An Excellent Introduction to Taiwanese History

30 May

Yet even this work to establish a Qing dynasty presence over every inch of
Taiwan could not prevent the interest of the eager imperialists of the Japanese
military, who hoped to protect their nation from European and American expansion in Asia by expanding their influence in the same fashion as these Western powers. Many in China sensed this looming threat and made attempts to
keep Taiwan out ofJapanese hands. In 1894, Yung Wing, famed as the first Chinese graduate of an American university (Yale, 1854), proposed instead leasing
Taiwan to a Western powel at the price of $400 million for ninety-nine years
(Yung 190 9, 244).

The reckoning finally came in r89S, when Japan defeated the Qing in the
Sino-JapaneseWar, started by theJapanese in 1894 overtheweightyChineseinfluence in Korea. In the Treaty of Shimonoseki, Japan demanded possession of
Taiwan, along with an indemnity of 200 million ounces of silver and various industrial privileges in China. Li Hongzhang, the unfortunate Qing envoy entrusted with the Japanese negotiations, sought to save the island by trying to
convince the Japanese of just how troublesome Taiwan could be, what with the
malaria, the BritiSh opium pushers, and the dangerous rebels who rose up from
time to time to kill officials. The strategy failed, however; his counterpart Ito Hirobumi merely answered, “We have not swallowed [Taiwan] yet and we are very
hungry” (NCHI89S).
Eventually, the decision to trade Taiwan for an end to the war became an
easy one for the Qing. The governor of Taiwan, Tang Jingsong, learned of the
cession two days later in a simple telegram, in which the imperial court reminded him that “Taiwan is certainly important to us, but obviously not as important as Beijing … since Taiwan is all by itself out there in the ocean, we 

would not be able to help defend Taiwan anyway” (Lishi Jiaoxue 1954, 51). Forsaken by Beijing, the scholarly elite of Taibei formulated another strategy of
avoiding colonization by the Japanese: an independent Taiwan, which could
not be ceded legally by the Qing. These elites, with the reluctant cooperation of
Governor Tang, founded the Taiwan Republic (with Tang as president) and issued the following statement: “The Qing court has not heard the mandate of
the people; in ceding Taiwan they totally ignored our anger. . . . The public is
full of grief and fury; a call for autonomy [zizhu] will arouse the people…. We
must unite the people and gentry of Taiwan and establish a Taiwan Republic
[Taiwan minzhuguo]. Together we will push forward a draft of a constitution,
taking the good points of the American and French models…. This will be
Asia’s first republic” (Zheng 1981, 81).
In terms of international Jaw, the Taiwan Republic’s advent 1endered
meaningless the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ceded the island (Chen and
Reisman 1972, 633). Yet the legal status of Asia’s first republic was no match for
the military might of Asia’s first modern imperialist power. By the end of 1895,
any large-scale organized resistance was squashed, and the Japanese were able
to purchase with special privileges and honors the cooperation of gentry leaders up and down the island in helping to suppress the local anti-Japanese guerrilla activities that would plague the new government for years (Lamley 1964,
Many in Japan had supported the war with China as a way of prOVing
Japan’s newimperialistmettle, inorderthat “Japan could no longerbe regarded
as a mere Far Eastern park … [but] should now be reckoned with as a definite
world power,” but they had not seriously conSidered taking on any colonies in
the process. After Taiwan fell into their laps, some Japanese offiCials even suggested the by now very unoriginal idea of selling the island to France for 100
million yen-an amount that would have been more than Japan’s annual government expenditure (Chen 1977, 62, 71; Halliday 1975, 85). 

But for others in
Japan, the conquest of this “stone pointing toward the south” was a first step in
the “southern strategy” (nanshin) of establishing a Japanese presence throughout Southeast Asia-and their view won out. Another deciding factor was the
“living space” argument. Many Japanese were overjoyed that their population,
constrained for so many centuries by Japan’s mountainous terrain, could now
look to colonies like Taiwan (and soon Korea and Manchuria) as extra living
space for a surplusJapanese population, which could then exploitthe resources
of the colonies to help feed the healthy, growing homeland (Peattie 1984, 89).
It was for these reasons that, in just days, Taiwan went from being a model
proVince of the Qing dynasty to Asia’s first republic and then to the first colony
of Asia’s newest imperialist power. (12-13 Andrew D. Morris, “Taiwan’s History: An Introduction,” in The Minor Arts of Daily Life: Popular Culture in Taiwan, ed. David K. Jordan, Andrew D. Morris, Marc L. Moskowitz. Honolulu: Univ. Of Hawaii Press, 2004), 3-31.


