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August 20, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright August 20, 2009. Used by permission.


Bouncing over ruined roads washed out by Typhoon Morakot (some roadbeds have been transformed into river beds), a group of scholars (including myself) drove to the township of Chia-hsien 甲仙 (Kaohsiung County) on August 18 to attend a press conference marking the formation of the Reconstruction Committee for Siaolin’s Plains Aborigine Culture (小林平埔文化重建委員會). Arriving in Chia-hsien, one is soon struck by the roar of helicopters and generators, as well as the smell of flood debris and betel nut juice, which serve to cover up other odors. Power has been restored, but there is still no running water, which puts a huge strain on the limited number of Port-a-pots available to disaster victims now sheltering in local temples. Relief supplies are relatively plentiful, but distribution remains haphazard, and appeals for needed items are issued on a regular basis.

The press conference was held to initiate planning for the rebuilding of Siaolin Village 小林村 (Xiaolin; Sio-na in Southern Min), once a center of Taiwan’s Plains Aborigine (平埔族) culture. Today, all that remains is a massive tomb of mud containing the corpses of hundreds of victims buried under a five-storey landslide that engulfed the village when two nearby mountainsides collapsed (Recent reports allege that the landslide may have been caused by a faulty water diversion project (越域引水工程), which involved dynamiting mountainsides to build a massive tunnel from two major rivers to a nearby reservoir). Searchers have started to find some remains, including those of a mother and child hugging each other during their final moments on earth. They are also digging up body parts, some surrounded by pools of blood. Local tallies list a total of 491 individualsmissing and presumed dead, but they have yet to be granted to the dignity of being recognized by the state. According to government statistics posted on the Center for Disaster Prevention and Relief (災害防救中心) website on the day of the press conference, 136 people have been listed as dead and 337 missing, with 71 of the dead and all of the missing coming from Kaohsiung County. As for the Siaolin villagers, their status is currently “under investigation” (查證中).