What is it like living under an oppressive regime? How does an individual survive it? Should one rebel or compromise? What will be the consequences of resisting the power, and what will be the price of obeying it?
Taiwan had been under the rule by Martial Law for 38 years (1949-1987), during this period of time, all publications were under strict censorship, public gatherings must apply for permits in advance, opinions against the ruler were silenced, demands for democracy were repressed. Worst of all, dissidents were persecuted.
The 13 stories in this book are about the lives of ordinary people without freedom of expression or complete political rights, and what decisions they might make while faced with a dilemma. Additionally, these stories investigate the role of literary works in a society with all kinds of political taboos.
C. J. Anderson-Wu is a Taiwanese writer, in 2017 she published “Impossible to Swallow—A Collection of Short Stories About The White Terror in Taiwan”. Based on true characters and real incidents, her fictional works look into the political oppression in Taiwanese society during the period of Martial Law (1949-1987), and the traumas resulting from the state’s brutal violation of human rights.
C.J. Anderson-Wu's book The Surveillance opens up the White Terror period of Taiwan's history through a series of short stories that explore the themes of censorship, imprisonment and repression within the daily life of the people suffering through a surveillance obsessed police state that makes every citizen a victim while saving the worst abuses for the vulnerable indigenous population of the island that met accusations of communist ties with incredulity while suffering horrific injustices as a consequence of their lack of political empowerment.
This work is not a simple narrative of good and evil by any means though for the author brings out the infectious viral-like nature of political repression. Those who hold the whip hand are made well aware of the fact that they may be the next to taste the pain of torture, imprisonment or summary execution. Having status within an oppressive apparatus of state sponsored terror is useless as the quota for executions takes paramount importance over any sort of justice. Bodies need to be piled up to keep the citizens fixated on the perversions of their neighbors.
Within such a cruel society the outlook of the individuals suffering the daily cruelties of life on the run from the law or in prison or agonizing through the imprisonment of loved ones incarcerated simply to fill the quotas of the police state creates a network of victimization which begins to slowly engulf the entire society into a state of terrorized depression and despair. Escape is impossible, trust is nonexistent.
From a prison warden who would rather die than allow his prisoners to operate on him to indigenous people running through the hills trying to escape persecution at the hands of the military police the omnipresent theme of paranoia and fear cuts through the narratives in this collection of short stories illustrating an image of a shattered society destroyed from within by a corrupt government feeding on the blood of its citizens like a vampire. It is only through understanding the emptiness and tragedy of the martial law period and the White Terror that Taiwan's democratic aspirations can be properly understood and this work provides a valuable context for this understanding.
-- Gustav F. Bliss (Writer & Critic)
The story in story approach is not an uncommon strategy for fiction writers, and it is repeatedly employed in C.J. Anderson-Wu’s ambitious collection of short stories The Surveillance.
Some of the stories in this collection are fictional, like the banned book in “Marketing”, and the stolen story in the “Stolen Life, Stolen Story”.
Because this collection is very much about censorship, using banned books to delineate how it was can help readers today better understand that the operation of censorship went beyond restricting people’s freedom of expression, it was integral to systematic repression. Additionally, with so many stories in stories, the author meant to investigate the role of literature in resistance, especially in totalitarian societies. It is the past of Taiwan, but it still is the present of many societies today. This book stimulates us to think about the possibilities of resisting injustice, an action not only belonging to history, but even more necessary today.
-- Filipmann G. Pearson (Author)