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Dissenting Voices of the Unwashed, Disobedient, Noncitizens, and Exiles in their Own Homes

On the morning of December 3, 2008, the Losheng Preservation Movement—ever expanding since it began in 2002—set out to protest a joint proposal made in 1994 by Taiwanese state and local political forces to relocate the Xinzhuang metro depot to the Losheng Sanatorium site, which housed patients with Hansen’s Disease, formerly known as leprosy. After numerous petitions, negotiations, demonstrations, and protests, the Losheng Preservation Movement still failed to change the government’s decision to demolish more than 70 percent of the sanatorium. The morning of December 3, 2008 was when the government of Taipei County planned to send massive numbers of police to clear out all anti-relocation protesters, so as to assist the Taipei Department of Rapid Transit Systems in erecting a fence around the sanatorium in preparation for the construction of the new metro depot. To fend off this forced dispersal, over a hundred sanatorium residents, students, and members of the general public had occupied the space in front of the sanatorium’s Zhende Dormitory the night before. Immediately after the police dispersed all of the demonstrators, construction fences were erected, and the demolition of the sanatorium’s housing began promptly the following day.

Although it was unable to prevent the demolition of the Losheng Sanatorium, this seemingly “failed” preservation movement stirs us to reflect on its multiple dimensions and complex meanings—meanings that ripple out far beyond the sanatorium itself. Even after 70 percent of the sanatorium was demolished, we are confronted with the question of whether there exists another invisible yet permanent Losheng Sanatorium beyond the visible establishment. Are we participants in the construction of this invisible sanatorium?

As someone who never participated in the Losheng Preservation Movement, and as a nonprofessional who lacks extensive medical knowledge of Hansen’s Disease, how did I come to stand before the remnants of the sanatorium in 2013, long after the preservation movement’s heyday? How did I take these remnants as a starting point to create my four-part film Realm of Reverberations, as well as other follow-up works? Before taking you through this long, winding journey, let me briefly retrace the history of the Losheng Sanatorium as well as the Losheng Preservation Movement.

At the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, in an effort to catch up with Europe and the US as well as to “enrich the state, strengthen the military” (fukoku kyōhei), and build a “civilized” state, Japan regarded pandemics and leprosy as a “national disgrace,” indicative of a barbaric and backwards country. In 1907, the Home Ministry (Naimu-shō) issued a law entitled “Matter Concerning the Prevention of Leprosy,” which aimed to forcibly isolate all Hansen’s Disease patients by establishing sanatoriums in which to house them.

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