Settlers and the Unhomely: The Cinematic Visions of Infrastructure in Eastern Taiwan


Zian Chen and Wu Chi-Yu. Translated by Bridget Noetzel



The eastern coast of Taiwan, nestled amidst majestic mountains, stood as the last bastion that went through the profound transformations wrought by the extractivist practice of modernity. Therefore, the impact of logistics technologies reverberates with heightened intensity, surpassing that experienced in any other part of Taiwan. To date, the master-signifier that most animates populist sentiment in the region is still asking the government for “a safe road home” and an increased budget for construction on the Su’ao-Hualien Highway. This key piece of infrastructure, which is the region’s only connection to the metropolis of northern Taiwan, runs through an ecologically fragile area and passes several mines. Yet, since its expansion in the 1990s, the road has been plagued by periodic landslides, intermittently severing this vital connection.[1] While we cannot easily dismiss the importance of transportation connections for the economic well-being of the residents of eastern Taiwan, to fully understand the historical relationship between transportation infrastructure and Indigenous homelands, we must confront the devastating impact this complicated process has had on the ancestral lands of Indigenous communities within the context of colonial history. From this critical perspective, the impact of a road home on the essence of a homeland, whether it fortifies or dismantles, requires further exploration and discussion.


Delving deeper into the workings of settler colonialism in eastern Taiwan, our exploration will center around a series of films that shed light on the intricate relationship between logistical infrastructure and Indigenous communities. Early Japanese colonial propaganda films such as Southward Expansion to Taiwan (1940) and Sayon’s Bell (1943) were the first to show modern infrastructure in the mountains around Su’ao and into Hualien on the silver screen. Another key roadway in eastern Taiwan is the Central Cross-Island Highway. This highway, constructed with funding from the U.S. military, passed through traditional Truku territory and made its cinematic debut in director Pan Lei’s propaganda film On Mount Hehuan (1958), the first to address the impact of major infrastructure development on Indigenous homelands. Later, director King Hu would choose to set portions of Dragon Gate Inn (1967) and A Touch of Zen (1971) along the Central Cross-Island Highway. The contrasts between these film clips and historical photographs help us to further consider the settler colonialism underpinning this infrastructure. The Central Cross-Island Highway also involved settler veterans sent to develop wilderness areas, supported by the Veterans Affairs Council. Taiwan’s most notable early avant-garde film—Richard Chen’s Liu Pi-Chia (1965)—records this program for retired soldiers, which we will compare with the idealized settler veteran trope seen in On Mount Hehuan. Forty years later, anthropologist Hu Tai-li interviewed that same veteran, Liu Pi-Chia, for her documentary Stone Dream (2005) and considered the relationships between disadvantaged settler veterans and their Indigenous spouses. Finally, we will discuss Song of Orchid Island (1965), another Pan Lei-directed drama which foreshadows the emergence of tourist photography that would later pose challenges to the Tao Indigenous community’s islandic homestead. Once again, this drama provides us with a valuable comparative perspective, enabling us to pair it with Hu Tai-li’s ethnographic documentary Voices of Orchid Island (1993). In the realm of critical discourse surrounding these early films, the spotlight often falls on the characters portrayed, such as how the myth of Sayon built a specific model for Japanese-Indigenous relations, or how Taiwanese filmmakers of Han descent replicated ethnic chauvinism. Indeed, this othering gaze is still ubiquitous in contemporary Taiwanese society, making a critique addressing this racism vitally important.[2] This article furthers this line of inquiry by delving into the underlying logic of racialization intricately woven within the newly developed transportation infrastructure of that era. Notably, the recognition bestowed upon Pan Lei for directing location-based films brings to the forefront the significance of the transportation infrastructure that facilitated these engagements within Indigenous territories, even if the biases are clear. The selected films in our study center on eastern Taiwan, encompassing narratives that depict the appropriation of specific lands and symbolic acts of violence, all unfolding around the subject of modern infrastructure. In the visual tapestry of this region, home and the unhomely are inevitably entwined with the creative destruction of infrastructure. This realization served as the impetus for our research, as we delved into the latest infrastructure endeavors in eastern Taiwan and their cinematic portrayal. Through the lens of these films, we aim to unearth the profound significance underlying development, wilderness clearing, and the tourist gaze.


