department of Cheng-chi University（政治大學）, Lin Hwai-min went to the United States for further study. At the same time, he attended Martha Graham dance school and appeared his talent of choreography. Because of multicultural influence of the United States, Lin Hwai-min thought over his homeland and his identity.
With his master degree of art from Iowa University, Lin Hwai-min came back to Taiwan and taught modern dance in Culture College. In 1973, Lin Hwai-min led four of his female students and found “Cloud Gate Dance Theatre”, the first modern dance company of Taiwan. “Cloud Gate” is in pursuit of “Chinese dance for Chinese.” Lin Hwai-min is engaged in Chinese modern dance. He created new vocabulary of dance by combining traditional Chinese dance training, Peking opera skills and Martha Graham technique. In the latest decade, Lin Hwai-min trained his dancers by meditation, martial arts and Ta-chi Tao Yin. Besides, there is a series of pieces which refers to Taiwan history/society and political situation/event including "Legacy"(薪傳，1978), "Dreamscape"(夢土，1986), "My Nostalgia, My Songs"(我的鄉愁我的歌，1986), "Requiem"(輓歌，1989), "Symphony for Sorrowful Songs"(悲歌交響曲，1995), "Portraits of the Families"(家族合唱，1997), and "The Road to the Mountain——Chen Ying-zhen’s Landscapes"(山路——陳映真風景，2004). In "Legacy", "Dreamscape", "My Nostalgia, My Songs" and "Portraits of the Families", I read some information about Lin Hwai-min’s national/self-identity changed from China Complex to Taiwan identity.
From “Legacy” to “Portrait of the Families”
"Legacy" is Lin Hwai-min’s first theatrical work with the history of Taiwan. At that time of his choreography, Taiwan was under Martial Law（戒嚴）. In order to honor the pioneers of Taiwan, Lin Hwai-min trained dancers outdoor by the side of seashore to carry big rocks for them to experience the dangerous and hard life of our ancestors. By pure coincidence, "Legacy" premiered on the day the United States president Jimmy Carter announced the breakup with Taiwan and the establishment of diplomatic relationship with the People’s Republic of China. People in Taiwan felt betrayed. The premiere in Lin Hwai-min’s hometown Chia-yi （嘉義）became a highly emotional event: 6ooo audience cheered, cried, and strove along with the dancers when the “pioneers” struggling to cross the “Black Water”——the Taiwan Straits which separates Taiwan from China. Dancers put on traditional Hakka blue costume（客家藍衫） and led by a leader to perform the cohesiveness of the group. They delivered extremely strong energy to present confirmed willpower. Pioneers got together as one indivisible community. They came from China and settle down in Taiwan. In the final section of Legacy, happy colored ribbon dance and lion dance celebrated brand new life of Taiwan people.
In "Dreamscape", Lin Hwai-min spoke out his inner secret about China myth. There was a layer of gauze between dancers and audience. Time and space on this stage was interlaced. Peacocks strutted on the stage. Ancient Chinese people and modern people appeared by turns. Everything was as vague as a dream and a montage movie. Finally the layer of gauze was risen up to show every thing clearly. It seemed to wake everybody up from the China dream. Lin Hwai-min used the method of collage and post-modernism to parody the actuality of Taiwan. In this metaphor, China is a dream never comes true.
Inspiration of "My Nostalgia, My Songs" is a photo of several Taiwanese puppy drama players. They went to seaside in Tong-shau to have fun. Sculpture artist CHU-ming（朱銘）took the photo for them in late 1950s. Lin Hwai-min followed photographer CHANG Chao-tan’s（張照堂）suggestion, he chose many Taiwan folk songs and popular songs of 1960s to echo memory of his youth time. Most of the songs were in Min-nan（閩南語）, Lin Hwai-min’s mother tongue. Some of these songs were adapted from Japanese songs. These Japanese style songs are nostalgia of Lin Hwai-min’s Japanese-educated parents as well as collect memory of thousands of Taiwan old people who have ever experienced Japanese colonization period since 1895 to 1945. "My Nostalgia, My Songs" represented Taiwan society in the beginning of Taiwan Restoration. Young people were naïve but sometimes anxious. No one knows the capitalism will lead Taiwan to which place. Young men jumped up as free as happy birds. Prostitutes appeared their flesh without emotional expression. A lady in white wondered like a solitary phantom among young people. Light sweetness and hazy sorrow met on the stage.
"Portrait of the Families" was created in 1997, the same year when Hong Kong was returned to the Chinese government. It was also 50 years after the 228 Massacre of Taiwanese resistance by the national Chinese Troops and 10years after the abolishment of 38 years of Martial Law on Taiwan. Apart from these political and historical implications there is also the personal side of the choreographer. Lin Hwai-min had discovered on old photos that his family was almost completely dressed in Japanese kimonos. It was then he realized what had been concealed for 50 years. At what time was which identity opportune? For half a century until the end of World War Ⅱ the Taiwanese people had to be Japanese. Then they became forcefully united Chinese. How does Red China justify its claim on Taiwan since Taiwan has part of the Mainland for more than 100 years? What is Taiwan? What is this island and its people now after it has served its time as an American bastion against communism? What are the cultural characteristics? How to live with pain——the real pain and the phantom pain of loss? Answers are not fixed and belong to everyone.
