March 27, 2024

Artists, Educators, and the Generation Gap in Taiwan

Hide and Seek Audiovisual Art

“A Tour into the Darkness,” a learning kit developed with schoolteachers and the National Human Rights Museum, Taiwan. Photo: Hide and Seek Audiovisual Art.

Admittedly, there is a fine line between civic intervention and political propaganda. Our practice in the past six years has basically revolved around this dilemma. With the eagerness to intervene and influence, and at the same time with anxiety about trespassing the line that prevents us from submitting to the existing power structure, we as a collective have survived many moments of self-doubt. The following notes are based on a series of conversations between some of our team members and long-term collaborators. We reflect on the potential challenges we face and on the ways our educational and cultural work has informed how we view the current political climate in Taiwan.


As one of the first among this year’s seventy-plus elections worldwide, the Taiwanese elections in January seem to have sent an ambiguous message. After Lai Ching-Te, the candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was declared the winner of the presidential race on January 13, friends and acquaintances outside of Taiwan reached out to congratulate us. Yet here on the island, within our own community, the atmosphere has not been as cheerful and optimistic.

To begin with, Lai’s victory did not come with equivalent success for the DPP in the parliamentary elections that took place at the same time. With the Kuomintang (KMT) holding most seats in the Legislative Yuan (the supreme legislative body of Taiwan), the passing of bills and policies will certainly face more obstacles. Further, this year’s election showed strong support from young voters for a “third force”—Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), led by former mayor of Taipei Ko Wen-je, suggesting a certain level of disappointment with the status quo and a desire for political reform. However, Taiwan’s unique “existential crisis” remains: with the threat from the mainland, and without international recognition as a “normal” country, initiatives and policies here often have no lasting effect and can be easily revised. Meanwhile, domestic issues such as rising house prices, stagnant incomes, wealth inequality, and social welfare for an aging society test people’s confidence with the ruling DPP. But is TPP the solution? Why does it appear to be so, especially for young voters?

Ko’s political career can be traced back to the Sunflower Movement of 2014, when students and civic groups occupied the Legislative Yuan to protest the signing of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement by the then-ruling KMT. The movement’s demand for procedural justice, transparency, and political accountability in cross-strait negotiations with the Beijing government led to a renewed political ecology in Taiwan. Ko, a political neophyte who supported the student movement, was a rising star. That same year he overran the KMT to become the mayor of Taipei. However, his earlier progressive claims—that he would transcend Taiwan’s entrenched duopoly and work towards an independent and just future—were undermined by later statements. His pro-China comments during the presidential campaign directly contradicted the position he took in 2014. Ko’s signature strategy was to cover up his irresponsible speeches and moves with an adept use of cynicism (some might call it humor), something seen often in the behavior of many of his counterparts on the international political scene.


Those of us in our thirties who are skeptical of Ko’s leadership can be called the “Sunflower Generation,” since the movement shaped our political ideology and civic awareness. The movement highlighted the vulnerable status of Taiwan as a political entity, revealing how the island’s future is easily affected by the cross-strait relationship with China and the diplomatic dynamic with the US. We learned that freedom and democracy require maintenance through civic action and participation. While some of our comrades went on to pursue political careers, others initiated new organizations to promote direct democracy, social justice, and Taiwanese identity. Whatever the approach, it is essential to constantly reflect on the experiences and knowledge gained from the movement and incorporate these lessons into our daily practice. This sense of responsibility and criticality is the legacy of the Sunflower Movement. Hide and Seek Audiovisual Art was born out of this context in 2017. We are a group of cultural workers seeking ways to actively take part in the sociopolitical transition in Taiwan through arts and culture, while attending to and making accessible various narratives and subjectivities—even if they might conflict with each other.

The year 2018 turned out to be one of learning and growth for our team. After the Legislative Yuan passed the Act on Promoting Transitional Justice at the end of 2017, the National Human Rights Museum (NHRM) was established the following year with an open call for a public education project to create awareness of the unjust history of Taiwan. Our team was selected to undertake the project “Sites of Injustice,” about historic sites where the state committed systematic human rights abuses and other injustices during the White Terror (1949–92). In this period, Taiwanese civilians and political dissenters were persecuted by the KMT-ruled government. Many of the detention centers, prisons, interrogation rooms, and execution grounds where this took place have been lost to urban development, while others are still part of our everyday lives. To most citizens, the significance of the White Terror remains largely unknown due to oppressive political and education policies before the 1990s. The fading of historical trauma associated with these sites is a pressing issue. Knowing and acknowledging past atrocities is the first step towards strengthening historical consciousness and achieving true reconciliation towards a shared future.

