Finding compassion for refugees: a review of ‘The Global Exodus’ for Taipei Times

The following review appeared in today’s Taipei Times:

With calls to grant political asylum to Hong Kong dissidents, Taiwan’s refugee law has been in the spotlight recently. Exhibitions, workshops and presentations on the issue have been organized by NGOs and activists. However, absent from the discussion has been an examination of the role of refugeeism in shaping contemporary Taiwan.

A recent exhibition revealed the historical parallels. Among the photographs taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson in China between 1948 and 1949, currently on display at Taipei Fine Arts Museum, images of the mass displacement caused by the civil war feature prominently. From well-to-do legislators to ragged soldiers, all walks of life are represented. While most refugees ultimately remained in China, many fled to Hong Kong, and roughly a million arrived in Taiwan in what Dominic Meng-Hsuan Yang (楊孟軒) describes as “a human tidal wave … a gigantic influx of people.”

Coinciding with the exhibition is the release of Yang’s book, The Great Exodus from China: Trauma, Memory and Identity in Modern Taiwan. This timely monograph underscores the social diversity of the refugees. Aside from military and high-ranking officials who had landed in Taiwan at the end of World War II, the earliest arrivals, Yang explains, were the more affluent and influential types — those who could leverage money and status to secure prime position on planes and boats.

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