The Electronic Cigarette: I have a New Toy

**Comment: Today in 2016, the e-cig is now known as “Vapor” or “Vaporizer”. Within a very short amount of time the Vaping community/industry has grown exponentially. Studies have shown that e-cig’s or vapes are not as harmless as distributors claim. The process of heating up vape juice produces carcinogens, although at lesser amounts compared to tobacco.**

[February 20, 2015]

My earliest, distinct memory of my existence, whatever that means, is this: my dad was making me chase him, and he had something I wanted but could not get. Perhaps he had a volleyball in his hands. I found out later that after playing volleyball with his colleagues or classmates, he decided to film me with a video camera. He was walking backwards, and his child, two or three years old, was exasperated. No matter how much I wailed and cried for attention, he just kept walking backwards. I remember the grass beneath my feet. It was a nice day, the sky was clear. People were wearing shorts. Not sure which city, but I was in Taiwan.

The next memory was of me on a plane. There were coloring books that kept me very busy. I only remember my mom’s presence, but somehow after we landed, my grandma on my dad’s side was there. There was a house, with big spiraling stairs. There was a book about a woman and a tiger in the house and I got terribly spooked out by the illustration. All of a sudden, a baby arrived in the house who became my brother. My mom asked me about what name to call him. Later I found out that little Vicky had gone to preschool in that city, but I had no memory from that. All of this took place in Atlanta, Georgia. I was three or four. Our plan to stay in the US did not work out, I’m not sure why. We moved back to Taiwan a couple months after my brother was born.

Growing up in Tainan County, the rural neighbor of Tainan City, was somewhat idyllic.  In Taiwan, there is a North-South-East divide. While the majority of Northern residents support the KMT, the majority of the South are DPP. Growing up in south Taiwan, I grew accustomed to a lifestyle that made it difficult for me to transition to Chicago years later. Everything came intuitively to me: how to cross streets, talk to cashiers, zig-zag through traffic on my aunt’s moped, find all the outdoor basketball courts nearby, scope out potentially gay people. I like biking through the fields, whether rice, guava, pineapple, bamboo, or some unidentified-strange-green-little-thing sprouting out from the ground. I like running at the elementary school, when the semester hasn’t started. After experiencing Chicago, I have grown to love some sun scorching on my skin during those runs.

Tainan is a historical city. A Dutch and Spanish colony in the 1600’s, Taiwan was named “Formosa” by Portuguese sailors who bypassed the island in 1544. Until the 16th century, Taiwan was inhabited by people known as Taiwanese aborigines today. Research has suggested that their ancestors have been on the island about 8000 years before the Dutch and Spanish arrived. (Shepherd) In 1624, the Dutch East India Company established a trading stronghold called “Fort Zeelandia” in an area now known as Anping in Tainan City. (Oosterhoff) Han Chinese laborers mostly from Fujian province were imported by the Company for tasks such as gold and sulfur mining. Conflict arose between the Aboriginal tribes, Europeans, and Chinese. The current name of Fort Zeelandia is Anping Fort. I have been to the historical site several times; I live only a thirty minute car ride away from it. Tainan is my hometown, but not where I was born.

Unlike my brother, “I was born in San Francisco, but grew up in Taiwan”. I’ve used this phrase countless times when people ask. Tension between China and Taiwan in the 90’s led to my grandparents’ (on my dad’s side) decision that my brother and I become US citizens. My mom would fly out of Taiwan when she is seven months pregnant, meet a distant relative, give birth at a hospital, and land a US passport for the babies. Everything went as planned, and in fact so smoothly that they did it twice, in two different cities. When I asked her why, she said that it was easier to travel as a “tourist” before 9/11, and that she was so skinny that she would just put big jacket on and walk right through security with a another essence pulsing in her belly.

