Indigenous Taiwan on Screen

EC-5 BA Course for the 2021 Spring Semester Leiden University, International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS)


P. Kerim Friedman is the 2021 Chair of Taiwan Studies at IIAS. He lives and teaches in Taiwan where he is an associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures (within the College of Indigenous Studies), at National Dong Hwa University in Hualien. More information about Kerim can be found on his webpage:

Course description

Taiwan is often talked about mainly in terms of the culture and history of its majority Chinese population, but it is also home to an Indigenous population whose ancestors were there for thousands of years before the first Chinese settlers arrived. Little known by the outside world, their history and culture have been the subject of numerous documentary and fiction films. This course uses those films as a window into the lives, religion, and politics of Taiwan’s rich and diverse Indigenous cultures. Each week will feature one film along with an article or book chapter that highlights themes from the film. The course is divided into four sections focusing, in turn, on the Japanese colonial experience, traditional culture and religion, contemporary social issues, and how contemporary Indigenous people remember their past. In tackling these topics the course also introduces issues related to East Asian studies, global Indigeneity, cinema studies, and ethnographic filmmaking.

Mode of instruction

Due to the COVID-19 situation, it is likely that this course will be taught online, at least for part of the semester. Any changes regarding the mode of instruction necessitated by such a shift will be announced at the start of the semester and posted to the online platform for this course.
Each week’s class is based around a film. Student’s are expected to have watched each week’s film before class. Viewing arrangements will depend on the COVID-19 situation, but the default plan is to have students sign up to view the films in the library screening room.
There will also be an article or book chapter assigned to accompany each week’s film. Weekly lectures will be primarily based on each week’s film and assigned reading, but will also draw on the instructor’s own research and experience. Student participation in class discussions and the online forum for the class is strongly encouraged.

Assessment method

Each student will be asked to keep an online journal in which they comment on the weekly screenings and assigned readings. These will be shared with the rest of the class. Students should be prepared to read and elaborate on their journal entries during in-class discussion. Students are also encouraged to comment on each other’s journal entries. (Journal entries should average around 300-500 words.)
There will also be a final term paper. Students will each write an academic research paper on one film of their choice that focuses on Indigenous Taiwanese. The papers are not intended to be film reviews, but should focus on an aspect of Indigenous Taiwanese culture or society as depicted in the film. Films can be drawn from class or students can choose their own films (subject to approval by the instructor). Students are expected to draw on academic sources to supplement their discussion and a minimum of at least three sources should be cited in a meaningful manner in each paper. A prospectus with the choice of film, a list of three sources, and a brief description of the topic will be due at week 5. A first draft will be due at week 9. And the final paper will be due at the end of the semester. (The final paper should be between 1500 and 1750 words, not including notes and bibliography.)

Course objectives

Students in this course will:
  • Learn about Indigenous Taiwanese history, culture, and society
  • Learn about the relationship between Indigenous and Chinese identities in Taiwan
  • Be introduced to basic concepts in anthropology, cinema studies, Indigenous studies, and documentary film theory
  • Get experience discussing film in a critical way in class discussion and in their own writing


Week 1: Introduction to Indigenous Taiwan
Week 2: The Japanese Colonial Experience I: Rebellion
  • Film: Warriors of the Rainbow (2011)
  • Reading: Simon, Scott. 2012. “Politics and Headhunting among the Formosan Sejiq: Ethnohistorical Perspectives.” Oceania. 82 (2): 164–85.
Week 3: The Japanese Colonial Experience II: Baseball
  • Film: Kano (2014)
  • Reading: Green, Frederik H. 2017. “All under Heaven KANO: The Politics of Nostalgia and the Making of a New Taiwanese Identity in Wei Te-Sheng’s Taiwan-Japan Trilogy.” East Asian Journal of Popular Culture 3 (2): 169–82.
Week 4: The Japanese Colonial Experience III: Tattoos
  • Film: The Stories of Rainbow (1998)
  • Reading: Yoshimura, Mami, and Geoffrey Wall. 2010. “The Reconstruction of Atayal Identity in Wulai, Taiwan.” In Heritage Tourism in Southeast Asia, edited by Michael Hitchcock, Victor T. King, and Michael Parnwell, 49–71. University of Hawaiʻi Press.
Week 5: Traditional Culture and Religion I: Shamanism
  • Film: Paths of Destiny (2017)
Week 6: Traditional Culture and Religion II: Repatriation
  • Film: Returning Souls (2012)
  • Reading: Moskowitz, Marc L. 2008. “A Review of Hu Tai-Li’s Documentary Educational Resources Series.” American Anthropologist 110 (2): 248–50.
Week 7: Traditional Culture and Religion III: Music and Dance
  • Film: Amis Hip-Hop (2007)
Week 8: Contemporary Social Issues I: Urban Migration
  • Film: How Deep is the Ocean (2000)
  • Reading: Sugimoto, Tomonori. 2019. “Urban Settler Colonialism: Policing and Displacing Indigeneity in Taipei, Taiwan.” City & Society 31 (2): 227–50.
Week 9 Contemporary Social Issues II: Land Rights
  • Film: Panay (2015)
  • Reading: Sterk, Darryl. Forthcoming in 2021. “Teach Your Children Well: Education as Domestication in Indigenous-Made Film.” In Taiwan’s Contemporary Indigenous Peoples, edited by Dafydd Fell and Chia-Yuan Huang. Oxon: UK: Routledge. (Preprint used with author’s permission)
Week 10: Remembering the Past I: Alis’s Dreams
  • Film: Alis’s Dreams (2011)
  • Reading: Barclay, Paul D. 2017. “The Longue Durée and the Short Circuit: Gender, Language, and Territory in the Making of Indigenous Taiwan.” In Outcasts of Empire: Japan’s Rule on Taiwan’s “Savage Border,” 1874-1945, 114–60. University of California Press.
Week 11: Remembering the Past II: The Mountain
  • Film: The Mountain (2015)
  • Reading: Friedman, P. Kerim. Forthcoming in 2021. “The Shifting Chronotopes of Indigeneity in Taiwanese Documentary Film.” In Taiwan’s Contemporary Indigenous Peoples, edited by Dafydd Fell and Chia-Yuan Huang. Oxon: UK: Routledge. (Preprint used with author’s permission)
Week 12: Ironic Indigenous Primitivism
  • Film: Finding Sayon (2011)
  • Reading: Sterk, Darryl. 2014. “Ironic Indigenous Primitivism: Taiwan’s First ‘native Feature’ in an Era of Ethnic Tourism.” Journal of Chinese Cinemas 8 (3): 209–25.