Monday, January 23, 2017

Formosa Translated: Rhetorical Ecologies and the Transcoding of Formosa Betrayed

This paper was presented in abstentia at the 20th anniversary conference of the North American Taiwan Studies Association, Madison, WI, USA, June 20, 2014. I decided to post a lightly edited version of the oral script and the images here for feedback. Because this was presented at a Taiwan Studies conference, and not at a rhetoric conference, I felt I had to give an introduction to some of the ways that rhetoricians have discussed the concept of "the rhetorical situation." Comments welcome!

Formosa Translated: Rhetorical Ecologies and the Transcoding of Formosa Betrayed

I want to start out by saying a few things about the concept of rhetorical ecologies as it has been developed by Jenny Edbauer, before using it to talk about George Kerr's 1965 book, Formosa Betrayed.

To talk about rhetorical ecologies, I need to start out by talking about rhetorical situations, because Edbauer’s article adds to the body of work in rhetorical studies about rhetorical situations. So to start out, in 1968, Lloyd Bitzer published an article entitled “The Rhetorical Situation” in which he argued that rhetoric is situational, by which he meant that a speaker, or rhetor, in creating a speech or writing a text, is responding to--is actually dependent upon--an outside, objectively visible situation or exigence. So as Bitzer defines it, an exigence is “an imperfection marked by urgency; it is a defect, an obstacle, something waiting to be done, a thing which is other than it should be” (6). In the case of a rhetorical situation, an exigence is an imperfection that calls for a rhetorical response--a response in discourse. Now he says that people might not necessarily recognize an exigence, or that the audience might not be convinced by the rhetor that the exigence is something that needs to be addressed or that the rhetor’s approach to addressing the exigence is the correct one. In those cases, Bitzer would say that the rhetor didn’t deliver a fitting response, or that the rhetor didn’t locate the appropriate rhetorical audience, or that the rhetorical situation had “decayed”--had passed its prime--or some combination of these factors.

If we think about George H. Kerr’s book Formosa Betrayed in terms of the rhetorical situation, there are a number of interesting points that could be made. One is the fact that although the book’s main focus is on the February 28 Incident of 1947, Formosa Betrayed itself wasn’t published until almost 20 years later. As Kerr tells it in several letters, including some to people at Houghton Mifflin, he had started working on a book about 2-28 almost immediately upon his return to the United States in 1947. He wanted to get the book out as soon as possible; as he puts it, he “advocated intervention before Chiang Kai-shek should move to Formosa and entrench himself.” Because of this, when the potential publishers at the time sent the manuscript to the State Department, the government objected to the book and its publication was basically killed. So the original exigence seems to have been the takeover of Taiwan by the KMT and the imminent retreat of Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan. However, Kerr’s rhetorical response was delivered to the wrong audience (interestingly, though, this was not of his own doing), and the message was killed. As Kerr puts it in response to an author questionnaire, “By 1950 it was too late; McCarthy was rising, and by the time I had retrieved my MS (not without difficulty) it was not possible to get a hearing.” In Bitzer’s words, the rhetorical situation had “decayed” because by 1950 Chiang was already settled in Taiwan, and the McCarthy era made it impossible for Kerr to get an audience.

Kerr argued in 1964 that the issue of Taiwan was “still one capable of rousing tremendous controversy” even after so many years, and “if there is a succession crisis at Taipei or a noisy debate in the UN, we may be bringing something on the market at just the right moment.” The question for rhetoricians at this point is whether we’re still looking at a situation that is controlling the rhetor’s response or at something else.

Richard Vatz, in a 1973 response to Lloyd Bitzer, argued that Bitzer had everything backwards. Rhetoric is not situational, Vatz argued, but rather “situations are rhetorical.” The rhetoric, or the rhetor, controls what counts as a situation through the choosing of “salient” facts or events. According to Vatz’s view, the rhetorical situation of Formosa Betrayed can be seen as one that Kerr, as rhetor, was creating, rather than an objective reality independent of Kerr’s response to it. Kerr is put in the driver’s seat according to this theory. While Kerr himself would probably subscribe to Bitzer’s theory of the rhetorical situation, judging from his frequent invocation of timing in regards to publishing his book, a Vatzian view of the rhetorical situation is also arguably valid when we think about how Kerr makes his argument to the publishers that this book can “rous[e] tremendous controversy,” suggesting that his book was not simply a response to an objective, outside exigence.