What happened during the 90’s was a result of series of historical events. After several different rulers, (Spanish, Dutch, Ming Dynasty, French, Qing Dynasty), Taiwan was annexed as a province by Qing dynasty government in 1885, only to be ceded in full sovereignty to Japan after Qing Dynasty was defeated in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). (Shepherd) Taiwanese (ethnically Chinese and Aborigines) were classified as second and third class citizens by the new government. Opposition to Japanese colonial rule was common; guerrilla fighting occurred regularly until 1905, and about 14,000 Taiwanese died in these uprisings. After a decade of suppression, the Japanese authorities then launched several violent attacks against aboriginal communities who have since then retreated to the mountainous regions and East coast of Taiwan. (Tierney)

When I was younger, my grandpa would tell me stories such as the one about him being fluent in Japanese and interesting observations he made as a young child during Japanese rule. In 1935, the Japanese started an assimilation project in Taiwan. People were taught to see themselves as Japanese, while Taiwanese languages, art, literature, religion and other cultural related facets were outlawed. During World War II, thousands of Taiwanese served in the Japanese military. Industrial centers controlled by the Japanese such as Kaoshiung City, a forty-minute car ride from Tainan, were heavily bombed by Allied forces, including the US.  (Tierney) During wartime, 2000 Taiwanese women became sexual slaves for Japanese troops. Another story of my grandpa’s was the one about a wall, not far from where he now lives. Naked women would get shoved into walls with openings that allowed soldiers to walk by on the other side and touch their breasts. When my grandmother heard him telling me that story, she yelled at him for talking nonsense to a kid.

After World War II, most Japanese were repatriated to Japan. The government of Republic of China (ROC) escaped to Taiwan, defeated by the Chinese Communists in the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949). ROC then installed itself as government of the island, claimed to be the capital of China and vowed to reclaim mainland.  Upheaval and unrest was common, as Taiwan (known as ROC internationally) went through events such as the 228 incident which led to a period of Martial Law, losing its UN seat to the PRC (1972), Beijing declaring its “Taiwan policy” from “armed liberation” to “peaceful unification” while refusing to renounce possible use of force against Taiwan when necessary (1978), and losing US diplomatic recognition and military alliance to Beijing (1979). (Taiwan Timeline)

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, population who viewed themselves as “Taiwanese” rose and a movement for eventual independence began. (Ng) In 1996, the first direct presidential election took place, and Lee Teng-hui became Taiwan’s first elected president. Before the election, the PRC launched missiles into the Taiwan Strait as warnings against independence. It was around this period of time when my grandparents sent my mom overseas to give birth to me. I was born on August 8th, 1990, around 12pm PST. It made sense to my grandparents then, since they could afford it. They are still the decision makers in the family.

My grandparents on my dad’s side are the most insistent, hard-headed, bossy, and outspoken people I have ever met. My grandpa came from an impoverished farmer family and worked his way up to become a doctor. He married my grandmother, a politician’s daughter whose family became broke after a failed campaign and what she ate growing up was “rice and peas”.  She would eventually become the first woman from her district to go to college. The two are well-known in a small rural town called Hengchun in Pingtung City at the southernmost tip of Taiwan where they opened a clinic. He has won multiple city and national awards for his “excellent and generous practice”. She has been active in various local women’s groups and social clubs. I remember going to one of her dance practices when I was young. The two are always together, and they hold power in local politics. He, at age 80 now, still contributes regularly in the national newspaper with critiques about the government. He is still the city’s official coroner. She, in her late 70’s, regulates politics and decisions (almost tyrannically, but softer these days) within the family. When my mother wanted to paint the inside of our house yellow, my grandmother insisted on white.

My grandparents are interesting characters in my life. I have purposely distanced myself from them since middle school, for reasons that were not very clear to me back then. In Radicals on the Road, the author describes moments of tension in between members of the Anti-Imperialist Delegation to Socialist Asia led by Cleaver and Scheer. Asian American members were perceived as outsiders while others experienced unbalanced gender dynamics among the group. Later, some members of the delegation decided to come forth with criticism of Cleaver, while others did not. Although my grandfather was not a leader of social movements or delegations, his voice matters the most in the family. He has won numerous awards for his “dedication”, “commitment”, “literature”, and “activism” while my grandmother has always cooked, washed clothes, drove him around, and managed finances. As a child, I observed the countless times when they yelled and belittled my mother, who has no power to respond. They also fought with each other, verbally and physically. I never liked them for those things. However, I have long given up on the desire to analyze their relationship, nor the unequal public and private attention paid to their accomplishments. My cynicism probably will never come out to the light. He will be remembered as a great doctor, husband, father, and grandfather.