The Su’ao-Hualien Highway: Recalling a Negative Legacy


Shooting began on Southward Expansion to Taiwan in 1939. The documentary covers the entire island of Taiwan, enumerating the accomplishments of the Government-General of Taiwan, as the Japanese colonial government was formally known. The film brings viewers to locations following an animated map of railways, highways, and shipping routes, while recording the realities of modern urban planning and resource extraction. It is hard to ignore the fact that the majority of the infrastructure used by the production team was adjacent to a natural resource; some modes of transportation, such as a private car driving along the Central Shrine Trail or the bridge through the Taroko Gorge, were not available to the average citizen under colonial rule. In this regard, Southward Expansion to Taiwan can be seen as a film version of a colonial bureaucrat’s inspection tour, a theme that is made clear by the interpretation of the phrase “southward expansion” offered at the end of the film.


While functioning as a work of fiction, Sayon’s Bell (1943), categorized as a national policy film, incorporates numerous scenes that showcase local infrastructure, evoking the documentary style of the colonial inspections depicted in Southward Expansion to Taiwan. Sayon’s Bell is based on the true story of an Atayal girl from the Nan’ao mountains in Yilan, who drowned helping a Japanese police officer transport his luggage. The beginning of the film pans over the Leyoxen village and the suspension bridge construction underway. Beneath its apparent nationalist agenda, this incident also serves as a means to endorse the importance of modern infrastructure that ensures safety, foreshadowing the subsequent discussions surrounding the need for a “safe road home” in the years to come. However, actually visiting that Leyoxen community was not as easy as the propaganda made it out to be. The shoot ran up against logistical difficulties, so the film was actually shot in a Musha community instead. It is worth noting that the Musha, known for their tragic history of racial elimination under Japanese rule, stood as a stark contrast to the idealized image presented in Sayon’s Bell.  Today, when we visit the Old Nan’ao Road where the story was set, we can still see that abandoned bridge. At the 19 km marker on the Old Road, a plaque enlightens visitors about the contrasting nature of Indigenous hunting trails and modern roads. According to the description, the paths forged by Indigenous peoples traversed the mountains in straight lines, leading to dramatic changes in elevation. In contrast, modern roads were often cut along meandering contour lines to accommodate large machines and more logistics capacity.


After World War II, despite the change in political leadership, the intention behind the settler colonial gaze lived on in the need for infrastructure. In the news series produced by the Taiwan Film Production Company in the 1960s, focusing on cities and counties “in progress,” many scenes inspire a sense of déjà vu. The camera sometimes follows the paved road that connects the frontier, or enters large settlements; these shots are interspersed with the occasional Indigenous song or dance scene. On arriving in the Hualien hinterland, the film is shot from almost exactly the same angles as Southward Expansion to Taiwan. The two films coincidentally focus on local transportation routes such as the Su’ao-Hualien Highway and the Taroko Central Cross-Island Highway, then inventory the area’s natural resources and frontier infrastructure. The striking similarities between the two works are so pronounced that, if the rediscovery of Southward Expansion to Taiwan had not occurred until as late as 2003, one might speculate that this news series had drawn inspiration from the earlier film reel.


Spaces commemorating the laborers who built the Su’ao-Hualien Highway show how the settler regime perpetuated its former Japanese colonial legacy. Take, for instance, the Temple of the Trailblazing Martyrs nestled alongside the Su’ao-Hualien trail. Initially built as a tribute to Japanese workers whose lives were claimed by construction mishaps, this monument took on added significance after World War II. As the Kuomintang (KMT) government pressed forward with expanding the Su’ao-Hualien thoroughfare upon existing foundations, it incorporated further layers of remembrance, immortalizing additional workers who had met a tragic end. Thus emerged the Temple of the Trailblazing Martyrs, etched into history as we know it today. Yet, lost within this narrative are the lives of the Indigenous Amis. Based on the oral history given by Tafalong Amis elder Namoh Onor in Talacowa Kamo (2020), the Karenkō Prefecture (now Hualien County) government sent many Amis people to help build the road, but their stories have eerily disappeared behind the Japanese heroic image. Once this collective amnesia became woven into the very fabric of the infrastructure itself, it persisted as a negative legacy that continues to permeate the Temple of the Trailblazing Martyrs, established unwittingly by the subsequent Kuomintang government.



