Billy H.C. Kwok – Last Letters: A Photographic Investigation of Taiwan White Terror

LOCATION: The Citadell, Landskrona MAP. Included in festival ticket

When Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China triumphed in the civil war in 1949, Chiang Kai-Shek and members of the nationalist Kuomintang party were forced to retreat to Taiwan. A dark chapter would ensue on the island, known today as the White Terror (1949–91). Over 150,000 civilians were arrested and more than 20,000 were executed.

Detainees were allowed to write one last letter to their families before they were executed. But most of the letters were kept by the authorities – never sent, never received, never answered. They remain today in national archives, usually classified. A small number, 179 letters with the prisoners’ last words, have been released and finally reached the families – up to seventy years later. The total number of letters remaining in the archives is unknown.

BILLY H.C. KWOK

The photographer Billy H.C. Kwok has tried to penetrate the depths of this societal loss of memory. He has helped the victims’ families to locate the letters, encouraged them to reply, even though it is too late, in order to begin healing the wounds. With his camera, he has depicted the survivors, including the younger generations who have inherited the trauma. At the same time, he has travelled around the island, photographing the remains of the authoritarian regime. A large number of statues of the dictator Chiang Kai-Shek are still waiting to be melted down.

Billy H.C. Kwok began as a reporter before embarking on his career as a photographer. He grew up in Hong Kong and witnessed the consequences of its transfer from Britain to China in 1997. He has followed Taiwan’s political taboos, history and memories since 2017 and has received several awards, including one from the Magnum Foundation.