Fast forwarding to August 2008, I landed in Chicago after my eighteenth birthday. Although it wasn’t my first time in the US, I hadn’t yet experienced being in the Midwest nor lived on my own. Without familiarity and intuition to guide me, I had to un-learn then re-learn. Examples include learning how stop signs work, how to talk to cashiers at Jewel, how to navigate through social interactions in which individuality reigns. Homesickness is real; I miss the heat and humidity every day. Even when it’s summer here in Chicago, the air is dry and it doesn’t smell like the ocean.

I had never experienced being perceived “Asian” before, and it wasn’t long after I landed that someone told me to “go get some tea because you’re Asian” and that I “speak great English”. Growing up, I had always thought myself as “Taiwanese” like most people around me. Especially in Taiwan’s political context, calling oneself “Taiwanese” has value and meaning attached to it. That identity became irrelevant as I found out that most people don’t know what Taiwan is; people asked me to cook Thai food while others asked me if there’s running water in China. Every return to the US from Taiwan is painful; not only is it hard to leave home once again, but to get asked “How was Thailand” or “How was China” makes me feel invisible. In activist circles, being “Asian” doesn’t get you points- people think you’re communities are rich, racist, and unaware of political dynamics within cities you live in. Here, I become “Asian” with no background, history, nationality, or root.

In Fall of 2010, I came out. But I always, always knew. In kindergarten I remember walking on the family’s couch in the living room, pretending to “walk down the aisle” with more than one women. We walk hand-in-hand, while I stare down at my perfect tuxedo. If I counted right, I was in the closet for about twelve years (since I had consciousness for what being “gay” means). At Wheaton College, the nation’s most LGBTQ unfriendly campus, I started to date women. Everything felt so “explicit” and “wrong”, which made it more “fun” and “racy”. I got called into the Dean’s office several times for reports of homosexuality, alcohol, cigarettes, premarital sex, and chapel-skipping. I lost on-campus housing privilege because during a particular situation I was forced to disclose my sexual orientation to the Dean. I agreed to go to counseling for it in exchange for the continuation of my education at Wheaton.

I had my first encounter with activism at Wheaton College, where I was student liaison for OneWheaton, an LGBTQ alumni group of Wheaton College. I negotiated with the school’s Dean everyday, urging her for the creation of a new LGBTQ student support group on campus. I cried every day in her office. Eventually my voice went through, and a group was created. However, as my emotional stability was on the decline, I quietly withdrew from Wheaton College halfway through my senior year. I wanted to continue to show up at the support group, but the Dean told me no. “Sorry, it is only for current students.”

My first experience with activism really shaped my outlook on activism in general. It has since been a challenge to be “passionate” about any type of work and/or school. Wheaton College has took away so much of my dignity. I left Wheaton with desolation and despair. I was down at the very bottom of an endless pit. I wrote this poem called Dirt during that period of time.

I’ve come far

Gone tough, rough

strong like earth’s

solid ground

but dirt

under my nails

dirt, white and gray

for what it’s worth-

smears my face

in negligence and pain

suffering, until a new gain

tomorrow morning

when the sun rises


February 16, 2012

Thankfully, the internet was a good resource where I posted my poems online and found more people to date. I eventually started hanging out with new friends in Chicago, and two of the people I dated recommended that I transfer to UIC.

