How a mobile game is reopening a hidden chapter in Taiwan’s history

Thirty years ago, the grandfather of a Taiwanese-born New York police detective named Danny Lin was thrown off a cliff in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. The murder took place during what is now known as the White Terror, a period of 40 years of violent political repression and martial law in Taiwan in the mid-twentieth century. The murderer was never identified. Lin, who travels to Taiwan, is willing to solve his grandfather’s cold case and is motivated by the admissions of a mysterious Taiwanese-Japanese woman in a restaurant with ramen in Manhattan. He knows little about the place, only that, in some way, he must find answers.

Until the last two decades, this kind of story, centered on Taiwan’s brutal authoritarianism under military rule, would have been a sensitive issue in Taiwan. However, today, the saga of Detective Lin is the fictional plot of Unforgivable: Eliza, a popular augmented reality game played on a smartphone, similar to Pokemon Go. The game develops as an enhanced digital tour of New York and then of Taipei, with a brilliant presentation of manga-esque.

Unforgettable was written by Taiwanese-American crime novelist Ed Lin (Incensed, Ghost Month, One Red Bastard) and developed by Allen Yu, the 34-year-old Taiwanese founder of Toii Inc., based in Flushing. For these game makers, Lin’s story has been a way to get a new generation committed to the country’s past. Their efforts parallel a growing trend of younger Taiwanese people exploring the lives of their parents and grandparents under the military regime.

“People know this story in Taiwan, but they do not really talk about it,” Yu says.

Play your history

In recent years, several books, movies and popular games have focused on Taiwan’s military period. A fantastic YouTube animation about Incident 228, a defining event of the era, has more than two million visits. Part of Yu’s inspiration for Unforgivable comes from Detention, another video game set during the White Terror. Rated as the second best PC game of 2017 by Metacritic, Detention has more than 200,000 players, according to its developer Red Candle Games. By contrast, Unforgivable has around 7,000 players between Taiwan, the United States and China, says Yu. Rainy Port Keelung, a 2015 game scheduled during the government suppression that initiated the White Terror (known as Incident 228), has also had commercial success.
And earlier this year, a mystery title, Devotion, set in the 1980s in Taiwan, sparked a controversy across the strait after a meme taunting Chinese President Xi Jinping was discovered in the game. That game was finally removed from the Steam platform with an apology issued by the developer Red Candle Games.

But if Unforgivable is a vehicle through which to learn about past political horrors, it also intends to encourage a distinct political identity in the present, based firmly on the Taiwanese terms. Fifty percent of the game’s funds, one million new Taiwanese dollars, or about $ 32,300, came from the Taiwan Ministry of Culture. “We support the game because its story structure describes the background of the democratization of Taiwan,” says Olivia Su, an M.O.C. Representative in New York.

Their support parallels Taiwan’s great efforts to strengthen ties between Taiwanese-Americans and Taiwan and to consolidate a decidedly Taiwanese identity at home. That is a political objective of the current administration of the country, headed by Tsai Ing-wen and his Popular Democratic Party (DPP). His administration has taken a notably more anti-Chinese stance than its predecessor, Guomindang, or KMT, which, in its previous incarnation, oversaw the Taiwan dictatorship.

“During the KMT government, we did not have democracy,” says Yu. “My parents would be told, ‘We are all Chinese, we speak Chinese, we are part of China’ Even today we call ourselves ROC, the Republic of China Everything is so Chinese But since democracy, after it was over martial law, people realized that we are different from China, that we have our own culture. ”

Not long ago, such a statement could have brought Yu to jail.

Growing up alone

Taiwan is an egg-shaped island off southeastern China, north of the Philippines and south of Japan, with a population of 23 million. A little larger than Maryland, it is a rugged place, with the highest peaks east of Tibet, green and very hot. When the Portuguese sailors found it in the 16th century, they called it Ilha Formosa: beautiful island.

Its modern development has been tumultuous. Beginning in the 17th century, increasingly large groups of Chinese began crossing the Taiwan Strait from Fujian Province. Small conflicts broke out regularly between the settlers and the indigenous population of the island, of which there are several Austronesian tribes. In 1683, the island came under the administrative control of the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial regime of China.

The change brought little stability. The intermittent conflict continued in the midst of occasional pests and uprisings. In 1895, after Japan’s victory in the First Sino-Japanese War, a decade after Taiwan became an official province of Qing, the emperor ceded Taiwan to Meiji Japan, where it remained a colony for fifty years. Despite the abuses that Tokyo may have inflicted, the Japanese laid the commercial and infrastructure foundations for economic prosperity that would remake the island in the 80s and 90s. The northern neighbor also left an important cultural footprint in Taiwan that even today It is notable.

Growing up alone

After the Japanese defeat in World War II, Taiwan was under the control of the KMT, who declared it part of the Republic of China (ROC). Since 1927, the KMT, led by a general from Zhejiang Province named Chiang Kai-shek, had been in a bitter conflict with Mao Zedong’s communists. In 1949, when Mao defeated Chiang’s forces, the KMT fled mainland China to Taiwan. Promising a day to retake China, Chiang instituted a strict military regime on Taiwan, transforming the island into a police state.

Taiwan was always remade ready for war, at the expense of the Taiwanese people. Military service became mandatory. Agricultural and industrial resources were exported to KMT troops across the strait. Civil rights were denied.

The Taiwanese people, who had initially welcomed the KMT as liberators, quickly resented their exploitative and chaotic government. In 1947, after an offensive against a civil uprising against the KMT that left more than a thousand dead, Chiang declared martial law, pushing Taiwan to a suspended period of Orwellian paranoia. That lasted until 1987, twelve years after the death of the Generalissimo, when martial law was finally lifted and democratic reforms began. Surprisingly, the small island today counts as one of the strongest and most open democracies in Asia.

With a robust export-based economy, a well-educated population, sophisticated military, modern infrastructure and a vibrant democracy, Taiwan is undoubtedly a success story in development. However, it has not been able to achieve an important milestone: sovereignty universally recognized. The persistent efforts of Beijing, which considers Taiwan as a part of its rebel but inseparable territory, have reduced, through diplomatic and economic pressure, the number of countries recognizing the independence of the island to only seventeen.

Although EE. UU He yielded to Beijing’s demands and resigned his recognition in 1979, Washington continues to provide Taipei with critical military support. The most serious acts of aggression by Beijing against Taiwan have been encountered with the shipment of US warships to the Taiwan Strait. Although the People’s Republic of China still claims the right to use force to take Taiwan (a claim it reiterated recently), US support has ensured that the island remains functionally independent for more than seventy years.