The Central Cross-Island Highway: Layers of Oblivion


In 1958, Taiwan received American aid in developing the Central Cross-Island Highway, leading to significant transformations in the landscape. There were also funds for the propaganda drama On Mount Hehuan (1958), directed by Pan Lei. The film is primarily set in the Slamaw community of Atalyal people, which later evolved into the Lishan veterans’ settlement due to the highway construction. Through an analysis of this film, we will explore the visual remnants of settler colonialism related to the Central Cross-Island Highway.


The central storyline of the film revolves around a love triangle involving a pair of Indigenous sisters and a young engineer who retreated from mainland China together with its settler government. The sisters each have their own opinions regarding the impact of the ongoing highway construction on their community. Through the protagonist’s persuasive efforts, particularly regarding the elder sister, who initially opposed the development, the love story becomes intertwined with the triumph of progress. At the end of the story, the engineer, now married to the elder sister, finds contentment in building their new life together in the mountain settlement. While the narrative has been rightly critiqued for its Han settler biases, few discussions focus on its filmic technique. For one, Pan Lei opens the film with a meta-narrative scene: the male protagonist, acting as a journalist, directly addresses the camera and leads viewers on a journey via helicopter. The next few minutes of the film are filled with aerial shots of the construction of the highway amidst the snow on Mount Hehuan. Later on, he incorporates found footage of veterans working unprotected on a steep cliff and a visit from General Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Soong Mei-ling. Pan Lei expertly incorporates journalistic techniques, hinting at the propagandistic nature of the film. However, Pan’s way of revealing the filmic nature cannot be interpreted as true meta-cinema. While meta-cinema aims to cultivate awareness of the mechanisms of a film’s production, in On Mount Hehuan, Pan incorporates the methods of documentary film, which, if not directly evocative of Sayon’s Bell, lends the didacticism of military propaganda a soft power.


Scholarly investigations into Pan frequently highlight his prowess as a screenwriter, which served as a stepping-stone for his move into directing. However, Pan was better known at the time for anti-communist literature, the artistic quality of which is highly debatable. Prior to his directorial debut, he had only worked on the screenplay for A Miracle of Leprosy (1957), and had no experience in on-location filming. Thus, the only reason he was entrusted with documenting the construction of this American-funded road, then lionized as the highest-elevation highway on the island, stemmed from his involvement in building the Burma Road as part of the Chinese Expeditionary Force in the 1940s. Other commentators also draw connections between On Mount Hehuan and the romance depicted in Pan’s autobiographical novel, Private First Class, involving a Burmese local. These two layers of associations allow us to reinterpret On Mount Hehuan: the romantic plotline in the film represents the settler’s attempt to brainwash Indigenous people into thinking that the transportation infrastructure would contribute to the prosperity of their hometown, rather than destroying it. However, it is highly unlikely for Pan to have provided a logical justification for this developmental perspective to the Indigenous residents of eastern Taiwan, as the portrayal of the Indigenous people in his film lacks authenticity and depth, indicating his limited factual knowledge of their cultures. At best, he could merely reference the strategic significance of the Burma Road in recovering the lost Chinese motherland from Japanese military expansionism.


Despite Pan’s personal stance, the selection of him by the film studio resulted in the overshadowing of any underlying local narrative by the heroic portrayal of the Burma Road. As Pan rapidly gained prominence, he also acquired the freedom to select his own film studio, ultimately joining Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers in the 1960s, where he further honed his on-location filmmaking style. As Pan’s name became known within the Hong Kong scene, Taiwan’s appeal, with its inexpensive labor and abundant natural resources, caught the attention of esteemed directors such as King Hu and Yuan Chiu-feng. Consequently, many filmmakers flocked to Taiwan during the 1960s to shoot movies on location, contributing to the burgeoning trend of outdoor filmmaking on the island.


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Traces of the Truku War along the Central Cross-Island Highway. From left: A still from A Touch of Zen, King Hu (dir.), 1971; A still from Dragon Gate Inn, King Hu (dir.), 1967; Japanese troops marching toward Truku territory in the Liwu River Valley, 1914; A Japanese expedition to Mount Hehuan, 1913; The Liwu River Valley seen from the Central Cross-Island Highway, 2023. 


