- Beyond Political PropagandaPerforming Anticommunist Nostalgia in 1950s’ Taiwan
The 1950s are known as the first decade of the anticommunist era in Taiwan. In order to fight against the Chinese communists, the Kuomintang government (KMT), which was then the ruling political party in Taiwan, proposed its anti-communist ideology that aimed at the elimination of the Chinese Communist power.1 The Chinese Civil War, which lasted from 1927 to 1949, broke China into two parts. The Republic of China (ROC) held sway over Taiwan, and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) controlled mainland China. After the split, anticommunist sentiment permeated dramatic works to the extent that a new genre of plays emerged that served as political propaganda for the KMT. Since anticommunist ideology was the central theme of that genre, the restoration of the lost motherland became one preferred motif used by playwrights. The constant calling of the motherland stirred up strong nostalgic sentiment toward the lost homeland. Although anticommunist plays are often criticized nowadays for their imposition of political ideology, this theatrical genre served a significant purpose in the 1950s: for those who were forced into exile, anticommunist plays not only fed their longings for the lost homeland but also provided a channel for them to let off their hatred against the Chinese Communists. In this essay, I discuss the concept of anticommunist nostalgia, which I define as a distinctive sentiment generated by the complicated interaction among the anticommunist ideology proposed by the government, the personal nostalgia the audience experienced, and a theatricalized nostalgia in anticommunist plays. I argue that the anticommunist nostalgia communicated through performance fed the emotional needs of the audience in that era. I investigate nostalgia in a [End Page 193] prize-winning anticommunist play The Romance of Daba Mountain (Dabashan zhi lian), a representative and well-known theatrical piece of its time; and I examine the correlation between anticommunism and nostalgic sentiment. I also explore how the performativity of anticommunist nostalgia contributed to the consolidation of nationalism in Taiwan in the 1950s.
The complicated sociopolitical background of Taiwan had its crucial influence upon the formation of the prevailing nostalgic sentiment for mainland China in the 1950s. Taiwan is a small island located about 100 miles from the southeastern Chinese mainland. Its original inhabitants were Malayo-Polynesian. Starting in the eighteenth century, large-scaled emigration from southeastern China began. These immigrants became the majority of the island population by the nineteenth century.2 In 1886, Taiwan officially became a province of China, which was then under the sovereignty of the Qing dynasty. Eight years later, the Qing dynasty forfeited its control of the island to Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895). From then on, people in Taiwan underwent fifty years of Japanese colonization (1895–1945). Meanwhile, in mainland China, the Qing dynasty was overthrown and replaced by the newly established ROC in 1912. With the defeat of Japan in World War II, the ROC—led by Chiang Kai-shek—won back the sovereignty of Taiwan, placing it under the rule of the KMT. Government officials were first welcomed by the local residents because the KMT government had liberated Taiwan from the Japanese colonizer. However, confrontation between civilians and the authority quickly mounted due to language and cultural differences, and finally reached its climax by the end of February 1947.
On February 27, a widow selling illegal cigarettes was physically attacked by a few government officials. The widow was badly injured, and in the chaos, the officers killed another civilian by accident. The furious public started huge riots that lasted for days, during which the KMT government suppressed civilian protests with brutal violence. The event was later referred to as the 228 Incident (or February 28th Incident), a scar left by clashes between the KMT government and Taiwan local residents. Unfortunately, Chiang Kai-shek did not have the time or energy to deal with the growing tension on the island after the 228 Incident: he was actively engaged in his battle against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on the mainland. Eventually, Chiang Kai-shek led the main body of the KMT government into retreat in Taiwan, an act...