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In Taiwan, Debate Over History And Censorship As WWII TV Drama Is Canceled

A Taiwanese historical drama about a nurse who runs away to serve the army of occupying Japan during World War II has been forced off the air amid concerns of censorship pressure from mainland China.

Jiachang's Heart,produced by the local Da Ai TV station was scheduled to run for 39 prime-time episodes, but was shut down after the first two aired this month when its "politically sensitive theme touched a raw nerve in both Taiwan and on the mainland," according to The South China Morning Post.

The show was inspired by the story of Lin Chih-hui, now 91, who defied her parents at age 17 to join the Japanese Imperial Army in Hong Kong. It portrays Lin with "Florence Nightingale-like selfless dedication," the Postwrites.

Anti-Japanese sentiment from World War II still runs high throughout the region, stemming from Tokyo's military conquests in Asia and the Imperial Japanese Army's use of sex slaves, known as "comfort women," taken from conquered areas.

Da Ai television airs both in Taiwan and China and when the trailer for Jiachang's Heart hit the airwaves, broadcasters, newspapers and social media in mainland China immediately panned the show.

The Post quotes one user on Tianya Club, described as "one of China's most popular online forums," as calling the show "a Japanese-boot-licking drama" and said the protagonist "kowtowed" to Japanese overlords.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office reportedly "sent officials to the foundation's office in Taiwan to investigate the show soon after the pilot aired," the Taipei Times reports.

In an opinion piece published last week in China's Global Times, titled "Taiwan TV series has a wrong take on history," the author complained that "the TV series [put] a gloss on the [Japanese] aggressors while the fighting Chinese troops were depicted as gaunt and ugly enemies."

The editorial railed against "an ignorance and a lack of respect for the bitter history" that is "especially dangerous in Taiwan given the island's colonial history, rising pro-independence forces and endless revision of history books by the authorities."

However, Da Ai media — a subsidiary of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, a Taiwan-based NGO — denied receiving any complaints from Beijing about the show and that mainland China had no influence on the decision to cancel it.

Da Ai media development manager Ou Hung-yu is quoted in the Taipei Times as saying the show's depiction of the war is contrary to the guideline of "purifying human hearts and encouraging social harmony" and was canceled to "avoid controversy" and out of concern that it might "retraumatize certain viewers."

Taiwanese lawmaker Wang Ding-yu told the Taipei Times that it made no sense for Da Ai to cancel the show.

"There was no way to produce Schindler's List without depicting Nazis, or make an American Civil War drama without mentioning slavery," said Wang, a member of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). "A nation cannot escape history, no matter how strong it is."

He said China's Taiwan Affairs Office wanted permission to come to Taiwan "to investigate the show," according to the newspaper.

"I say our government should deny visas to these officials," Wang said.

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.