Of the directors who traveled to Taiwan to film, King Hu was most interested in casting off the restrictions that studio environments imposed on martial arts films. In 1966 and 1970 respectively, he came to Taiwan to shoot the martial arts films Dragon Gate Inn and A Touch of Zen; for Dragon Gate Inn, Hu selected the picturesque Hill of Yu the Great, named after the legendary Chinese king, situated along the Liwu River and the Central Cross-Island Highway. Back then, the Central Cross-Island Highway was a rustic dirt road, devoid of any electrical infrastructure. This premodern ambiance provided the perfect backdrop for the culminating scene in Dragon Gate Inn: the confrontation between heroic royal swordsman Hsiao Shao-zi, played by Shih Chun, and the evil eunuch Cao Shao-chin.


A Touch of Zen centers on the same eunuch-led secret police force in the Ming dynasty. In the captivating twist towards the film’s conclusion, Shih Chun, playing the male lead Gu Sheng-tsai, tracks down the female lead Yang Hui-zhen, who is being held by the eunuchs. The camera follows Gu’s journey along the serene river, which finally ends in what appears to be a traditional Chinese temple perched atop a cascading waterfall. This five-minute scene was shot on the Central Cross-Island Highway that runs through the Liwu River Valley.


Driven by the aspirations of the settler government, eager to reclaim lost Chinese territory from the clutches of communism, the construction of the highway became infused with patriotic myths, manifested in archaic Chinese architecture masquerading as historical landmarks. Noteworthy sites such as the Eternal Spring Shrine, the Hill of Yu the Great, and pavilions named after the revered general Yue Fei and poet Wen Tianxiang, accentuated heroic Chinese nationalist narratives associated with their namesakes.


In A Touch of Zen, the temple that seems to fit perfectly into the landscape is, in reality, the Eternal Spring Shrine. Built in the traditional Chinese style, it commemorates over 100 veterans who died building the Central Cross-Island Highway. However, the function of this traditional Chinese architecture is not to preserve memories but rather to facilitate their erasure. Prior to 1958, the region held no collective memories associated with China. By blending harmoniously with the landscape, the traditional Chinese memorial architecture reimagines the area as an extension of the Central Plains of mainland China, effectively obliterating local memories.


It is within this historical context that King Hu ingeniously situated a crucial scene in A Touch of Zen, leveraging the settler colonial aesthetic to reinforce themes of loyalty, filial piety, chastity, and righteousness. However, very few visitors know that the seemingly uninhabited area surrounding the Eternal Spring Shrine was actually the ancestral home of the Lowcing community of Truku people. After losing the Truku War against colonial troops in the summer of 1914, the old community was forced to relocate to the mouth of Taroko Gorge. Today, several of the communities that were compelled to move are confronted with another imposing piece of vertical infrastructure on their territory: the Asia Cement Corporation Mine.


In this captivating journey, we find ourselves immersed in the interplay between King Hu’s evocative films and the historical parallels that unfold along the Central Cross-Island Highway. One such parallel emerges as we witness the march over the Hill of Yu the Great in Dragon Gate Inn, resonating with a photograph captured during a 1913 Japanese expedition to Mount Hehuan in preparation for the attack on Truku territory the next year. And yet, the reverberations do not end there. As we watch A Touch of Zen, a profound sense of déjà vu envelopes us when the Chinese swordsman traverse the valley, conjuring up another historical image that bears witness to the forces behind an imperial war crime that once trod the same path in the summer of 1914. Many commentators have noted that Dragon Gate Inn, which Hu began shooting in 1965, acted as the genesis of a series of films set in the context of the Ming-era eunuch spy networks that obliquely offer his critiques of Cold War politics. In light of the shared intimacies between different kinds of grassroots struggles, King Hu’s anti-Cold War legacy beckons us to utilize his artistry as a vehicle for unearthing hidden narratives of racial violence concealed beneath the very infrastructure upon which his films unfold. This re-stratification of historical layers may give us a better grasp of this work of colonial logistics infrastructure: the origins of the Central Cross-Island Highway trace back to the Truku War of 1914 and the ambitions of the Japanese colonial government, persisting through the completion of the road in 1935, which stretched westward to Mount Hehuan. The discourse of contemporary decolonization struggles to penetrate this complex tapestry, muffled by an oppressive logic that seeks to obliterate the deep-rooted narratives embedded within its more ironic implications


Kuanghua Village: The Sorrows of the Disadvantaged


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Pictures of the Mglu River. From left: A still from Liu Pi-Chia, Richard Chen (dir.), 1965; A still from the Taiwan’s Cities and Counties in Progress series, 1965-1967; Reclaimed land by the Mglu River, 2023.


