Chen Boqing, MA, Granduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
For the documentary series Floating Island director Zhou Meiling’s recruited twelve filmmakers to shoot footage of twelve “outlying islands” in the waters around Taiwan – Green Island (Lyudao), Kinmen, Xiaoliuqiu, Penghu, Guishan Island, Keelung Island, Orchid Island (Lanyu), Pratas Island, Matsu, Three Northern Islets, Wuqiu, Diaoyutai Islands. Completed and released in the year 2000, the twelve films highlight island characteristics, presenting people and cultures, reflecting on issues such as island ecology and emigration, contrasting rural and urban life, focusing on environmental protection and ecological variation. The concept of “outlying islands” is relative to the “main island” of Taiwan – thus, the films stand on the perimeter, adopting a marginal perspective to examine notions of inclusion and exclusion, periphery and center, native and foreign.
In “Matsu’s Dancing Shadow” producer Jian Weisi’s says, “Both Taiwan and China regard Matsu as a very remote place.” The “outlying islands” are “outlying” not simply because of geographical separation but because they lag far behind Taiwan in terms of resource allocation, thus engendering a sense of remoteness. Li Zhiqiang’s “The Floating Ball” points out two phenomena worthy of note on Xiaoliuqui: foreign brides (denized brides) and foreign workers. In a cabin on a fishing-boat a Mainland Chinese deckhand says, “Aren’t we in Taiwan?” The utterance is an affirmation, but also a negation – even though Xiaoliuqui is Taiwanese territory, the life and amenities there don’t match up to the Taiwan of the man’s imagination. This highlights the fact that outlying islands’ marginalization is political and economic as well as geographic.
Driven by a shortage of resources and the need to make a living, island youth invariably migrate to other areas. Thus the films depict desolate places where time has stood still, half-deserted villages populated with ageing villagers; even the islands themselves seem to have withered. In Guo Zhendi’s “Libangbang” Lanyu islanders chant, “Children far from home, take care of yourselves, and remember that your parents are thinking of you…” Nevertheless, a mother who misses her son says, “I hope he stays in Taiwan, where job opportunities are better.”
Leaving home to look for work is a fact of life on the outlying islands, giving birth to homesickness. Li Yongquan’s “Turtle Island: Nostalgic Voices” notes that in 1977 governmental policies forced aboriginal inhabitants to leave Turtle Island, which then functioned as a military base until 2000, and today is a natural conservation area open to tourism. In the film a former resident says, “Whenever we go to sea to fish, we like to get closer to Turtle Island and look at it.” Now the original inhabitants can only gaze like tourists at the island. And when they revisit they find that once familiar scenery has changed and the place is no longer home; even in returning the islanders cannot dispel the homesickness they feel, and are thus destined to wander forever, rootless.
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