In Exiled Memory: History, Identity, and Remembering in Southeast Asia and Southeast Asian Diaspora, Um describes the “panethnic identity” that binds Southeast Asians together through histories, memories, ideas of belonging, and resistance. The author discusses power that is inherent in “history” and contradictions that exist in memories. For diasporas, “while nostalgia..may be rooted in the inability to let go of an idealized past, it is also a longing that is nurtured by the alienation of the present.” (Um 836)

Although I have come to accept the weather and its mysterious patterns here in Chicago, from time to time I crave the intensity of the sun in Taiwan, cloudless skies, and sweat like waterfall dripping from head to toe. Often I slip into moments where I feel like I’m watching everything and everyone go by me, but I’m not included in the scene. When that happens I feel like I’m watching a movie. I’m in the space, but I don’t belong. I don’t try to work towards belonging, but also experience the hurt that comes with not belonging. Frequently I get physical pain from the stress of figuring out who and what I am- migraines and backaches that last for days.

I am not a survivor of war- I cannot relate to the kind of nostalgia experienced by Southeast Asian diaspora. For the past seven years I have been engaging in a different nostalgic experience, which often leads to feelings of displacement wherever I’m at. Similar to Um’s description of the “diaspora”, I have experienced turbulence and confusion from Tainan to Wheaton College, from Chicago to Taiwan. Now when I do get to go “home” to Tainan, I experience isolation that does not occur regularly in Chicago. When I used to smoke cigarettes, I insert all of my unsaid feelings and emotions into those temporary but meaningful puffs; I had established some kind of relationship with my cigarettes. When I am alone I feel like I communicate with them, as if talking to spirits who are able to fit my hopes, dreams, desolation, longings, pain, joy all into wispy smoke that floats towards the sky.

Recently I have made some progress in my emotional and physical stability. Nowadays, I am used to being called a “Sir” wherever I go in Chicago. I stopped using the women’s bathroom because one time someone warned me that I was in the wrong restroom. I date women, and I look like a man. I use the word man because, for reasons that I’m not sure of, I pass as a man in most public spaces. A short one, but a man nonetheless. I am afforded male privilege when I am walking down the street; people leave me alone and don’t harass me. At the same time, being gendered as a man has led to confrontations with officials and businesses when I present my ID. With a name like “Victoria” and “Vicky” which does not “match” my “look”, I have learned how to argue my way through while asking for a school transcript, getting a visa, going through TSA at the airport, or buying a drink. I utilize my acting and persuasion skills at airports. From experience, when I speak in a higher pitch voice, smile, look the officers right in their eyes, explain that I play soccer and the coach requires all members on the team to cut their hair short, and thank them profusely, I get to go through Immigration ultimately.

A milestone in my life was when I quit tobacco in during Spring of 2014. I switched to electronic cigarette which still gives me asthma but theoretically less carcinogen. When that switch occurred, I also lost that ritual that felt saving at different moments. I don’t regret the switch, but I miss the spirit.

Although I will not go back to cigarettes, I hope to trace my steps back to spaces where I have been deeply hurt: Chicago, Wheaton College, Morrison Academy, my grandparents, the house I grew up in. I want to make peace with them, then move-on towards something new.

I hope to live a productive life, whatever productive means. Even if it is sitting at a park and smoking my electronic cigarette. I hope that I can embrace endings. I hope to remember that I always start new, too.



Ng, Franklin. The Taiwanese Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Oosterhoff, J.L. “Zeelandia, a Dutch Colonial City on Formosa (1624-1662).” Colonial Cities: Essays on Urbanism in a Colonial Context, 1985, 51-62.

Shepherd, John Robert. Statecraft and Political Economy on the Taiwan Frontier, 1600-1800. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993.

“Taiwan Timeline.” BBC.

Tierney, Robert Thomas. Tropics of Savagery the Culture of Japanese Empire in Comparative Frame. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

Um, Khatharya. “Exiled Memory: History, Identity, and Remembering in Southeast Asia and Southeast Asian Diaspora.” 2012, 831-848

Wu, Judy Tzu. Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam Era. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013.


