Jiang Binglun, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
The Rice Bomber (2014), written by Hong Hong and directed by Zhuo Li, is based on actual events: the “Rice Bomber case” of 2003-2004 and the book Rice Is Not a Bomb (2007) by Yang Rumen, the central figure in the case.
Blessed with fertile soil and a mild, subtropical climate, Taiwan produces two to three rice crops a year, and rice paddies are a characteristic rural vista. Nevertheless, Taiwanese farmers’ lives are fraught with hardship – from the Japanese colonial era onward, agricultural workers have risen up time and again to protest unreasonable conditions. In the wake of technological innovations rice production reached its peak in the 1970s; however, Taiwan’s diet was changing and the area allotted to rice cultivation was gradually reduced. Thus, farmers were forced to plant crops that would yield greater economic returns, and the younger generation began leaving the countryside to look for work in the city, resulting in an aging rural population.
In a bid to join the world economic order, Taiwan’s government opened the island to large-scale fruit imports in the 1980s, which led to a violent clash between farmers and police in 1988, the “May Second Farmers’ Movement.” After entering the WTO in 2002, Taiwan began importing rice – for farmers, this was tantamount to sacrificing Taiwanese agriculture on the altar of foreign trade. Yang Rumen, a young man from a Changhua farming family hard hit by the changes, saw firsthand the disparity between agricultural policy and the actual situation on the ground. Yang appealed to the Executive Yuan Council of Agriculture but received no reply; consequently he wrote to media outlets and governmental agencies, again failing to elicit a response. With nowhere to turn, angry and aggrieved, Yang opted to take drastic measures in a bid to call attention to the government’s longtime neglect of farmers.
Late in the year 2003 Yang Rumen planted small bombs at a number of locations in the Taipei area. The bombs were packed with rice and labeled with stickers reading: “The government should look after the people” and “Oppose rice importation.” Yang planted a total of seventeen bombs, and police proved incapable of apprehending the “Rice Bomber,” as the media had dubbed him. Yang Rumen was quick to take advantage of the moniker, signing it to letters to the press, creating panic but at the same time drawing public attention to the plight of farmers and rural communities.
Near the end 2004 Yang surrendered to authorities and was subsequently tried and convicted. On February 17, 2006 he began serving a prison term. On June 21, 2007 he received a presidential pardon in response to popular calls for his release. Yang then turned to gentler methods of promoting his ideals while continuing to work for social reform. He launched a farmer’s market and an ecology-education park, relying on practical actions to tell Taiwan’s farmers: Farming villages once nurtured this land; farmers toiled at plowing and planting, building the basis of Taiwan’s modern economy – the Taiwanese people should remember the source of their blessings, respect the environment, and support hardworking farmers and laborers.
Yang Rumen’s ideals inspired Zhuo Li to adapt the story to the screen. Where Taiwan’s mainstream media portrayed Yang as a fiery radical, The Rice Bomber looks at the events that drove a desperate young farmer to resort to violent tactics. Furthermore, the film fleshes out two characters Yang’s book who were instrumental in spurring him to adopt extreme measures – an impoverished rural youth and the daughter of a national legislator. By portraying their interactions with the protagonist, Zhuo shows Yang Rumen to be an ordinary person, worthy of sympathy and understanding.
|Related Literary Themes：||Class in Literature|