Friday, March 2, 2012

Invited Seminar: The Apotheosis of Wu Feng

Dr. Magnus FISKEJÖ
Associate Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, Cornell University

"The Apotheosis of Wu Feng"
24 February 2012

Magnus Fiskesjo’s talk, The Apotheosis of Wu Feng analysed the story of Wu Feng. The story, which is still passed down by people of Han Chinese descent in Taiwan to this day, is that Wu Feng was noted for his efforts to stop the practice of head hunting among the Tsou people. This effort cumulated in his heroic death in his old age as he sacrificed himself when he rode to his death, as the final kill of the local warriors, who then repented and abandoned the practice. Fiskesjo noted that this was the portrayal in the museum, which was built by Taiwanese settlers of Han Chinese descent and was never visited by the local Tsou people.

Fiskesjo unpacked the layers of interpretation of this story from the perspective of different groups in Taiwan. From the perspective of Taiwanese Aborigines, Wu Feng is a treacherous trader who cheated them out of profits and justifiably died as a result. From the perspective of Taiwanese of Fujianese descent, Wu Feng is seen as someone who can teach important lessons about the superiority of Chinese morality and about self sacrifice in his efforts to stop the Tsou people’s practice of head hunting. From the perspective of the Japanese colonisers of Taiwan, the story of Wu Feng served a purpose of propaganda for their expansionist policies in Asia, supporting an evolutionary view of cultures with Japan now serving as the civilizing force. This myth was readily adopted by the KMT party since it supported Chinese dominance. Fiskesjo tied these layers of interpretation to broader macro level political factors such a colonialism and political repression by the Japanese and KMT.

It was not until the 1988, with the lifting of martial law and the beginning of democratisation in Taiwan, that there was a freer discussion and eventual revelation about the truth behind the story of Wu Feng. Prior to that there had not been much freedom of speech and the adoption of the story by the KMT made it even more difficult to question its veracity. The final blow for the credibility of the story of Wu Feng, Fiskesjo pointed out, was evidence that it had served and been promoted by the Japanese colonists. These factors contributed to its erasure from school texts.

Fiskesjo showed that the story of Wu Feng and the controversy surrounding it hinges on the issue of indigenous relations in Taiwan. Fiskesjo pointed out, significantly, that head hunting was a relatively recent practice by indigenous people. Fiskejo argued that head cutting was used as a device to portray the Tsou people as savages in the story of Wu Feng. In modern day Ahlishan there is a tourist industry built upon Wu Feng. Fiskejo points out that none of the tourism enterprises such as stalls and guest houses are owned by the local Tsou aborigines. Fiskejo uses this case to illustrate the issues of indigenous relations surrounding the story of Wu Feng through this displacement of Tsou from their land.

Fiskejo painted a portrait of the plight of indigenous peoples like the Tsou in Taiwan through the multiple interpretations of the story of Wu Feng and the larger macro level factors of political economy, which led to its spread and eventual erasure from school texts. He noted that the story is still widely known by those over forty years of age, and though some Taiwanese who sympathise with the indigenous people have disavowed the story of Wu Feng, others continue to pass it down as though there is no controversy.

M.Phil Candidate

1 comment:

  1. Pretty interesting. Thank you for this article. There is nice headhunting company that I strongly recommend to all