When Richard Chen debuted his groundbreaking documentary film Liu Pi-Chia (1965) at the Cardinal Tien Cultural Center, it resonated with many leftist cultural figures, who considered the film to be Taiwan’s first work of cinema verité. They perceived the film as presenting an individual life within “the dual frame of the Cold War and the Chinese Civil War.”[3] The screening marked a significant moment in Taiwanese cinema history.


The film, set on the banks of Hualien’s Mglu River, opens with soldiers from the development team filling a riverbed. They manually dig a huge rock out of the riverbed to create usable agricultural land. One member of the development team, Liu Pi-Chia, was press-ganged into the KMT army in Hunan Province and sent to fight in the Chinese Civil War. Like the veterans in Pan Lei’s On Mount Hehuan, after Liu Pi-Chia arrived in Taiwan, he was compelled to help build infrastructure in exchange for demobilization. From one riverbed to another, the task of development is a timeless cycle underpinned by the seeming endlessness of Cold War animosity.


Almost half a century after his debut in Richard Chen’s film, the Hunan-born settler veteran attracted another attempt at reportage. This time, the esteemed settler ethnographer Hu Tai-li encountered Liu Pi-Chia during her fieldwork near the Mglu River. In the resulting documentary film Stone Dream (2005), Liu Pi-Chia’s story takes a new turn as he retires to a neighboring village, offering him an escape from endless toil. Unlike Liu Pi-Chia, which focused on an individual set against the larger arc of history, Hu’s documentary delves into Liu’s immediate community. Through on-screen interviews and observations, the film reveals a different perspective on inter-ethnic relationships than Pan Lei’s inaccurate portrayal. Kuanghua Village, for instance, had a high rate of Han-Indigenous intermarriage, and many Indigenous women shared their experiences of remarrying due to the difficulties they faced. Marriage became a means of mutual support. Stone Dream presents the perspective of Liu’s adopted son, friends, and family, highlighting the intersectionality between a proletarian settler and members of ethnic minorities.


Following the intersectionality and settler-indigenous collaboration from Hu’s interpretation of Liu Pi-Chia, it is worth mentioning another Richard Chen film: Through the Years (1966). Blending fiction and documentary, it delves into the history of the transcontinental railroad in the American West, shedding light on the experiences of Chinese migrant laborers and the struggles of Native Americans against encroaching white settlers. From both sides of the Pacific Ocean, Through the Years explores similar themes of infrastructure, exploitation, and historical racial dynamics. An intriguing dialogue emerges between Hu Tai-Li’s portrayal of the Liu family and Richard Chen’s Liu Pi-Chia and Through the Years, whereby Chinese migrant laborers encounter issues of settler colonialism in distinct contexts.


Orchid Island: Reflecting on the Settler Gaze


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Front image: A still from the front of a car driving on the Sacred Trees Trail along the Chushui River in Nantou, 2021. Back images: Pan Lei (dir.), a scene from Song of Orchid Island (1965) shot from a boat and scenes from Typhoon (1962) shot on a train.