Divas: Pop and Politics in Taiwan

[December 1st, 2014]

I remember my dad showing me his music collection, from jazz to Chinese pop to Taiwanese classics. My mom always had favorite Taiwanese divas. My aunt is usually up with the latest trend in Mando-pop and fill me in on all the recent changes in pop culture that I missed while in Chicago. Although I don’t spend time with my grandparents as much anymore, I remember that they are fluent in Japanese. When we would karaoke, they always picked Enke (a Japanese style musical ballad). My brother used to love rock, punk rock, and metal when he was younger. Now he listens to techno and is currently “raving” it up in Sacramento, CA. I started with music from the radio, and absorbed everything around me like a sponge. Growing up, I inclined towards Mando-pop, European rock bands, UK R&B, US punk rock. In Chicago, I started revisiting older classics such as Taiwanese (dialect) pop, Taiwanese aboriginal music, Chinese classics, karaoke must-sings, Cantonese pop as well as “newer” genres such as Trip-hop, experimental, electronica, Chicago House-inspired music, and Soul. I have always been curious at music tastes. Do they reflect someone’s background, where they grew up, in what era, or the types of people and resources they were able to come in contact with?

In histories, we have seen charismatic individuals lead revolution and create change. In this essay, I want to explore relationships between politics and popular culture in Taiwan. Local artists and intellectuals resisted in forms of arts and culture through political events such as Japanese occupation, “Martial Law” and “228”. Although the music industry usually represents a consolidation of business and capitalism, I argue that in Taiwan, the music industry actually reflects political climates and modes of survival through times of repressive regimes and intolerant governments.


I propose that pop and political “divas” of Taiwan provide alternative histories on mainstream accounts of revolution and resistance against dominant regimes. These stories are usually dominated by male figures. I choose to highlight Soong May-ling, Annette Lu, and artists such as Feng Fei-fei and Jody Chiang to provide alternative entries into Taiwan’s history. The puzzle I want to solve is how we can draw inspiration from discussing pop and political icons together. Through this essay, I hope to explore ways of imagining a different conversation on discussing the history of Taiwan and the pivotal roles that female icons play.

Taiwan was ceded in full sovereignty to Japan after Qing Dynasty was defeated in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). Taiwanese (those who are ethnically Chinese and Aboriginal) were classified as second and third class citizens by the new government. Opposition to Japanese colonial rule was common; guerrilla fighting occurred regularly until 1905, and about 14,000 Taiwanese died in these uprisings. After World War II, most Japanese were repatriated to Japan. The government of Republic of China (R.O.C.) escaped to Taiwan, defeated by the Chinese Communists in the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949). (Tierney 2010)

Throughout Japanese occupation, Chinese Civil War, and the reign of Republic of China, there were three prominent sisters who became tremendously influential in Chinese and international politics during this time. The Soong Sisters were daughters of Charlie Soong, a migrant worker who worked as a clerk for his uncle’s tea shop. He later converted to Christianity and was able to utilize the connection to gain admission to college and receive a degree in theology in 1885. He returned to China as a missionary and business man. His three daughters, later known as the “Soong sisters” eventually set sail for the US and studied at Wesleyan College in Georgia. The youngest, Mei-Ling, transferred and graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. They are the first Chinese women to have gone to US colleges. (Brannon 1997)


The Republic of China (R.O.C.), preceded by the Qing Dynasty, occupied modern-day areas of China, Mongolia, and Taiwan between 1912-1949 until its defeat by the People’s Republic of China led by Mao Zedong. The Republic’s first president was Sun Yat Sen who took office in 191, and instability that followed was unified by military general Chiang Kai Shek in 1928 as third president. (Taiwan Timeline)

The eldest sister, Soong Ai-ling was married to H.H. Kung, the finance minister of China under Chiang Kai-Shek’s one party rule. The second sister, Soong Ching-ling, was married to Sun Yat-sen. Ching-ling later left the Nationalists in support of Mao’s Communist Party and is celebrated in mainland China as the “mother of Modern China”. In 1968 to 1972 she was the join President of the People’s Republic of China and Honrary President in 1981. The youngest Soong sister became wife of Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Kuomintang (KMT) and president of the R.O.C. who ruled mainland China for twenty-two years and Taiwan for thirty years. Although their husbands, Sun Yat Sen, Chiang Kai Shek, and H.H.Kung are recognized as forefathers of the Republic of China, the sisters had acquired tremendous power and influence in politics during early 20th century. (Brannon 1997)