On “Portrait of the Families” and Lin Hwai-min’s identity
"Portrait of the Families" started from a lion dance. It reminded audience of the end of "Legacy". The same lion with long red cloth was metaphor of China blood and chain. It seemed the lion would like to escape from this red chain. Hundreds of historical photos made as slide projection and the recorded voices of Taiwanese telling their life stories after lion dance. People spoke in Aborigines, Hakka, Hoklo and Mandarin. Much movement of dancers was like their daily life——teeth brushing, having bath, face and hair washing, and walking. Some people attempted to say something but gave up. The atmosphere of White Terror existed everywhere. Keep washing was the atmosphere to wash away terror and uneasy feeling.
"Portrait of the Families" brings to light the old wounds and joins in requiem, makes up for forbidden mourning. Since every spectator has his own pictures many of the projection screens which are repeatedly shown on the stage are kept empty. In 29 interviews the voices tell about tragedy of Taiwan history, about murders and escapes, about arbitrary imprisonment and unfounded treason charges and executions.
In the end of "Portrait of the Families", a shaman and rites of Taiwanese tradition religion appeared. Vocal of Nan-quan drama（南管） faded in. Finally, water lamps flew through the stage. Most of these rites are for comforting dead spirit. The one only water lamp left on the stage which ended up the tragedy of Taiwan history. Everyone in Taiwan has to forgive violence in order to acquire redemption.
“Taiwan is a woman.” Lin Hwai-min said. In "Portrait of the Families", a bride in old style red wedding dress, red headscarf and “3 inches shoes” was chain in a thin red line. She did her best to escape but failed. Later, another young woman was compelled by several strong men to sit on a traditional arm chair. These men dressed her up in a suit of clothes of rich Han women. Red peony flowers were put in her arms. The young woman got mad. She tore off petals one by one and bit the peony flower. Suddenly, she fell unconscious on the arm chair.
In my opinion, both of the bride and the woman were symbols of Taiwan. None of them has freedom and power to reject the hard-bitten control of fatherhood and men. Their predicament was just like history of Taiwan. Since 1624 the Dutch governed Taiwan until 20 Century, each regime controlled Taiwan as men controlled women in old epoch.
Later on, solo of a woman in black seemed as widow dance. Many fathers, husbands and sons disappear after 228 Massacre. This isolated woman is another allegory about Taiwan.
"Portrait of the Families" as a work of dance theatre, it presents different faces of post-colonial Taiwan by means of dance performance. From "Legacy" to "Portrait of the Families", Lin Hwai-min expresses his Taiwan discourse by the schema of body. Benedict Anderson’s notion of imagined community expressed, “Nationalism involves imagining one’s membership in the intangible idea of a nation.” In the very beginning, “one China” concept was drive in every Taiwan people’s idea by totalitarian, Chiang Kai-shek government. Each dialect was forbidden and only mandarin allowed. 228 Massacre and White Terror ceased all of voice against government. As time went by, social and political situation of Taiwan changed gradually. As a growing organism, Lin Hwai-min’s political ideology and self-identity changed with times. I appreciate his courage to show his inner truth.
In 1978, "Legacy" reminded Taiwan people not to forget Chinese root under Lin Hwai-min’s “big China complex”. In 1986, "Dreamscape" queried his China dream, and "My Nostalgia, My Songs" recalled his romantic youth as a Min-nan speaker.
In 1997, "Portrait of the Families" as a great epic presented in dance theatre, Lin Hwai-min spoke out his self-identity loudly by means of the last recorded voice of a middle-aged female Mainlander. She told a story of his father, an old man evacuated from China to Taiwan with army after 1945. The lady with her tender mandarin said, “When my father was in his age of 91, I took him home in mainland China. Since his latest time to go home, 59 years passed by. We walked to my grand-parents graves beside field, my father happened to say,〝How about let’s go home?〞〝Home? Where is our home?〞I asked him on purpose. 〝Home? Our home is in Ping-dun.（屏東）〞 This man who never forgot his hometown regarded Ping-dun as his real home actually. After coming back to Taiwan, my father was peaceful and confirmedly. Finally I happen to understand, Taiwan is just where he wants to bury his body after death.”
Before choreographed "Portrait of the Families", Lin Hwai-min used to regard bloody 228 Massacre as “a phone call far away from the ocean”, because it kept ringing but nobody dared to get the phone call. But "Portrait of the Families" broke this taboo. Lin Hawi-min decided to face to the tragedy of Taiwan and his self-identity. He answered the phone call bravely.
"Portrait of the Families" is a requiem of bitter Taiwan history. We cannot forget history but we may forgive mistakes as if sky lights carry hopes to heaven and water lamps release souls from purgatory.