As we have mentioned, Pan Lei brought shooting on location in nature to Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers studio, inspiring other filmmakers to shoot in Taiwan. In fact, Pan caught the attention of the Shaw Brothers for his film Typhoon (1962), set in Taiwan’s Arithan Forest. In a key scene from that film, an Arithan Forest locomotive is used to propel the camera forward, capturing the unfolding landscape and immersing the audience in a sensory voyage. This technique echoes Pan Lei’s earlier endeavors, such as filming the Central Cross-Island Highway from a military helicopter, and the later use of other transportation means to move the camera in other outdoor shoots. This method—using extractive infrastructure to drive the film’s plot—also appeared in several other Chinese-language films from this period, such as The Black Forest (1964), Mist Over Dream Lake (1968), and Girl Friend (1974). In these stories, the male and female protagonists are often situated within natural resources and logistics infrastructure, which drives the emotional depth of the narrative. In Song of Orchid Island (1965), Pan Lei, having joined the Shaw Brothers studio, assembled a cast of Hong Kong stars for the production. The film revolves around Dr. Ho’s journey to Orchid Island in search of his father, who has dedicated himself to medical research. Amidst this backdrop, Dr. Ho embarks on a settler-Indigenous love affair intertwined with the tourist gaze. Pan, who often uses transportation to create cinematic spectacles, employs a boat as a cinematic device in this film. We see a settler photographer and an assistant setting up a camera on the boat to Orchid Island, and they make quite the production of arranging the shot. Meanwhile, Indigenous islanders peer through binoculars, establishing an intriguing exchange of gazes between the boat-mounted camera and the telephoto lens on the shore.


Perhaps it is no coincidence that Pan chose Orchid Island on which to epitomize these scenes of the settler gaze. Hu Tai-li’s documentary Voices of Orchid Island, shot in 1993, tells us that Orchid Island is the Indigenous Taiwanese living space that has been the most disturbed by tourism. In the opening scene of Voices of Orchid Island, Hu Tai-li presents a seaside discussion featuring Tao anti-nuclear activists Syaman Rapongan and Shaman Fengayan, as well as Bunun author and physician Topas Tamapima, who practices medicine on Orchid Island, and Hu herself. They consider what model of settler-Indigenous collaboration is acceptable and how Han settlers can correct their gaze toward Indigenous people when they have cameras in their hands.


Next, the film addresses the rise of tour groups to the island and presents local people describing the issues with tourist photography. Discussing subjects as diverse as beliefs around evil spirits, medical care, and nuclear waste on Orchid Island, environmental activists reveal that Orchid Island has always been an externality for Taiwan. The most interesting debate of all of those raised in Voices of Orchid Island is: How can a settler director correct a racialized gaze, while also expressing her own opinion? Realist photographer Kuan Hsiao-jung centers his attention on the discussion at the beginning of the film, where Hu Tai-li acknowledges herself as a settler filmmaker and reveals a sense of inherent guilt in her gaze. Kuan further made the point that, while the filmmaker tends to conceal her own opinions in front of the camera, the film nevertheless disguised its settler viewpoint as “the voices from Orchid Island.” However, others believed that there is no way for the documentary medium to be objective, and since there is no way to conceal a personal opinion in such a medium, Hu Tai-li invariably expresses her views in the editing process.[4]


Before shooting Voices of Orchid Island, Hu Tai-li had witnessed the cameras of her settler colleagues from the Academia Sinica being angrily taken from them on Orchid Island,[5] so any sensible settler with a movie camera could never shake off their guilt over their settler gaze. In fact, if we consider the negative legacy of the settler gaze from films like Song of Orchid Island back in the ‘60s, there is no way for Hu Tai-li to recklessly project her settler gaze in a subjective medium like film. Beyond the two sides to the issue articulated in Voices of Orchid Island, we can envision a third kind of response: that the anxiety of the settler gaze cannot be entirely eliminated. A filmmaker can, at most, see film as a space for negotiating among different points of view, which would accommodate anxiety around reassessments of ethnic representation. This may fit with many reflections on settler guilt, as the settlers cannot leave behind that aspect of their identity. If settlers want to escape an inter-generational debt, they actually fall into another form of settler colonial violence exerted through a process of self-indigenization.[6]


Conclusion: Roads and the Limits of Visibility


In the realm of transitional justice in Taiwan, a captivating phenomenon has emerged in recent years: tours of negative cultural sites. These immersive experiences seek to dismantle the veils of an obscured history and bring to light the untold stories of an unequal past. While discussions of political democratization have dominated, the haunting violence of Taiwanese settler colonialism has languished in the shadows. Drawing inspiration from cinematic works, we embark on a journey to unravel the tapestry of colonial encounters within the intricate spatial fabric of eastern Taiwan’s infrastructure. Here, the visual landscape is interwoven with transportation networks, shaping perceptions of home and the unhomely. Unlike previous analyses fixated on representational politics, we venture into uncharted territory by exploring the symbiotic relationship between cinematic narrative and the infrastructure that underpins it.