Over the years, there have been other contributions to the discussion of rhetorical situations, but for the sake of time I’m going to skip ahead now to Jenny Edbauer’s 2005 article on rhetorical ecologies, in which she argues that rhetoric operates in a wider context than that of the single situation. In her view, “Rhetorical situations involve the amalgamation and mixture of many different events and happenings that are not properly segmented into audience, text, or rhetorician” (20). Therefore,
an ecological augmentation adopts a view toward the processes and events that extend beyond the limited boundaries of elements. One potential value of such a shifted focus is the way we view counter-rhetorics, issues of cooptation, and strategies of rhetorical production and circulation. Moreover, we can begin to recognize the way rhetorics are held together trans-situationally, as well as the effects of trans-situationality on rhetorical circulation. (20)
An ecological view of rhetoric can take us beyond arguments about whether an exigence called forth Kerr’s rhetorical response or Kerr created the exigence through rhetoric; it allows us to see Formosa Betrayed as part of a process of production and circulation rather than as one speaker’s rhetorical act, addressing one audience in one situation. Here I want to point out a few examples and implications of this perspective.

Around the time that Kerr’s book came out in early 1966, a pro-KMT slide presentation by Margaret Baker, entitled “Portrait of a Free China,” sparked a “battle of the pens” between pro-independence and pro-KMT students from Taiwan in the pages of the Kansas State Collegian student newspaper. Kansas State University, as described by Michael Chen ((陳希寬), was a hotbed of Taiwan independence activity, although participants had to be careful lest their identities be known to pro-KMT elements (in Zhang and Zeng). Reaction to Baker’s presentation was swift, and the debate brought in many speakers, such as American students and scholars (like Douglas Mendel), pro-KMT students (whose names were printed) and pro-independence students (who asked to remain anonymous). On the nineteenth and twentieth anniversaries of 228, Taiwanese students at KSU posted half-page and full-page ads commemorating the massacre.

Ad placed in Monday, February 28, 1966 issue of the Kansas State Collegian, on the nineteenth anniversary of 2-28.
Image courtesy of Morse Department of Special Collections, Kansas State University Libraries.

While the first ad quotes briefly from Formosa Betrayed, it is the second ad that I want to focus on first, because of how its image echoes the image on the dust jacket of Kerr’s book.

Full-page ad placed in Tuesday, February 28, 1967 issue of the Kansas State Collegian, on the twentieth anniversary of 2-28. Image courtesy of Morse Department of Special Collections, Kansas State University Libraries.
Kerr had not been particularly pleased with that dust jacket, complaining that it gave the book “a cheap and tawdry look” and that “serious readers in search of information concerning our Asian position will be put off by a garish or tawdry exterior.”

Cover of Formosa Betrayed.
However, the image of the dagger from the dust jacket became the symbol that the Taiwanese KSU alumni latched onto to illustrate their 228 anniversary advertisement. The image served for them as a dramatic symbol of the ruthlessness with which the Nationalist Army attacked and killed the “more than 10,000 unarmed and innocent Formosan Brethren who stood up against Chinese tyranny.” The anonymous KSU alumni “vernacularized” Kerr’s text through their adaptation of the dust jacket. Kerr evidently had been hoping to present a more-or-less objective “report” on conditions in Taiwan and felt that emotionalism was to be avoided as much as possible in the presentation (not that he succeeded), but the Taiwanese KSU alumni embraced the use of appeals to pathos as part of their effort to reach out to their American (and Taiwanese) classmates. It is also important to notice that in this case Formosa Betrayed--and Kerr himself--became more than a reference to a particular book. The KSU alumni “re-authored” Formosa Betrayed by taking the title--a title Kerr wasn’t particularly pleased with--and the cover image and focusing on the affective impact of those elements in their presentations.

That use of pathos translates into an affective vernacular the universalizing tendencies of Kerr’s human rights discourse (his “report” to his general American audience--and particularly his audience of US officials). Formosa Betrayed thus went beyond being simply an isolated rhetorical act and became part of a rhetorical ecology where local forces struggled over the identity and future of Taiwan.