The complicated relations between the guomindang and “liberated” Taiwan go some way to explaining the fondness which some of Taiwan’s establishment hold today for the Japanese imperial period:

Perhaps not understanding the excitement most islanders felt about being
annexed by the ROC, the conquering regime immediately began working in
Taiwan toward two main goals that had little to do with the hopes of the re­
centlyliberatedTaiwanese. First wasthe projectofreplacing anyJapanese orun­
orthodox customs with Chinese, in order to make the island safe for ROC rule.
Nothing bothered the Nationalists more than the fact, after eight years of awful
war against Japan, that their newest and richest province looked, acted, and
sounded Japanese!21 The new regime’s second goal was to use Taiwan’s relative
wealth-in 1939, Taiwan’s per capita value of foreign trade was thirty-nine 

times that of China (Chen and Reisman 1972, 6n)-to win their new civil war
on the mainiand against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The implementation of these measures served qUickly to erase the gOOd­
will that the new government had won just for being Chinese. As Taiwan was
officially and forcibly resinicized, unemployment lines became distinctly Tai­
wanized. Some 37,000 Taiwanese government workers lost their jobs in the
transition, a trend made the more galling by the fact that only 22 percent of the
posts in the Guomindang official bureaucracy were held by Taiwanese, as op­
posed to 56 percent of the posts under the Japanese (Lai et al. 1991, 65). A pro­
gram of de-Taiwanization, designed to “eradicate the slave mentality” among
Taiwanese, meant the banning of Japanese newspaper pages, rendering voice­
less an entire generation of intellectuals educated under the Japanese and prop­
agating an official cult of the benevolent and sagely dictator Chiang Kai-shek,
honored as “Savior of the People” and “Grand Family Head” (Hsiau 2000,
53-54; Chang 1993, 141).
The ROC’s takeover of Taiwan also involved the establishment of control
over all aspects of the economy for the public (but far too often, the private)
good. The official “Taiwan Provincialjapanese Property Managing Committee”
enriched the ROC state and its officials by relieVing governmental organi­
zations, enterprises, and individuals of 50,856 pieces of property worth
10,990,900,000 yen, or some 17 percent of Taiwan’s 1946 net domestic product
(Ito 1993, 141; Lai et al. 1991, 71). Since Taiwan now belonged to the ROC, what
belonged to Taiwan would belong to the ROC as well; organized carpetbagging
units descended on Chinese Taiwan, stripping the island of everything from
railway wiring and signal eqUipment to luggage on random rail baggage cars,
industrial machinery, plumbing eqUipment, and entire factories-all to be sent
back to Shanghai, Xiamen, or other coastal mainland cities (Kerr 1965,132-135;
Peng 1972, 49). This was in addition to the great amounts of raw materials­
sugar, coal, salt, and cement-appropriated and shipped to the mainland in of­
ficial fashion. Inflation qUickly set in, reaching a rate of 350 percent during the
first eight months of Guomindang rule (Lai et a1. 1991, 73, 81). 

Official neglect
also reached staggeringly dangerous levels. It was probably no coincidence that
the first cholera epidemic to strike Taiwan in twenty-seven years came in the
summerofr946, afterjustseveral months ofNationalistrule, killingsome1,460
Taiwanese. Others were diagnosed with the bubonic plague, totally eradicated
by the Japanese thirty years before the arrival of Chinese forces. The govern­
ment had other worries, however; as the director of Public Health explained,
“after all, only the poor people are contracting the disease” (Kerr 1965, 179-180).
Tensions were only exacerbated by the condescension with which so many
Taiwanese viewed these arrivals from a very poor China. The follOWing passage
vividly expresses the shock that so many self-conSciously modern Taiwanese
felt in 1945 upon their first contact with “China” in fifty years:
The ship docked, the gangways were lowered, and off came the troops of
China, the victors. The first man to appear was a bedraggled fellow who 