In our analysis of cinematic portrayals of logistical infrastructure, we have observed a notable absence of decolonial discourse that engages with this vital infrastructure, despite its undeniable colonial origins. This highlights a distinct disparity between its historical roots and its seemingly benign contemporary façade. It is through the examination of these films within this contextual tapestry that we gain insights into its nuanced cinematic politics, addressing the intricate interplay of instrumental rationality driven by logistical infrastructure and the erasure technique of settler colonialism. It is through this lens of Formosan settler logics that settler cinemas have aided in delineating the limits of liberal visibility.


[1] For more on the highly political nature of the Su’ao-Hualien Highway’s development, see Liu Wei-Chun, “Political Dimension of Tourism Studies: A Critical Introduction to the Politics of Tourism,” Review of Global Politics, no. 38, (2012): 65-84. For more on the history of the Su’ao-Hualien Highway, see Wang Chih-hsiang, “A History of People on the Road: The Last Lives and the Present of Suhua Highway,” Zhishan no. 20 (2016): 175-209. For more on the environmental controversies sparked by the Su’ao-Hualien Highway, see Tsai Chung-yueh, “The Su’ao-Hualien Highway is Cut Off Again, Now What?” The Reporter, May 31, 2017.


[2] Documentary director Mayaw Biho noted that, without anti-discrimination systems, this kind of film would continue to be made. Mayaw Biho in “Genduet Episode 32: Indigenous Characters in Film? Returning to an Ethnic Group’s Right to Cultural Interpretation,” YouTube, TITV Genduet, November 5, 2021, For more archival research on this issue, see Leo T. S. Ching, Becoming Japanese: Colonial Taiwan and the Politics of Identity Formation (Berkeley: University of California, 2001), 263; Ni Yen-yuan, “Hong Kong’s Gaze and Taiwanese Aborigines: Representations of Aborigines in 1960s Hong Kong Cinema,” Journal of Communication Research and Practice 10, no. 2 (2020): 115-139. See also Atayal film critic Yawi Nokex’s blog “Casually Read My Casual Writing” (Wo Suibian Xie Jiu Suibian Kan).


[3] Chuang Wan-hua, “From Pioneer Liu Pi-Chia to Stone Dream,” United Daily News, February 25, 2005.


[4] Chiu Kuei-fen, “Documentary/Spectacle/Cultural Heterogeneity: Voices of Orchid Island and Corners,” Chung Wai Literary Quarterly 32, no. 1 (April 2004): 123-140.


[5] Chiu, “Documentary/Spectacle/Cultural Heterogeneity,” 123-140.


[6] See Darryl Sterk, “A Tale of Two Settler Nationalisms: The Formosan Aborigines and Settler Nationalism in Han Chinese Fiction and Film,” The Proceedings of the 2007 UCSB International Conference on Taiwan Studies, ed. Robert L. Backus (Santa Barbara: University of California, 2008), 85-105.


Zian Chen works as contributing editor for Ocula. As a writer and researcher, he collaborates with artists to develop alternative frameworks for thinking and speculation. Together with artist Ho Rui An, they conducted a research residency in Duke Kunshan University (2023). He is one of the founding members of Pailang Museum of Settler Selves (2022–), an editor-in-residence for Compost in ICA NYU Shanghai (2021–2022), and one of the editors for Made in Public (2022) and Arrow Factory: The Last Five Years (2020). He has also curated Production Fever 2008: Study Materials in Nida Art Colony, Nida (2022). In 2020–21, he was one of the founding editors for Heichi Magazine, an online journal for contemporary art in Chinese and English.


Wu Chi-Yu is a multimedia artist whose works include photography, film, and video installation. He delves into the lost and unestablished links among species, environment, and the technology that constructs human civilization, exploring the complex historical geography of Asia and the interdependence of various species through multiple narratives. His works have been exhibited at Times Museum, Guangzhou (2021); MoCA, Taipei (2020); 2018 Shanghai Biennale; 2016 Taipei Biennial. He was resident artist at Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten (2014-2015).