Image courtesy of Morse Department of Special Collections, Kansas State University Libraries.
As I rethought the idea of rhetorical ecologies, I noticed an example of a “neighboring event,” as Edbauer calls it, on the newspaper page on which the 1966 ad appeared. If you look above the ad, you see three articles about the war in Vietnam--one reporting on “failed Viet Cong assaults” against the US, one discussing a debate between Robert Kennedy and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and one on President Johnson’s hope that Congress would approve a renewal of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. For the sake of time, I’ll just discuss the first two. The first article ends with a mention of “Operation White Wing-Masher” carried out by the US 1st Air Cavalry Division. The article doesn’t mention this, but name of the operation, originally just “Masher,” was changed to “White Wing” at the insistence of President Johnson for PR reasons. It resulted in over 2000 Viet Cong deaths. It also sparked a renewed focus on civilian deaths in Vietnam when, according to William M. Hammond, “charges began circulating in Congress and the press that Operation Masher/White Wing had produced six civilian casualties for every Viet Cong” (266), an accusation protested by the US mission in Saigon.

The second article ends with a quote from Hubert Humphrey who, in response to a suggestion by Kennedy that the Communists might end up participating in the governing of South Vietnam, argued that “Americans would not want a group such as the Viet Cong to be able to shoot their way to power. ‘Banditry and murder’ should not be rewarded, he declared.”

I want to use this serendipitous juxtaposition of the “Massacre at Formosa” ad and the articles above it to think about the rhetorical situation here. Clearly in the traditional Bitzerian sense of rhetorical situations, we would have here two separate exigencies that called for the different rhetors--let’s say the Taiwanese KSU students and Vice President Humphrey--to respond to with a fitting rhetorical response. Bitzer does allow for situations to “become weakened in structure due to complexity or disconnectedness,” as when “two or more simultaneous rhetorical situations may compete for our attention” or when “persons composing the audience of situation A may also be the audience of situations B, C, and D” (12). However, the juxtaposition of these two situations might better serve to show how the ecological perspective on rhetorics can allow us to see both counter-rhetorics at work and what Edbauer calls “the effects of trans-situationality on rhetorical circulation.” The Taiwanese students’ ad calls into question Hubert Humphrey’s declaration that Americans don’t reward “banditry and murder” by quoting John King Fairbank, who wrote that “[t]he United States kept hands off, while rapacious Nationalists despoiled Taiwan as conquered territory,” and George Kerr, who wrote in Formosa Betrayed that Chiang Kai-shek’s response to Taiwanese demands “was a massacre.”

Notably, this kind of approach calls for a reader who has not been already situated as an audience for simply one situation or the other. Unlike with Bitzer’s “weakened” rhetorical situation, however, I’d argue that this approach to reading the circulation of rhetorics regarding the US role in Asia is productive. Edbauer’s concept of rhetorical ecologies gives us the opportunity to think about different possible ways through which Kerr’s rhetoric about Taiwan might not only be part of other discourses about Taiwan, but also potentially--depending on an audience that can see connections between neighboring events--take part in other debates about the US’s role in Asia.

Chinese-language edition of Formosa Betrayed.

Finally, I’d like to say something about the translation of Formosa Betrayed into Chinese. When Chen Rong-cheng and a network of Taiwanese expatriates finished work on a Chinese translation in 1973, Chen prefaced the book by tracing the growth of an international Taiwan independence movement, pointing to the Republic of China’s increasing isolation in the international sphere, and arguing that the “Taiwanization” of the government being carried out by the Chiang regime was merely window-dressing. He appears to be calling for readers not to be fooled by the appearance of liberalization and to be pointing to the loss of the KMT’s legitimacy as a looming crisis for the Taiwanese people. Formosa Betrayed thus serves as a warning and reminder to Taiwanese to continue to strengthen themselves if they hope to achieve independence and sovereignty. As Chen writes, “If we do not first help ourselves, who will save us?” (9). (「人不先自救,誰會救我?」)

This preface could be considered an instance of what Rebecca Dingo refers to as “transcoding,” in which rhetorics “travel along transnational networks, subtly shifting and changing to fit various situations while seemingly maintaining a common ideology” (31). Kerr’s text is not only translated into Chinese, but also transcoded by being prefaced with a call for self-salvation that reframes the meaning and purpose of Formosa Betrayed. By addressing an audience of Taiwanese, Chen rearticulates the meaning of Formosa Betrayed as an understanding that Taiwanese should not hope for anyone else to help them anymore if they don’t work for their own freedom. The failure of the US to “save” the Taiwanese is made the evidence for the argument that Taiwanese must save themselves because no one else will help them.

