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1949 the Big Retreat

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The question we selected is from lecture 6, "My Life Story": History, Autobiography and Memory --- Design a museum exhibit recounting the history of a 'collective' (a social group, based on age, class, gender, or some other social grouping) and critically assess this representation of the past.

We designed a virtual exhibition called "The Retreat in 1949" in the form of a website (http://silviahill.tumblr.com). The first part of this report is the script of this exhibition. Then in the second part, we compare collective memory and history and evaluate representing the past by collective memory.

Part one: The Design of Exhibition-The Retreat in 1949

1. Background information:

The year 1949 is a significant turning point of the history of China and twentieth century as the Chinese Civil War ended this year. In the description of historians, this war lasted for 3 years and then came to an end: Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was the winner and the Kuomintang (KMT) was the loser. The loser then retreated to Taiwan with around 1,500,000 mainland soldiers, who were also the broadly identified "losers". As always, victory finds a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan. So in the history of the winner party, the loser's part is omitted. War ended, the history of that period ends as well.

So for most Chinese, they have no idea what happened to those retreaters. The history of Taiwan between 1949 and 1987 (the year the blockade between Taiwan and Mainland China was lifted) is blank pages for them.

As a result, those veterans are in an embarrassing situation. On one hand, they were identified as "enemy" or "loser" in the history of Mainland China, which is still considered as motherland by most of veterans. On the other hand, they are so-called "Waishengren" (mainlander) by Taiwan locals. As they have no home and no relatives in Taiwan, and lived separately in "Juancun" (villages for military dependents), their after-war lives are even more miserable.

2. Objective of this exhibition:

2.1 Show respect to veterans

The fate of those veterans is the tragedy of war: no one is winner or loser; everyone is the victim. History recording is far from object because it is a rearrangement or reconstruction of the past, constrained by the political and cultural environment in which historians live. If we go beyond ideology and political consideration, those veterans deserve to be memorized because they have contributed to this country as well as the construction of Taiwan. Those veterans' memory is an efficient way to fill in the gap in history recording. And this is exactly the focus of this exhibition-The Retreat in 1949, Veteran's Memory Exhibition.



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