Documenting Place, Understanding History, and Wishing for a Peaceful Future
By Lee Yi-Ni ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
Dec 27, 2022

Home: A Common Ground for People of Different Backgrounds and Viewpoints

“Home” is a story informed by multiple historical viewpoints. Taking the land of Taiwan as common setting, it knits together the lives of American, Japanese, ROC soldiers, and a local Taiwanese woman and her son. For the most part, the stories of these characters are pieced together from historical persons with the addition of material from local folk-tales.

The character of the American pilot is based on Charles V. August, a prisoner of war incarcerated at the Huwei military airfield during World War II. On January 4, 1945, August was shot down as he strafed the airfield with his Grumman F6F Hellcat. His plane was seized by the Japanese and studied to learn more about American military aircraft.

The character of the Taiwanese woman in Japanese clothing is derived from stories about local comfort woman employed by the Japanese soldiers. It is said that the chambers used by the comfort women can still be seen in the remains of the barracks, but it is likely that this is merely local legend.

The character of the ROC airman is based upon research into the lives of the soldiers in charge of equipment maintenance at the Huwei airfield after the Japanese surrender, and the story of an ROC soldier who was forced to camp in a Japanese-built water tower because there was insufficient room in the other buildings.


Final Entry: The Life of a Japanese Pilot Stationed in Taiwan

The character Fuji Takahashi was modeled on the Japanese naval airmen assigned to the Huwei airfield. Many details from the story were drawn from veterans’ memories as recorded in A Squadron of Joy and Pain: Youth at 17, including the feelings of the young pilots towards Taiwan, the local snacks that reminded them of fried rice cakes from Japan, their love of tropical fruits, and the joy they felt upon learning they would be able to eat rice and meat in Taiwan.

In the later stages of World War II, Huwei airfield was used by the Japanese military to train pilots for the war in the Pacific. The primary purpose of the airfield was basic flight training, and many Japanese and Taiwanese recruits had their first experiences of flight while based there. The recollections of these trainees often make note of that first time soaring up into the sky and the excitement of breaking through into the open expanses above the cloud layer. “It’s so wonderful! Is this what Heaven is like?” one of them exclaimed. The experiences of the pilots in the story are an accurate representation of the feelings of the naval airmen of the Huwei airfield.


Class Dismissed: Interactions Between Local Taiwanese and Recently Arrived Mainlanders

The story “Class Dismissed” is concerned with the interactions between local Taiwanese and the recent arrivals from the mainland in the wake of the 1949 ROC retreat to Taiwan, set within the context of the military family housing settlement that was established near the airfield. The crisscrossing pools behind Jianguo First Village were the result of American bombing during World War II. After filling with rainwater, the craters formed deep pools that were used as swimming holes by the children of the village, sometimes leading to incidents of drowning.

The school attended by the children in the story began as the Huwei Air Force Dependents Elementary School, which only accepted the children of those serving in the ROC air force. In 1966 the name was changed to Zheng-Min Elementary School and the school began to accept children of all backgrounds. This led to the situation depicted in the story, in which local children were fined for speaking their native language of Taiwanese, as opposed to the national language of Mandarin. The National Language Movement of the 1960s and the experience of being fined for speaking Taiwanese left deep impressions in the collective memory of the people of the era.


Handkerchief in Hand: Marital Relations Through Rootless Times

After the release of new guidelines for the renovation of outdated military family housing settlements in 1996, many residents of older facilities were forced to move out, and Jianguo First Village in Huwei was no exception. After relocations were carried out between 2004 and 2006, Jianguo First Village ceased to exist as anything but a historical side note. Only after a successful campaign by local preservationists did the village return to use in a new form.

“Handkerchief in Hand” reflects the decades of changes experienced by the residents of Taiwan’s military family housing settlements. The anxieties of the loving couple in the story were commonplace in the midst of the ROC retreat to Taiwan. The technical skills possessed by air force and naval personnel gave them an advantage when securing the resources required to relocate their families during the retreat. Army personnel, on the other hand, often came over to Taiwan alone, leaving their spouses and dependents behind. From the endless waiting and homesickness in the early years in Taiwan, to the disappointments experienced when travel to China was once again permitted, to the final relocation out of the outdated settlements, the story illustrates the struggles of these military families. Like colonies of duckweed, they lived a rootless existence, transplanted from one body of water to another, only to be scooped up again and carried away by the passage of time. Helpless to decide their own fate and bitter from broken promises, the suffering and futility they endured are woven into the history of military settlements all across Taiwan.


Summary: Documenting Place, Understanding History, and Wishing for a Peaceful Future

These four stories adopt various historical and ethnic perspectives on Jianguo First Village, bringing to life a rich array of memories regarding the ethnic tensions and conflicts produced by war. Though some of these groups saw each other as enemies or adversaries, in the end each lived out their lives on this same patch of land.

Viewing the land itself as the common denominator helps to illustrate that each character’s story is but one small piece of history, each with roots in the events of World War II. Moving beyond the conflicting worldviews and ethical debates, we discover each character’s suffering is real, and the resolution of their suffering only comes through mutual understanding.

Four Clear Days in Early Summer not only documents the memory of place, it also expresses a wish: that we can better understand the rich diversity of our history through the lives of these distinct characters. Even more, it is a wish for world peace and the end of all wars.