In 1991, when the first legal Taiwan edition was published, martial law had been over for 4 years, but with the opening up of indirect links to China and the beginning of cross-strait negotiations, Taiwanese independence advocates feared that the KMT would reach an agreement with the CCP and Taiwan would be sold out (betrayed) to China. Chen’s preface to the 1991 edition addresses this context, speaking to an audience of Taiwanese who had an increasing say (if only symbolically) in what the government did. The preface to this “Taiwan edition” mentions the need to learn from history, that given the context of peace talks between the KMT and CCP, Taiwan once again faced the risk of being betrayed (5). Chen offers the hope that past mistakes can be avoided and that a home that truly belongs to the Taiwanese can be established (5).

The rhetoric of Chen’s 1991 preface also signals an important but gradual shift in the use of Kerr’s book by this new audience, from human rights rhetoric to public memory. While Formosa Betrayed was always focused on looking at the past as a way of deliberating about the future, during the martial law period, the book was also an attempt to raise awareness of immediate human rights violations that needed to be addressed. In that sense, Formosa Betrayed was an act of “rhetorical witnessing” that had called on its primarily American readership not only to remember what had happened almost 20 years earlier, but also to work to help the Taiwanese escape the bonds of martial law and authoritarianism. But as the martial law period faded into recent memory (and 2-28 faded even further into distant memory), Chen’s 1991 preface called for its new Taiwanese audience to accept this book as an offering so that they may re-member the past.

The shift from human rights witnessing to the focus on public memory is not a total categorical change, of course. As with the rhetoric of public memory, human rights witnessing often focuses on past abuses (though these abuses may be ongoing). The shift from human rights rhetoric to public memory signals a moment of transition that Gerard Hauser addresses when he characterizes “society’s rhetors” as the “custodians of history’s story” who must create narratives that are capable of “meeting the challenge of a past and future moving in opposite directions” (112). Of particular importance here is the fact that the shift from human rights to public memory involves a shift in audience as well as a shift in the meaning of the events recorded in the book. Formosa Betrayed signals, in this new context, the beginnings of Taiwan’s attempts to come to terms with its past (and its future). In the preface to the 1991 edition, Chen looks to the past, hoping its mistakes can be avoided and its martyrs honored, and to the future, in which “a home that really belongs to Taiwanese” can be established. Chen’s preface creates a new narrative that reframes the message of Kerr’s book for a different generation that faces, in Chen’s view, the threat of being betrayed again.

Works Cited
Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 1 (1968): 1-14. Print.

Chen, Rongcheng (陳榮成), trans. 被出賣的台灣 (Bei chumai de Taiwan) [Formosa Betrayed]. By George H. Kerr. Taipei: Qianwei, 1991. Print.

Dingo, Rebecca. Networking Arguments: Rhetoric, Transnational Feminism, and Public Policy Writing. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2012. Print.

Edbauer, Jenny. “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 35.4 (2005): 5-24. Print.

Hammond, William M. Public Affairs: The Military and the Media, 1962-1968. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1988. Print.

Hauser, Gerard A. Vernacular Voices: The Rhetoric of Publics and Public Spheres. Columbia, SC: U of South Carolina P, 1999. Print.

Kerr, George H. “Author Questionnaire.” N.d. TS. GHK2A06002, Okinawa Prefectural Archives.

Kerr, George. Formosa Betrayed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965. Print.

Vatz, Richard. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 6 (1973): 154-161. Print.

Zhang, Yanxian (張炎憲) and Zeng, Qiumei (曾秋美), eds. 一門留美學生的建國故事 (Yimen liu Mei xuesheng de jianguo gushi) [A Story of nation-building by [Taiwanese] students in America]. Taipei: Wu Sanlian Taiwan Shiliao Jijinhui Zhongxin Chubanshe (吳三連台灣史料基金會中心出版社), 2009. Print.

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