PTS's flagship drama “SEQALU: Formosa 1867”

The flagship drama "SEQALU: Formosa 1867” launched by Public Television Service Taiwan (PTS Taiwan), is directed by director Jui-Yuan Tsao (曹瑞原) and adapted from Yao-Chang Chen's (陳耀昌) novel "Lady Butterfly of Formosa (傀儡花)." Compiled into 12 episodes of film and television works, it was filmed in Taiwan’s Pingtung, Tainan, New Taipei, Miaoli and other places in 135 days of hard work and premiered on August 14, 2021.

SEQALU: Formosa 1867
(Photo courtesy of PTS Taiwan)

The story of “SEQALU: Formosa 1867” is adapted from a historic event with a mixture of historical figures and fictional characters. The background is set in 1867. It tells the story of the beheading of the crew of the American merchant ship "Rover" in what is known as "The Rover Incident". The Rover was en route from present-day Shantou in southern China’s Guangdong province to Yingkou in Liaoning province when it was shipwrecked after the ship struck a coral reef and drifted into the area of  Liangkiau in modern-day Hengchun, Pingtung County. Fourteen American sailors, including the captain and his wife, were killed by Taiwan’s indigenous tribe when they accidentally entered the territory. The indigenous warriors were seeking revenge for earlier killings of Kaolut tribe members by foreigners.  

The killings triggered the United States sending troops to quell the tribes and the Qing court sending its soldiers to suppress the killings of foreigners. At that time, the Seqalu ruling noble class who ruled the Liangkiau area (now the southern tip of the Hengchun Peninsula) had to face the invasion of various foreign forces, and at the same time deal with the rifts and disputes between the indigenous tribes as well as the Hoklo and Hakka ethnic groups. In the end, the warfare came to an end after Charles W. Le Gendre, the U.S. consul in Xiamen, in southeastern China’s Fujian province, and Cuqicuq Garuljigulj (Tokitok), a key leader of the Seqalu people, formally signed an agreement on the “Treaty of South Cape" which guaranteed the safety of shipwrecked American and European sailors. This little-known history which happened more than 150 years ago has far-reaching influence and had changed the fate of Taiwan.

The heroine Tiap-moe is a fictional character written by the author of the original novel, and it is also the central role that runs through the core of the story and connects all ethnic groups in the drama. Tiap-moe’s father is a Hakka and her mother is indigenous. She is of mixed Hakka and native blood and is proficient in four languages: Minnan (Southern Fujianese), Hakka, indigenous and English. In order to promote peace, she became a translator for Westerners, indigenous people, as well as Minnan and Hakka-speaking ethnic groups. 

In the beginning, the author Yao-Chang Chen, M.D. only needed a character to link together the different scenes and stages of the story, but the more he wrote about Tiap-moe’s character, the more he discovered that Tiap-moe had become a very important part of the novel. In the end of the novel, Tiap-moe can be seen as a symbol of Taiwan’s status at that time, and her mixed-race identity also represents the ethnic integration of Taiwan.

Although it is an important historical event, the "Rover Incident" is often only mentioned briefly in textbooks, or even omitted entirely. It is still little known to this day, and for director Jui-Yuan Tsao, this also reflects one thing: Some histories of this land are little known. That’s why he hopes this drama will be a starting point that can inspire Taiwanese people to look back at the history and re-discover the stories of this land.
Tsao believes that before this, the earliest story backgrounds of Taiwanese film and television works can be traced back to is the Japanese occupation era at most, but the subject matter before the Japanese occupation is almost blank; and “SEQALU: Formosa 1867” is a new attempt to broaden the spectrum and periods in history that Taiwanese dramas cover. More importantly, “SEQALU: Formosa 1867" also provides an opportunity for the audience to view Taiwan as part of a broader world history, so as to discover that in fact, Taiwan's involvement with the world is much richer than originally imagined.