Aboriginal Autonomy and Its Place
in Taiwan’s National Trauma Narrative

By Craig Smith

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 24, no. 2 (Fall 2012), pp. 209-239

In February 1952, the Kuomintang government of the Republic of China executed six Taiwanese aboriginal leaders for supposed collaboration with communists. Although this is just one of numerous terrible incidents during this period of Taiwan’s history, the Tang Shouren case is of particular interest as these executions effectively silenced the voices of a generation of aboriginal leaders, some of whom had recently formulated plans for aboriginal autonomy. These executions silenced all discussion of aboriginal autonomy for the next forty years. Beginning in the 1980s, but accelerating in the 1990s, Taiwanese scholars and writers returned to these victims to write about the lives and deeds of these aboriginal elites. These elites were then written into the trauma narrative that takes a special place in Taiwan’s troubled struggle with identity, the narrative of the February 28th Incident and the White Terror.

This essay examines the inclusion of aboriginal voices in the rewriting of this trauma. Of particular interest is the relation of these voices to the struggle for aboriginal autonomy today. This inclusion is of crucial significance to both the economic and political rights of aboriginals today, but must be mediated by those elites who accept strategies of cultural hybridity to engage with hegemony and efforts towards assimilation in postcolonial Taiwan. The essay focuses on the early autonomy pioneer Uyongu Yatauyungana, but also considers texts by Pasuya Poiconu, Chen Suzhen, and Walis Norgan, examining this writing in relation to the construction of Taiwan’s national narrative to reveal how aboriginal elites have both appropriated and been appropriated by this trauma narrative.