Documentary-making, Democratization, and Yeeva’s New Idol

So, I think we can all agree that Taiwan was amazing (sorry, Nicky).  But as wonderful as the sightseeing, food, people and shopping were, the highlight of my entire trip was meeting up with Chung Shefong and getting to film and interview her with Julie and Dan.

A lot of people wonder how exactly we came to know each other.  And literally, I came to know Shefong through a random email.  She had come across the website that I had created for AIDCI (the ex-internee organization that I became a part of) and the ex-internee oral history blog, The Deoli Diaries,that I began writing this past summer.  For those who don’t remember, my father was interned in a concentration camp as a result of the 1962 Sino-Indian border conflict; like many other members of India’s Chinese community, he and his family were wrongly accused of being Communist sympathizers, even though they had fled China to escape communism.

Shefong contacted me in an email, asking for permission to use some photos and information from some blog posts in her upcoming documentary on the Sino-Indian border conflict and the consequent mass internment and treatment of members of India’s Chinese community.  A little wary of her intentions, I wanted to meet her face to face, especially knowing that we would happen to be visiting Taipei this semester.

Meeting Shefong has definitely climbed its way to the top of my most memorable moments list so far.  While it was great getting to just talk to someone who completely understands the Chinese-Indian community that I know and love, it was especially amazing to see a prime example of the difference between China and Taiwan’s sociopolitical culture.  I agreed with Shefong when she mentioned that two major distinguishing characteristics about Taiwan’s political culture are media and the availability of social space to express specific concerns and issues.  This point was reinforced as she continued to explain how she began the making of her documentary.

I still find myself surprised at how Shefong began making her documentary on the Sino-Indian border conflict and the internment of India’s Chinese community.  She did not have family or friends who suffered in the camp.  She is not a Chinese-Indian.  She is not part of the Hakka community.  She is not an anthropologist.  She is not an academic.  Considering that this film is her first visual production, she is not even a filmmaker.  Rather, she is a professor and music producer.  So there is basically no extrinsic motivation for Shefong to be doing what she is doing with her time.  What is her motivation?

Fascination.  It’s as simple as that.  That and the fact that there is sociopolitical space available for her fascinations, concerns, and perceptions were enough to produce a documentary.  During a visit to India with her friend, she was taken to the Chinese-Indian community, and she became fascinated with such an isolated community within India.  When she found out about the history of the Chinese-Indian community, she began to interview people.  My jaw dropped when she mentioned that she managed to interview seventy people—which is a staggering number of people in light of how reluctant most Chinese-Indians are to talk about their painful history in India.  She took her interest and ran with it when she asked Taiwan’s Hakka public TV station to fund the making of a documentary on the Sino-Indian border conflict and Deoli Internment Camp.

I understand that the majority of Taiwanese people (or any people, for that matter) are probably not as politically and socially active as Shefong.  But seeing how adamant she was about completing this intrinsically motivated documentary was refreshing—and almost unbelievable.  Like most American students, I grew up with thinking that any functioning democracy requires a level of civic engagement among citizens.  Perhaps I don’t know a broad range of people, but I rarely meet people like Shefong who are willing to invest so much time and energy into what others would consider an obscure, somewhat irrelevant, topic.  I think her involvement speaks to the successful model of democratization in Taiwan.