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An Oral History of the Vietnamese “Refugees” in Taiwan

An Oral History of the Vietnamese “Refugees” in Taiwan
—Shu-Fen Lin/Asio Chi-Hsiung Liu, Institute of Social Research and Cultural Studies, National Chiao Tung University/ Mimeo Films Ltd.

The Vietnamese population in Taiwan consists mainly of four groups: migrant workers, marriage migrants, former refugees (“boat people”), and overseas students. Chronologically speaking, the “refugees” among the four are those who came to Taiwan the earliest, including migrants arriving in Taiwan in the postwar years as “compatriot refugees” (zaibao), as well as the “boat people” that came to Taiwan from the latter half of the 1970s to the 1980s due to the impact of the Vietnam War and its aftermath. However, such a group of refugees can hardly be found in the Vietnamese diaspora studies, a field that has either taken the Vietnamese community settling down in North America or Europe as its main object, or shifted its focus on “return” and “transnational” as its core problematics in recent years. In Taiwan, research on Vietnam, similarly, paid less attention to such a group than those economic and marriage migrants. Focusing on this group of “invisible citizens,” our project is divided into two parts. 

First, it will conduct oral interviews in the Penghu Vietnamese refugee camps, specifically attending to the one in Chukaowan of Hsiyu Township (1977-1979), and another in Chiangmei of Paisha Township (1979-1988), both of which had taken in the Vietnamese boat people in the Taiwan Strait. At this point, only some relics remain at the entrance of the Hsiyu refugee camp, while the Chiangmei one was completely demolished in 2003. These two Penghu refugee camps, during their twelve-year operation, had accommodated more than two thousand boat people from forty-five refugee boats. This history, however, is neither known to the world nor listed in the official United Nations record of refugee rescue. The project, in this sense, touches upon the living experiences of the Vietnamese and Vietnamese Chinese refugees in the postwar history of Taiwan, the Cold War history in East Asia, and the history of transnational migration, experiences that have been forgotten and yet reveal a variegation of differences. The project is to be collaborated with Asio Chi-Hsiung Liu’s experimental film and documentary projects sponsored by the National Culture and Arts Foundation, “Penghu Vietnamese Refugee Camps Trilogy” (including Chin Liu Tao, Place of Exception, and Refugee Boats).  

Based on the aforementioned oral interviews, the second part of the project will explore the political, economic, cultural, and emotional networks and barriers among the Vietnamese refugees (including but not limited to the “boat people” who once lived in the Penghu refugee camps) and economic and marriage migrants coming to post-Martial Law Taiwan after the economic reform (Đổi Mới) initiated in the mid-1980s. The following issues will be addressed: the historical process of transformation of the post/socialism and post/authoritarianism in the post/Cold War era in Vietnam and Taiwan, their interconnections, and the formation of translocal subjectivities.