To unpack the complexity of the White Terror, we reached out to our fellow cultural workers—artists, designers, and film directors—to explore pedagogical methods that were experimental as well as sensitive to the historical context. With the support of NHRM, we started by connecting with former victims of political violence and with researchers in the field to organize walking tours to the various Sites of Injustice. We then held seminars to exchange views among participants and discuss the possibility of making artwork and publications about the sites. While our initial goal was to work with artists and designers to disseminate suppressed stories and raise public awareness, schoolteachers were soon included in our collaborative network. We realized that on-site work with educators is indispensable when it comes to such delicate issues. Bringing artists and teachers together yielded valuable results: while art’s adaptability can answer to education’s specific predicaments, education’s down-to-earth perspective can inform artists.

The educational process led to the creation of another project in 2021, “Guest House of Yesterday.” Together with NHRM, we considered proposals from artists, paying particular attention to those with the potential to be translated into constructive learning kits. The selected artists were then invited to cocreate their learning kits with schoolteachers. After ten months of ongoing discussions and adjustments, prototype learning kits were brought to schools for trial sessions. By 2022, six learning kits had been fine-tuned. The kits incorporated board games, storytelling, radio drama, and immersive experiences. Since then over 180 schoolteachers and five thousand students have used these kits to explore the history of the White Terror. Our proposition for the learning kits is that participants are never asked to “roleplay” but are given “clues” to interact with. For instance, in the lesson “A Tour into the Darkness,” a mat allows students to experience the size and texture of confinement; in “Searching for a Missing Person,” students learn to use maps and aerial photographs to recreate a disappeared detention center and reconstruct its lost memory. Archives are important too: original court records and testimonies are often read to the students to stimulate further discussion and reflection.

The politically and emotionally charged history of the White Terror creates an immense mental burden and professional challenge for educators. Teachers can be pressured by parents, who are often quick to voice concerns about the curriculum and the teaching methods, fearing that such courses might spread “false” or unwanted political ideologies. Indeed, depoliticization in schools is simultaneously an archaic and newly emerging phenomenon. Both “conservatives” and “progressives” have reason to doubt the value of discussing politics with students nowadays. However, our own experience reminds us that shutting down conversations is never the solution, especially in our ever more complicated and interconnected political reality. To effectively communicate the importance of productive conversations to educators and parents alike demands creativity and patience. We consider the learning kit project part of a long-term endeavor that can be updated as the environment evolves. Looking back, this educational approach was never a one-way street. As these projects have unfolded over time, we have also noticed our own role gradually shift, from advocates to mediators. We joked about becoming so-called “pro-establishment-ists”; our team and our office space even grew, resembling a “promising” start-up company. However, by bringing different minds on board we were able to make the mediator role consistent with our agenda: bridging individuals, institutions, NGOs, and government departments allows us to join a wider societal force aiming to ensure that public resources are accessible and open. This force counters the rising domination of the market economy and the inherent tendency of Taiwan’s public institutions to be exclusive and hierarchical.

Our recent public art project commissioned by the National Museum of History in Taiwan (NMH) in 2022 exemplifies such an effort. The commission coincided with a two-year renovation of the museum, and we opted to engage with the renovation process in our project. Together with three collaborating artists and invited participants, we created an alternative infrastructure to examine the convoluted narratives deeply embedded in this “National Museum,” which essentially has little to do with the local history and culture of Taiwan. Established in 1955, NMH was the first public museum created by the government of the Republic of China after the KMT relocated to Taiwan. Both the Chinese palace–style building and its collection of artifacts imported from the mainland indicate an obsolete imaginary of “Greater China” and the sentiments connected to the KMT’s 1949 defeat. For years, the museum stood as a symbol of the presence of the old Republic of China, witnessing countless societal and political upheavals in Taiwan as they permanently reshaped the island’s identity. The back-and-forth negotiation with the museum about what constitutes “public art” consumed much of our time and energy before we took any real action: public art is not a decoration, nor should our public art project celebrate the cultural legacy of “Greater China.” Some of the museum staff shared our view; together with them we fought against the calcified perception embedded in the museum’s history.

Located in the front plaza of the museum, Liu Chien-Wei’s sculpture/installation Is Nostalgia Dangerous?—Reclaim Our Homeland questions the museum’s “national dream” to “reclaim our homeland.” Transforming discarded construction materials from the renovation into seats for visitors to take a rest, the work’s humble form and public accessibility seek to break away from the museum’s self-imposed solemnity. In her video installation The Penultimate Chest, Chang Wen-Hsuan reverses the form and concept of “Chinese Cultural Chests”—boxes containing museum objects that traveled globally in the 1970s and ’80s to strengthen cultural diplomacy and reinforce the national image of “Chinese culture in Taiwan,” at a time when the island was being cut off from the rest of the world. Chang injects humor and satire into her chests by personifying fourteen museum artifacts from the perspectives of museum volunteers, teachers, students, and residents living around the museum neighborhood today. The third work, Who Is Writing History?, is a cocreation of artist Shake and twelve youths from different educational backgrounds. After several months of regular reading workshops focused on archival materials, the group developed an alternative repository to reinterpret the museum’s history. Shake also made a film that captures performance pieces created by the students based on their family histories, identities, and expectations of society.

