A Voice for Taiwan's Freedom, History

Chthonic is the first Asian extreme metal act in Ozzfest. Many of its songs are inspired by Taiwanese culture.
Chthonic is the first Asian extreme metal act in Ozzfest. Many of its songs are inspired by Taiwanese culture.
By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 24, 2007

Not a lot of metal bands appear at both Jaxx nightclub and the National Press Club, but Chthonic will be doing just that, with appearances at Springfield's Jaxx on Monday and Sept. 13. The latter date is also when the Taiwanese ensemble holds a downtown news conference to discuss its "UNlimited Taiwan" campaign as well as its experience as the first Asian extreme metal act to take part in the Ozzfest tour -- an appropriate showcase for a band called "the Black Sabbath of Asia."

According to lead singer and songwriter Freddy Lim, the September events are particularly important because they coincide with the Sept. 18 opening of the annual session of the United Nations, which Taiwan will once again attempt to join, an effort blocked every year since 1993 by China, which asserts sovereignty over the island.

Chthonic -- pronounced "THON-nic," it's Greek, meaning "of the underworld" -- has recorded a single called "UNlimited Taiwan" and made a short film for the song, protesting their homeland's isolation in the international community:

"We have the land, the strength, the power / Rise up, overcome, take it over / Ignored too long, we became stronger / Tear down the walls and let us run over."

It's all part of an effort to drum up sympathy and support among a younger generation of music fans that may not be aware that Taiwan has been self-ruled since nationalist forces fled there in 1949 after losing a long-running civil war with communist forces. It had a U.N. seat as the Republic of China until 1971, when China asserted sovereignty and threatened military action if Taiwan tried to secede. The United States has been trying to encourage a peaceful resolution ever since.

"The things that we can do are not too much," Lim admits. "We didn't organize this tour for a political reason -- first of all, it's a musical tour -- but as citizens of Taiwan we had to express our political message in the same time when our country needs our support." Lim says the band has "met fans here and in Europe, even in high school, who are involved in social justice action and want to write about Taiwan, let their classmates know about Taiwan. Who knows? Those young people may be somebody who in different areas can support Taiwan in the future.

"So we do the most that we can do and hope that after we honestly express our opinion, we can inspire more Taiwanese citizens to bravely express their own opinions in international society, like the many movie directors and the baseball players in major league baseball in Japan. We are just a heavy metal act and we have to fight for our own musical career, but at the same time we want to fight for our country."

Seeking international political recognition while asserting its independence has been difficult for Taiwan, Lim says. "In my opinion -- and I think the opinion of all the citizens in Taiwan -- they consider Taiwan is already an independent country," he says. "We have all rights like the citizens of America: We pay the tax to our own government, we vote for our own president, we have our own army. It is for us an independent country, no doubt. That would be the point we want to mention: Accept 'unlimited Taiwan,' like the song.

"But we don't write anything political in other songs," Lim adds. "All our songs are about mythology in Taiwan. I'm a fan of all kinds of mythologies since I was in kindergarten. When I started to write music, I made up my mind to write about things that normally human beings cannot do -- I love to write about gods, ghosts, spirits."

Good subject matter for the kind of music he chose, no?

"Yes!" Lim responds enthusiastically.

And thank goodness for metaphor and allusion.

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