I want to highlight Soong May-ling’s role during the reign of R.O.C. She was a member of the Legislative Yuan from 1930-32, Secretary-General of the Chinese Aeronautical Affairs Commission from 1936 to 1938, and member of the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang in 1945. She was also Chiang Kai-Shek’s English translator, secretary and advisor. (Faison 2003)

Wife of Chiang Kai-Shek, Soong May-ling was described by Western media as a  “dazzling and imperious politician” (Faison 2003) .She was known as the official spokesperson and “ambassador of China” in relationship to the West during post-imperial China and World War II. She appeared on the cover of TIME in 1931 and 1937 as “Man and Wife of the Year”, and later in 1943 for the third time. May-ling captured America’s’ imagination with her passion, diplomacy, and charm while touring the US in 1943 to lobby support for the Nationalists in the United States and brought in billions of dollars in aid for the R.O.C.  May-ling was well-aware of her image in the US; she utilized Americans’ orientalist gaze on her and fulfilled their imperial hopes of a modern, educated, anti-communist, and pro-US China. She presented herself as a devout Christian, and spoke English with a tint of Southern accent she acquired from going to school in Georgia. (Fiason 2003)

On February 18, 1943, Soon May-ling’s speech at the White House drew 30,000 people that year, as she condemned Japanese imperialism and called for unification in China for Chinese war efforts. Although this event could also be interpreted as an effort made by the US in attempt to create alliance against Japan during World War II, the speech allowed Soong May-ling to become first Chinese and the second woman to address both houses of the US congress.


During Japanese occupation, arts and culture that were perceived as promoting local culture were “banned”. The music industry responded by combining Japanese “Enke” music with popular folk songs to create a new genre of Taiwanese pop. (Tsai 2002) Although WWII formally ended Japanese occupation, Taiwan’s music industry was met again with restrictions on what was deemed as “anti-government” by the KMT. Chiang Kai Shek declared Martial Law in 1949 and imposed a series of regulations that prohibited “unlawful” assembly, procession, petition, strike, newspapers, magazines, book publications, and rebellions. (Taiwan Timeline) The new Republic discouraged the use of Taiwanese languages and thousands of songs and records were banned, and television stations were allowed to show only two Taiwanese songs per day until the lifting of Martial law in 1987. Modern-day critics described how the government came up with extremely “creative” justifications for bans; a song that contained the lyrics “red flower” was deemed communist, while “dark night” symbolized underground resistance that needed to be suppressed. During 1955-1970, he KMT implemented a four-year economic plan that resulted in populations leaving the countryside in search of work in the cities. Popular songs reflected the exodus of young people from rural areas; lyrics became focused on themes surrounding leaving home for work, being homesick, and missing mothers.


According to Annette Lu, an activist turned politician and vice president, “The military police, special agents and secrete informers were used to monitor meetings, tap telephones, inspect mail and carry out surveillance”. (Lu 2014) Resistance against a suffocating political climate came in the form arts and music, a trend that started since the Japanese occupation era. Taiwan’s history and various governments brought to prominence several singers whose songs remain popular and karaoke regulars until this day. The history of Taiwanese music is usually divided into three periods: pre-war (1932-39), post-war (1946-52), and Martial Law (50’s to 80’s). (Tsai 2002) During martial law, people became nostalgic of the Japanese era and expressed themselves through writing, arts, and music. My grandpa always told me how he prefered the Japanese over the KMT, although the Japanese had committed atrocities against peoples of Taiwan. During this “nostalgic” period of time, local makeshift studios were created with tents for Taiwanese artists to showcase their music in the Taiwanese language or Japanese Enke which were banned during Martial Law. Chi Lu-Hsia (紀露霞) also known as “Island Queen” had published records during the pre-war era, but rose to prominence during Martial Law when she would lead chorales in Taiwanese language at makeshift studios and sing along-side farmers, older folks, and people escaping repressive city scenes to join in chorus by mountains and rivers in the countryside.