looked and behaved more like a coolie than a soldier, walking off with a
carrying pole across his shoulder, from which was suspended his umbrella,
sleeping mat, cooking pot, and cup. Others like him followed, some with
shoes, some without. Few had guns. With no attempt to maintain order or
discipline, they pushed off the ship, glad to be on firm land, but hesitant to
face the Japanese lined up and saluting smartly on both sides. My father
wondered what the Japanese could possibly think. He had never felt so
ashamed in his life. Usinga]apanese expression, he said, “If there had been
a hole nearby, I would have crawled in!” (Peng 1972, 51-52)
Taiwanese resentment of the corruption and waste that plagued the island
under the Nationalists often was voiced in class terms; stories circulated about
the military forces that the Taiwanese derided as “blanket soldiers” washing
their rice in toilet bowls, mistaking hair dryers for fantastic pistols, and stealing
bicycles but not being able to ride them. Taiwanese protests against the Guo­
mindang began to take the shape of direct (and unanimously unfavorable)
comparisons with the]apanese colonial regime. Voicing such concerns loudly
was not wise, however, and was treated as the work of “disloyal subversives”
who could only be planning Communist rebellion against the ROC. The gov­
ernment gave lip service to their promises of democracy; in 1946 public elec­
tions were held for village and town councils, who then elected county and city
council representatives, who then elected a Provincial Consultative Assembly.
These organs were very heavily represented byTaiwanese citizens, but they were
given only “consultative” or advisory powers and thus could do little to relieve
the frustration that was growing so rapidly (Phillips 1999, 286). 

Disaster struck on the evening of February 27, 1947, when several Guomin­
dang agents beat a forty-year-old widow for the offense of selling black market
cigarettes. When word spread of the incident, pent-up Taiwanese anger at the
Nationalist regime erupted in forms ranging from organized protests to pre­
meditated violence against random mainland officials and soldiers. Protesters
removed the characters for “China” from official and commercial signs, others
put up Japanese-language banners screaming “Down with Military Tyranny,”
while others chanted Taiwanese-language slogans such as “The Taiwanese want
revenge now!” “Beat the mainlanders!” “Kill the pigs!” “Let Taiwan rule itselfl”
and “Let’s have a new democracy!” Even angrier Taibei residents began interro­
gating any mainlanders they could find and beating the unlucky ones who
could not answer in]apanese or Taiwanese languages (Lai et al. 1991, IOS-I07).
Over the next four days, through March 4, violence erupted throughout all of
Taiwan’s cities as the retribution for one original act of violence grew into a £Ull­
fledged urban uprising against Guomindangrule (121-134).

As this raw Taiwanese rage boiled over in the streets, elites in Taibei and
other cities qUickly founded Resolution Committees (Chuli Weiyuanhui) in or­
der to negotiate between the Taiwanese majority and the Nationalist military
government. These committees were in fact dominated by pro-Guomindang
Taiwanese elites who should have been able to formulate demands amenable to 

the government. Negotiations between these committees and the state stalled
for days, but the commander of the Fourth Gendarme Regiment called on the
Taibei Resolution Committee on March 8 to promise: “The Central Govern­
ment will not dispatch troops to Taiwan” (Kerr 1965, 291). He was lying. Begin­
ning that same day, two entile divisions of ROC troops were transferred to Tai­
wan from the mainland, and a reign of state terror against its opponents began.
The Resolution Committees wele abolished, and some outspoken members
were tortured and executed (Lai et a1. 1991, 138-150; Peng 1972, 70). Chinese
troops landing on Taiwan began 1andom killings of Taiwanese as soon as they
came ashore, many shooting guns loaded with soft-nosed dum-dum bullets de­
signed to wound even more painfully (Kerr 1965, 260). As Peng Ming-min (Peng
Mingmin) remembered: “As the Nationalist troops came ashore they moved out
quickly through Keelung Uilong] streets, shooting and bayoneting men and
boys, raping women, and looting homes and shops. Some Formosans were
seized and stuffed alive into burlap bags found piled up at the sugar warehouse
doors, and were then simply tossed into the harbor. Others were merely tied up
or chained before being thrown from the piers” (Peng 1972, 69-70).
For the next several months, thousands of Taiwanese elites who were seen
as posing a th1eat to the regime-professors, doctors, lawyers, professionals, col­
lege and even high school students-were systematically arrested and executed
in cold blood (Vecchione 1998). As George Kerr, a U.S. State Department official
stationed in Taiwan at the time, described: “By March 17 the pattern of terror
and revenge had emerged very clearly. First to be destroyed were all established
critics of the Government. Then in their turn came Settlement Committee
members and their principal aides, all youths who had taken part in the interim
policing of Taipei, middle school students, middle school teachers, lawyers,
economic leaders and members of influential families, and at last, anyone who
in the preceding eighteen months had given offense to a mainland Chinese,
causing him to ‘lose face'” (Kerr 1965, 299-300). 

