The Soldiers


2019 / September

Chang Liang-i /photos courtesy of Tien Yu-hua, Hang Dah-­parng, and Chang ­Liang-i /tr. by Phil Newell

“The Soldiers” is a collection of photographic works by Tien Yu-hua, Hang Dah-­parng, and Chang ­Liang-i, who belonged to different units during their military service, with Tien stationed on the offshore island of ­Matsu, Hang at the Cheng­gong­ling recruit training center, and ­Chang in the Army Aviation and Special Forces Command. The three photographers use the first person to relate young Taiwanese men’s collective memories of military service, their works emphasizing how every person, even when a soldier, is still a flesh-and-blood individual who retains his distinctive­ness. This interpretation is far removed from stock military imagery that emphasizes the collective and minimizes individuality and emotion. At the same time, the works undertake a deconstruction and reconstruction of the image of soldiers.

In the late 1980s, martial law and the ban on new politi­cal parties were lifted in Taiwan, ushering in demo­cracy and freedom in society at large. But the military still remained quite conservative. In the early 1990s, contacts and discussions began between the two sides across the Taiwan Strait, and mainland China and Taiwan set up the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits and the Straits Exchange Foundation, respectively, as channels for communication. In the mid-1990s, during Taiwan’s first direct presidential elections, the Chinese military conducted missile test launches and large-scale military exercises near Taiwan, and there was a period of tense confrontation. These photographs, taken from the early to mid-1990s, are an authentic record of the lives and faces of the youthful Taiwanese soldiers who stood ready to defend their country and loved ones during this period of turbulence in cross-strait relations.

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