Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Friday, 23 July 2010

French Romantic writer Victor Hugo once proclaimed "The death penalty is the essential and lasting symbol of of barbaric behaviour".

From a human evolution standpoint, the way we distinguish between modern civilisation and the barbaric past, is our respect for other humans and life. To kill is an extremely brutal act, regardless of the circumstances, the procedures gone through and by whom it is implemented. There is no way of masking the innate barbarism of killing.

Thus, the more civilised a culture becomes, the more we start to reflect on the death penalty. In the modern world with the International Human Rights Act, the trend is truly moving towards the abolishment of the death penalty. 139 of the world's 197 countries have abolished the death penalty (no executions for 10 or more years), of the remaining 58, less than half of them carried out an execution in 2009. This serves as testament that many countries, after a period of logical analysis have realised that there is a conflict between the values of civilised societies and those under the death penalty system.

For example, many people think that the death penalty is a useful tool for alleviating the pain and anger of the victim's family as well as realising justice. However, if approaching the subject from a victim protection standpoint, then one must realise that punishing the offender with death, may for a short time satisfy the desire for revenge but is ineffective in helping the victim's family live with the loss of their relatives nor does it help look after them in the future. Furthermore the state's responsibility to care for the victims and their families not simply come to an end once the offender has been executed. In other words, the protection of victims and the death penalty system are two completely unrelated issues. Death penalty is also certainly not a key prerequisite to victim protection since in various countries around the world there are organisations of victims families who are explicitly against it and even in Taiwan there is no shortage of cases where the victims families are willing to forgive the murders of their relatives.

A questionable concept of justice

Therefore, what seems like public opinion championing the cause of justice for victims, hence strong support for the death penalty, in fact has complex social and psychological background factors. This was also perceived by Durkheim in his penal theory. To the common people, the message given by the punishment of death isn't one of caring for the victims and their families, nor is it of punishment and teaching a lesson. Neither. It is more a form of excorsising ceremony as a way of recovering what the society's psychology perceives as the broken normal order of things (especially with over exaggerations and demonisation in the media). What shines through this transparent concept is in fact human selfishness and indifference. The majority of the public who praise the death penalty system are only concerned about the disruption to the normal order of their lives. They are not truly concerned for the victims and even less so for the underlying causes of the crime, how to truly deal with the problem or how to avoid similar misfortunes in the future. In other words, this type of justice is actually full of injustice.

The values espoused by modern democracies emphasize that the people should in fact be active participants in the construction of society, rather than indifferent observers. In particular, the state's power is supposed to derive from the whole population. If the people do not fearfully guard against and recall the power of the state to deprive an individual of life; then if the day when state power shakes off the people's reins and becomes the exclusive domain of the dictator, Taiwan's White Terror history could most feasibly return.

Amnesty International has always maintained that the death penalty in itself is full of prejudice, erroneous judgements and abuse, and the instances are uncountable. Furthermore, the public's misconceptions of the death penalty, have rationalised irreparable acts of state violence and this inevitably involves some innocent victims. In conclusion, a democratic society should not permit the death penalty - a cruel and inhumane state violence.

Translated from the Chinese by Nicholas Coulson

Image: Cécile Thimoreau

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He is my wife, he is my mother
By Katherine H. Chou
Inspired from Li Yu’s Silent Opera

This contemporary first production inspired by an ancient text relates to the Chinese Nanfeng Fashion in two different times and places.

What's the Nanfeng Fashion (南風)? It was a custom in fashion from Fujian, the province in South-Eastern China across the strait from Taiwan, where a lot of Taiwanese are originally from. The word 'Nanfeng' (which means wind from south) indicates the homosexual inclination of Fujian's inhabitants. The Fujian province is also known for having allowed homosexual marriages during the Ming dynasty.

In the city of Putian, where a part of the story takes place, Mazu -the Goddess of the Sea- was born. The city became a pilgrimage place for Taiwanese people and believers in Mazu.

So what is this first production telling us?

In a nutshell, it's about the eternal love between Xu Jifang, a young widower, who is a very cultivated landlord recently returned from China, and You Ruilang, a young poor boy blessed with incredible beauty. In 1912 they met each other in Putian during Mazu's celebration, which was exclusively reserved for men. Despite his old friend Chen Dalong's despair, Jifang ruined himself in order to marry the young You, who emasculates himself to prove his love and his devotion to his husband and also that he will never leave him for a woman. Out of jealousy Chen Dalong condemned You to be beaten with sticks but out of love, Jifang will take his place and die asking You to “take care of his young son”.

The second part of the story takes place in 1959, a period during which homosexuality was severely repressed. Ruilang changes his name for Ruinang and migrates to Taiwan. He became a woman and lives with his cousin who travels all year for business. As a mother, Ruinang raises Jifang's son Chengxian, prohibiting him to see other boys to spare him the suffering You knew. Unfortunately the relationship between Chengxian and Chen Nianzu, who is being discovered to be Dalong's nephew, is close to the Nanfeng Fashion for Ruinang's distress. He will be the one to receive the prize of the best mother.

Art Direction

8155cUsing double-scenography, the director shows the two periods “time-space” of the story, with magnificent drapes or interior scenery. Katherine Chu the director and author of the show, imagined a special representation: in the first part, Lee -the artist who interprets Dalong and his nephew- plays “Nanguan”, and we discover with a lot of sensitivity a homosexual love tending to universality, subtly directed – we have to admit the intelligent choice to give You's role to a androgynous woman and Jifang's to a masculine features actor – with love scenes and complicity of a surprising beauty. The aesthetic of this first part is inspired from the traditional and very symbolic gestures, but with a pinch of contemporaneity.

The second part's direction is more realistic, less aesthetic, but nevertheless a suppleness and a beauty rise from the moves of the actors, inherited from the artistic tradition. Lightness is also there thanks to the cousin, a funny interpretation by Wu Wei Wei, contrasting with the “straighter” interpretation of the conscientious mother by Hsu Yen ling.

All the roles are performed to a high degree: Yen ling is remarkable for her interpretation of You - by her walk and also by her voice – and excels at playing the joyful mother. Wei Wei is so amusing in his tomboy role: her joy is communicative. Hsu Hua-chien is excellent as a numb and cold lover and as a son repressing his homosexuality. Lee Yi-Hsiu, who's got a beautiful voice, plays his role admirably. And the others actors are as well.

“He is my wife, he is my mother” will be performed again in Taipei from the 29th to the 31st July 2010 at the Metropolitan Hall (at 7:30 PM except the 31th at 2:30 PM and 7:30 PM). Although the question of homosexuality is more or less well accepted in Taipei nowadays, this story in “two times-two spaces” raises interrogations about China's history, its past, its conflicts, its present, its contradictions, with acuity and intelligence. At the end of the show, which we will not reveal, leaves us with a question which will still be powerful when we are out of the politically correct and the lobbies.

Photo courtesy of the Creative Society and K. Chou

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