Political uprisings during the Martial Law period included the “Kaohsiung Incident”, where activists Annette Lu and Kiku Chen rose to prominence as political icons. Activists gathered on December 10, 1979 to hold a Human Rights Day Celebration at an indoor stadium in the city of Kaohsiung. During that time, Taiwan was still under Martial Law which forbids political dissent and congregation. Before the demonstrators arrived, police and the military were already positioned and proceeded to arrest activists in leadership positions. (Taiwan timeline) “The Kaohsiung Eight”, eight of the most prominent leaders, were tried in military court and sentenced to terms that ranged from 12 years to life. Kiku Chen 陳菊 and Annette Lu 呂秀蓮 were the only women arrested in the uprising. The Incident was significant because it united Taiwanese locals with overseas Taiwanese communities and inspired people to take political actions. The work that grew out of this movement formed the foundation for today’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the only opposition party to KMT in Taiwan. (Lu 2014)


Kiku Chen later became the mayor of Kaohsiung City in 2006, while Annette Lu rose to vice-presidency in 2000. In 1970, Lu had already become a well-known feminist in Taiwan. She founded a feminist printing press, established a coffee shop for conversations on women’s empowerment, and created a hotline for domestic violence victims. During Martial Law, secret police continued to infiltrate her organizations. In an article from Taipei Times, Lu writes, “Most astonishingly, no one would have dreamed that 20 years after the military trial following the Kaohsiung Incident on Dec. 10, 1979, a defense lawyer, Chen Shui-bian, and a defendant, me, would be elected in March 2000 as the president and vice president at the crowning moment of Taiwan’s struggle for democracy.” However, Lu faced many challenges as the first female vice president, which she describes as “a culture shock for society”. She was called a “lunatic” and “the scum of the nation”. During her vice presidency, she had traveled to Latin America and Africa to create alliance and friendship with leaders. She also states that in Taiwan, “women’s liberation went hand-in-hand with the political liberation from autocracy to democracy”. (Lu 2014)


After the Martial Law was lifted, the music industry began to rise.  In the late 80’s and early 90’s, population who viewed themselves as “Taiwanese” rose and a movement for eventual independence began. (Ng 1998) In 1996, the first direct presidential election took place, and Lee Teng-hui became Taiwan’s first elected president.  With the rise of the “Taiwanese national identity” came popular hakkien songs. Jody Chiang 江蕙, Chang Hsiu Ching 張秀卿, Stella Chang 張清芳. Some of the most prominent female singers in the decade that followed included Feng Fei-fei 鳳飛飛, Teresa Teng 鄧麗君, and Chen Ying Git 陳盈潔. It was no coincidence that the lifting of Martial Law ushered the music industry into decades of unprecedented success. Taiwanese music, Taiwanese pop, and Aboriginal music started playing on television and radio stations. Although Mandopop continue to dominate the market, these artists were able to reclaim a tradition that was lost during previous political climates. Some prominent male singers during this time included Jung Hung (known for “One Umbrella” 一枝小雨傘)  and Chen Lei (“Happy”  歡喜就好), who are two of the many popular singers who began to produce “happy “ and “spirited” songs that contrasted the “dark” and “tired” songs that came out during Martial Law. (Tsai 2002)

Prominent female singers during this time included Feng Fei-fei, Jody Chiang, and Teresa Teng. These are some of my parents’ favorite singers. I chose to highlight these three artists because of their prominence in Taiwanese (dialect) songs. I have always known about them even though I was not born during their time. They are still widely talked about by mainstream media today, and I hear their songs everywhere. These female “divas” have made a lasting impression in Taiwanese pop culture, and their fame symbolize more than just a successful music industry. It also represents a new era in Taiwan’s cultural expression. With the lifting of the Martial Law, these female icons were able to rise and expand the scope of Taiwanese music to more than just Japanese and Mandarin renditions of art. Feng Fei-Fei is known for her brilliant outfits and was known as the “Queen of Hats” because of her signature headwears. Jody Chiang became known as the “Queen of Taiwanese Music” as she brought her trademark Taiwanese ballads and folk songs to unprecedented levels of artistry. Chang Hsiu Ching, who is from a city not far from my grandparents, rose to prominence especially in the 90’s for her style, humble backgrounds, and songs that resonated with local people and their daily lives. One of her most famous songs is  “Chhia-chām” or “Train Station 車站”

