A letter from Emily and Jonathan Seitz in Taiwan
In the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan (PCT), people often greet each other with the word “peace.” It’s the default greeting on the seminary campus, more common than “hello” or “good morning.” I like the way it is used for the Sharing of the Peace also in Sunday worship. (In the States, we often seem to be rushing to get out “May the Peace of Christ be with you,” but in Taiwan people just say “peace” ping-an). Today is a national holiday in Taiwan, 228 Peace Memorial Day. Schools and most businesses are closed, and churches and other groups often host lectures or talks. Like Martin Luther King Day in the United States, it’s a day to remember hard-fought but peaceably acquired civil and human rights and also to remember the suffering of an earlier generation.
Taiwan has been occupied twice in the modern era, first by the Japanese in 1895 and then by Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist government in 1945. If you’ve heard the phrases “Free China,” Chinese Taipei or the Republic of China, you’ve experienced the ambiguous status Taiwan received on occupation. Chiang’s government, while strongly backed by the United States, was totalitarian in nature. “228” is named after an atrocity on February 28, 1947, where perhaps 10 to 30 thousand people died in a conflict that began with a street vendor but led to protest and then military suppression. Chiang himself ruled Taiwan until 1975. It was only in 1987 that martial law was lifted under Lee Teng-Hui’s administration. Significantly, Lee is a Presbyterian lay person and received an honorary doctorate from Taiwan Seminary.
Presbyterians experienced the nearly 40 years of martial law, and the episodic periods of state violence, in a variety of ways. Taiwanese were forbidden from speaking their mother tongue in school. At one point, Taiwanese Bibles were even banned. The media was tightly controlled, foreign travel was limited and a fictional history was taught (many in the older generation had to memorize the names of Chinese provinces that haven’t existed in decades). Resistance was punished. Several times in churches I’ve met people who were jailed during this period or who had a father or uncle taken away, never to return. Many of those who left Taiwan could not return, and they sought to escape to the United States, Canada or Japan.
The church responded in a variety of ways. The “Statement on our National Fate by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan” (1971) and other documents can be found on the PCT website. The Church in 1986 published its own confession of faith, which highlighted a concern for Taiwanese culture and rights. This year there is also a letter which explains the PCT’s response to 228. These resources give an idea of how the PCT, in recent memory, has tried to understand its identity.
At the seminary we often have a 228 lecture around this time of year, and our seminary’s historical archives have a long-term display on 228 which even includes some manga (comics) portrayals of 228. Classes on Taiwanese church history, language and religions also treat 228 and its legacy.
A challenge for Christians is how to understand the past. Our holy book is full of flawed human beings. Our word for holocaust (“burnt offering”) comes from the Hebrew Scriptures, and we live in one of the most violent periods in world history. In grad school I remember being shocked when I learned that perhaps 190 million people died in episodes of mass violence during the “short 20th century” which stretched from World War I through the fall of Communism.
Perhaps the reason I like the way Taiwanese Christians greet each other with the word “peace” is because it also says something about our knowledge of human nature and our hope in a loving God. We live under the shadow of violence and suffering, and we remember the power of evil, even as we work for a more just world. We respond to this world with God’s resounding call for peace. Peace!
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 153
Emily, I think you had a excellent observation and understanding of Taiwanese people. Thank for your mission in Taiwan. Solos
As a parting prayer from my role as PW missions moderator, I wanted to wish the Seitz family "PEACE", "WELCOME" to our sponsorship with First Presbyterian Church in High Point, NC, and "THANK_YOU" for your dedication to His service!