PRINT May 2023


Ching Jan Lee and Shu Lea Cheang, Taiwan: The Generation After Martial Law, 1990, video, color, sound, 58 minutes.

IN THE YEARS following the lifting of Taiwan’s thirty-eight-year-long martial law in 1987, the republic saw a profound transformation in political, social, and cultural life. At the time, crises in Taiwan were multiple: a National Assembly that refused to retire; a trade agreement with the US government that left local farmers desperate; groundwater so toxic it could be lit with a match; and a housing market destabilized by spiraling home costs. State TV, meanwhile, papered over the public’s grievances. 

Taiwan: The Generation After Martial Law, 1990—a fifty-eight-minute program of protest footage compiled by Ching Jan Lee and produced by filmmaker Shu Lea Cheang—provides a corrective to official narratives. First broadcast by Deep Dish TV, the grassroots satellite network launched in 1986 in New York (self-described as “public access, fearless TV”), and featuring entries shot by the Green Team collective, Chih Yu Hung, Chao Chiang Tang, and the United Houseless Association, The Generation After Martial Law chronicles an inventive repertoire of protest, spanning street actions, sleep-ins, even mock funerals commemorating the “death of news.” In one unforgettable scene, activists throw dozens of television sets against the gates of a Taiwan TV station, which was fortified by a line of riot police. (Later, scrolling text describes how, during the 1989 elections, the Green Team set up a low-power pirate TV station to provide alternative coverage of Taiwan’s prime opposition party.)

The Generation After Martial Law is one of five hour-long programs produced throughout Asia by Cheang. Revisited more than thirty years later, the series is a powerful document of the elsewhere sites of the global Cold War, wherein a lattice of new tensions emerge that foreshadow the next century. Shot on consumer-grade camcorders and distributed through ad hoc circuits, these programs are striking evidence of citizens fighting to record—and broadcast—their own history.

Tiffany Sia is an artist, filmmaker, and writer based in New York.