Since the early 20th century, influence of female pop icons and female political figures have reached a wide audience and resulted in response from the government, local people, international communities and economies. I believe that in modern Taiwan, the far reaching effects of pop that actually mirrors political climate and rhetoric of local regimes and speaks to a globalized and international audience through the Internet.


Grace Lee Boggs discusses ideas surrounding leadership in We Are the Leaders We’ve Been Looking For. Boggs highlights the impact of grassroot organizing and ways of participating in “bottom-up change”. She used examples such as the the first People of Color Environmental Summit and the Allied Media Conference to provide insight on leaderships in movements. I want to draw parallels between Boggs’ insight on leadership and pop icons in Taiwan. In the context of Taiwan, pop music is one of the most influential medium through which message and politics travel through. I argue that although listeners may not be aware, they are interacting in “bottom-up change” as they become participants and consumers in a cultural change that only came after the lifting of Martial Law. Although they are not actively affecting change, I believe there is significance in the power of consumers in Taiwan in this era. I am not undermining the detrimental effect of capitalism and consumer culture, but would like to highlight the significance of having Taiwanese songs available on the market as well as the tension that arise through western pop music which can be interpreted as imperialist upon local cultural production.

Ronak Kapadia discusses the unique role of sound that provide “relational maps” to its audience (Kapadia 232). He also discusses the idea of “romantic evocation”, while drawing parallels between popular music and “international nationalism” in Sonic Contagions: Bir Flu, Bandung, and the Queer Cartographies of MIA. I believe that Taiwanese pop is doing something similar. For Taiwanese diasporic communities abroad, music becomes one of the most pivotal mediums through which nostalgia is nursed and processed through. Although not necessarily queer in sexuality, divas and female pop icons provide an alternative account for the history of Taiwan and the now booming music industry.


Taiwanese “divas” were born out of political necessity; female political activists who challenged dominant regimes with their own bodies and lives as well as female pop stars that provide a different taste for the music of local people. Through highlighting two seemingly unrelated groups of people, pop stars and political activists, I hope to bring forth a different story of power, revolution, resistance. Soong Ai-Ling influenced the politics of Kuomingtang (KMT), the ruling regime in mainland China and later Taiwan, for sixty years. She was also the international spokesperson for the Republic during her most active years. Kiku-Chen and Annette Lu two of the most prominent activists arrested during the “Kaohsiung Incident”, which was a response to KMT’s “White Terror” which resulted in 140,000 political prisoners and 4000 executions for perceived opposition to the government. (Taiwan Timeline) With the lifting of the Martial Law in 1987, the music industry also boomed. Fung Fei-fei and Jody Chiang are two out of the many divas beloved by the Taiwanese people, including my parents, in the late 80’s and 90’s.

The Music industry, and political figures reflect local and contextual political climates. Although these figures have tremendous sphere of influence and are linked with changes in histories, they are not highlighted in mainstream movements, accounts of history, or stories of resistance. I wanted to highlight these different figures throughout Taiwanese history to discuss how we may draw inspiration from icons whose ideologies may not match with our own. However, I am not trying to encourage people to buy in to political propaganda or manipulative business strategies in which any music industry employ, but rather to understand nuances between feeling the influence, understanding implications, knowing history, and gaining inspiration from different icons. I hope that this essay provides a small gateway for people, particularly youth and queer people, who fall outside mainstream “Taiwanese” identities to be inspired with a mainstream icon/idea but also become aware of their particular role/standing in this globalized world.



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