The generation gap embodied in the young people’s narratives in Who Is Writing History? corresponds to the issue at stake for cultural institutions like NMH. The parents and grandparents of these young people lived through the martial law period. While some in this older generation ardently uphold patriotic education and leader worship, others simply lack the means to criticize authorities and social injustice due to fear and terror. For those of us who grew up in the 1990s, after the lifting of martial law, the legacy of the White Terror was still pervasive. At school, the everyday mechanisms of corporal punishment, elitism, alienation, and confinement became “disciplinary technologies” that prevented us from questioning authority and voicing alternative opinions. At home, silence and taboos prevailed; our parents and grandparents either submitted to the party-state propaganda of the KMT and imposed the same ideology on us, or simply forbade us from getting involved in political activity or even expressing political views. To this day, thirty-eight years after the lifting of martial law, to start such a conversation in the family risks serious conflict and irrational outbursts.

Today, the students in Who Is Writing History? and young voters in their twenties are born and raised in a free society with easy access to the world due to the internet and social media. Compared to our generation and older generations, they can eloquently express their political opinions and do not feel isolated from the international community, nor under threat from the Chinese government. It would seem that we live in a democratic society after all, with all the corresponding rights and freedoms. At the same time, neoliberal systems and algorithms have infiltrated all aspects of our lives, creating insular communities in both the virtual and physical realms. The loss of public spaces due to commercialization and societal indifference leaves little common ground for sharing and practicing democratic values. In other words, we are evermore constrained and “imprisoned” in our own autonomous zones, reassured by market values while losing the ability to speak to others. Furthermore, “cancel culture” had the value early on of shaking many existing authorities to the core, but it can easily be converted into a form of violence and a barrier to meaningful communication. Past experience has taught us that the capacity to tolerate dissent and debate starts precisely with listening and learning from others. Only by first recognizing and respecting differences are we able to move towards collective change. The two long-term projects we initiated in collaboration with the National Human Rights Museum and the National Museum of History in Taiwan are part of our many ongoing attempts to foster slow yet necessary processes of civic engagement that lead towards political emancipation.


We would like to share one last story that embodies the dilemma mentioned at the beginning of this text. During our collaboration with the National Human Rights Museum in 2018, we proposed a signage system to identify and elucidate the Sites of Injustice in our cities. The plan was carried out in a decentered and de-monumental manner: we organized discussions with various communities, including residents, teachers, civic groups, and descendants of victims of political violence, and we proposed an inclusive framework for developing the signage. Even though the plan was backed by most of the people involved—including government officials—our proposal was shelved. Then at the end of 2023, the DPP government, faced with the upcoming election and criticized for failing to fulfilled the promise, made by President Tsai during her reelection campaign four years earlier, to promote transitional justice, finally decided to “do something.”

We still believe in the importance of identifying the Sites of Injustice, and the energy of this action will continue to unfold over time. But we also see how, at certain moments, our practices are subservient to the existing political system. They provide the ruling party with symbolic (and expedient) gestures: putting a plaque on a building is much less radical than holding people and political institutions accountable. This rather frustrating experience reaffirmed many of our long-standing concerns. Once again, exactly a decade after the Sunflower Movement, this generation embarks on a new journey through a complex field of traps and snares, both old and new.

Education, Museums
East Asia, Socially Engaged Art

Hide and Seek Audiovisual Art (害喜影音綜藝有限公司) is a collective/company consisting of artists, researchers, and educators founded in 2017 in Taiwan. Through school activities, learning kits, and public art projects, they reflect on issues of transformative justice, identity, and history.


e-flux announcements are emailed press releases for art exhibitions from all over the world.

Agenda delivers news from galleries, art spaces, and publications, while Criticism publishes reviews of exhibitions and books.

Architecture announcements cover current architecture and design projects, symposia, exhibitions, and publications from all over the world.

Film announcements are newsletters about screenings, film festivals, and exhibitions of moving image.

Education announces academic employment opportunities, calls for applications, symposia, publications, exhibitions, and educational programs.

Sign up to receive information about events organized by e-flux at e-flux Screening Room, Bar Laika, or elsewhere.

I have read e-flux’s privacy policy and agree that e-flux may send me announcements to the email address entered above and that my data will be processed for this purpose in accordance with e-flux’s privacy policy*

Thank you for your interest in e-flux. Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.