Wang Meizhen, Documentary Director
Most representations of waisheng culture in Taiwan are closely bound up with the military dependents’ village and follow a typical storyline: while fathers are at work the mothers gather around the table and play mahjong and the kids gang up and roam around outside the village causing havoc wherever they go. 1 Their life may be poor but it is also fun. Even though they have few possessions, at least they have their families and their emotional attachments. What A Few Square Yards for Sixty Years is trying to say is that this image of the family as the foundation of life in the military dependents’ village does not tell the whole story of waisheng life.
In the 1950s the government issued an order forbidding rank-and-file soldiers from marrying, so many of them were compelled to remain single. When the country finally came to the realization that the “return to the mainland” was never going to happen, the soldiers, seen as “old Taro,” were left without a foothold in the marriage market. 2 Given that they were poor, the men had no choice but to remain single all their lives.
This documentary tells the story, for the first time, of three ex-servicemen who live in a Taipei air force barracks for single men. Built in 1974, this barracks originally housed over a thousand servicemen. Now, most of them have passed away, and only two hundred or so remain. The men’s bedrooms are only around a hundred square feet. They have no private kitchen or bathroom and no one to talk to. It is so still that they can hear the beating of a butterfly’s wings against the windowpane.
Each of the film’s three sections tells a different story of resignation and loneliness. The first protagonist, old Mr Lin, has had difficulty fitting in in Taiwan because people look down on veterans, and yet he is full of hope. When he gave his relatives in Zhejiang, China, a gift of ten thousand US dollars, he was surprised by their indifference. All he has left is the calligraphy that he practices day by day, saying ironically, “I’m married to my books.”
The walls of Mr Fu’s room, as one might expect of a man who has been forced to live a single life for so many years, are covered in naked women. Yet among all the racy pictures, there is a document, written in calligraphy and mounted in a gold frame. It is a will. He has already made arrangements with a funeral home regarding how he wants his body to be dealt with.
The third man, Mr Liu, married a woman from Mainland China some years ago. Stricken by cancer, he came to rely on her for everything. Before arriving, his wife painted herself a beautiful picture of life in Taiwan; but her enthusiasm turned to ashes once she saw the tumbledown old barracks. This is a typical story of old veterans who marry much younger women from Mainland China. On the other hand, the perspectives of these “Mainlander” wives also provide an alternative view of “the other Taiwan.”
The words to a patriotic song once went, “Without country, we would have no family.” But for the protagonists of these three stories, it was the tide of history and the country itself that robbed them of the chance of a family life. They do not complain. On the contrary, they just go about their business – eating, sleeping, writing a will, and making their own funeral arrangements. They came quietly. They will go quietly. Unnoticed and unmourned.
1Waisheng (literally “other province) is used to refer to Chinese people who came to Taiwan in the late 1940s and early 1950s and their descendants. Military dependents’ villages are communities which were built in Taiwan in the 1940s and 1950s and whose original purpose was to (provisionally) house waisheng soldiers and their families.
2“Taro,” by turns a term of affection or contempt, is a Taiwanese nickname for waishengren.
|Related Literary Themes：||Writings from Military Dependents’ Villages|