An Interview with Huang Shu-mei (Director)
Towards Knowing Ourselves and a Better Future Together
Q: Prof. Chen Yufeng made a strong impression by saying that Taiwan people should develop their own culture in the long run.
HS: What he means is that Taiwan is not suited to the culture brought from the mainland. For example, the terrace fields one often sees in mainland China are not suited to the steep mountain terrain of Taiwan. But when the Kuomintang government’s plan of returning to the mainland failed, their soldiers who took up agriculture in the mountains farmed in the same fashion as in their mainland hometowns. The different contours and prevalent natural disasters in Taiwan made this development a huge hazard to the stability of the soil and slopes.
But if there is no typhoon bringing rain, the west part of Taiwan would be too dry. If there are no earthquakes, the island of Taiwan would not have emerged from the ocean. Instead of viewing disasters as something we have to fight against, what we should do is adapt to this nature of Taiwan.
In Japan, buildings are wooden, made not too tall because people know there would be earthquakes. Their ancestors’ memory of natural disasters is well endured. In Taiwan, traditional housing is lightweight, made from mud and bamboo. But since people thought that living in such houses was pitiable, they switched to concrete western-style houses which were considered a symbol of wealth. But those houses are actually not suitable to Taiwan. This happened because our culture was interrupted. What we have to do is find the way to knowing and adapting to our natural environment, and that would become the true culture of our own.
Q: Can you tell us how you promoted your films in Taiwan and how they were received?
HS: In the case of A Letter to Future Children, I took the film to screenings at schools, because I had made the film with our previously inadequate education in mind. With funding from the Environmental Protection Administration and National Culture and Arts Foundation, it became possible for me to hold screenings at around 20 places across Taiwan, and six months later I held screenings at primary, secondary schools and at universities. I am very happy to see that people and children understand the film, and feel that the purpose of making the film was attained.
I said to the children at the end of the film, “Despite all difficulties, together let’s protect our common Mother Taiwan.” This is my deepest wish. At the age of 50, I think I belong to a generation soon to pass, leaving the burden to the next generation. But at least I can let future generations know what their land was like, so that they will be capable of change. Ignorance is the most terrifying thing. It leads to false beliefs and wrong decisions and policies. (For example, discrimination is also a form of ignorance.) If my film can contribute to the cause, it would have been worth all the effort I have put in making them.
Q: From the film, we can also see that Taiwan has multiple cultures and different dynamic voices.
HS: Taiwan went through waves of immigration since the 17th century, from the Japanese rule to Kuomintang. That’s why we have a lot of communities—indigenous peoples, Hokkien, Hakka, people who came from mainland China with the KMT government, and lately new immigrants from Southeast Asia. That is where the variety comes from.
In the beginning, immigrants are insecure and tend to do whatever makes a living for them, not knowing whether their next generation would call this place their homeland. But people have started taking root in Taiwan, and that was brought about by democratic progress. During the process of striving for freedom and democracy, people started to get to know themselves and learned to be tolerant. I think Taiwan people are kind-hearted and embrace multiple cultures. This pluralistic character was attained by generations of effort and blood paid to build a more democratic society.
(Compiled by Sit Pui Yin Annie)
Interviewers: Sit Pui Yin Annie, Yagi Hiroko
Photography: Abe Shizuka / Video: Ishizuka Shino / 2019-10-14