Anyone highly educated or accomplished in theJapanese language and/or
culture could be targeted, as the “poisonous” Japanese influence on Taiwan was
blamed for the uprising (especially since so many of the protests and insurrec­
tionary radio broadcasts had been in Japanese). Taiwan was cleansed of any
Japanese items-records, publications, flags, and so on, which were confis­
cated-at the same time as it was being cleansed over the next several months
of its Japanese-educated elites, dual processes of finally “sinicizing” Taiwan for
good (Hsiau 2000, 57-58). It was this kind of violence that led Taiwanese such
as dissident Peng Ming-min’s father, a prominent Presbyterian doctor in Gao­
xiong, to abandon totally their “Chinese” identity: “He went so far as to cry out
that he was ashamed of his Chinese blood and wished that his children after
him would always marry foreigners until his descendants could no longer claim
to be Chinese” (Peng 1972,69).
Final numerical estimates of the massacres of the spring and summer of
1947 vary Widely, from an official government report estimating sixty-three 

hundred total casualties to anti-Guomindang activists’ own estimates that
more than twenty thousand Taiwanese were killed in the suppression (Lai et a1.
1991, 158-159)· And what was called the “white terror” (baise kongbu) did not
end in 1947; by the mid-1950s, the government had some fourteen thousand
political prisoners (both Taiwanese and mainlander) in custody and had exe­
cuted probably one or two thousand more (Taylor 2000, 2II-212).
In 1949, the Republic of China government was chased out of mainland
China by a victorious Chinese Communist Party after more than three years of
civil war. In what can only be called a cruel irony, this newest Chinese province
ofTaiwan, the province in which the ROC government had the least legitimacy,
became home to the entire regime. At the time of the 1947 uprising, Chiang
Kai-shek, author of that year’s brutal measures, could hardly have imagined
that in just two years, this most despised and “poisoned” province of Taiwan
would be all that he and his party would ever control again. Considering that
even in the early 1990S, some anti-Nationalist activists would still be screaming
that “KMT” really stood for “Kill Many Taiwanese” (Xu Rongshu 1991), the title
of one book on the 1947 uprising-A Tragic Beginning-is thus all too accurate in
describing early Nationalist rule ofTaiwan (Lai et a1. 1991).” 

(Morris, 19-23)

Perhaps the most important tension in Taiwan at the turn of the millennium is the presence of the People’s Republic of China right across the Taiwan
Straits. Abandoning its original position that Taiwan was a separate nation, distinguished culturally from the rest of China (Hsiao and Sullivan 1979, 447-458),
the Chinese Communist Party during the 1990S stepped up its campaign to “reunify” the entire Chinese nation by extending its control to Taiwan. Relying,
often very successfully, on the brute force of nationalism to distract its citizens
from political repression and the volatility of market transformations, the CCP
has convinced not only their own people but most of the rest of the world that
the PRC has legal title to Taiwan-an island that has never been under its control. Without realizing the possible boon that such an argument could be to
diehard loyalists of the Ryukyuan, DutCh, Spanish, and Japanese empires, the
PRe’s argument is based on the fact that since Taiwan was once part of the
Manchu Qing empire, it should be part of China in perpetuity. The great majority of people in Taiwan look at the immense changes that have occurred in Taiwan and China in the century plus since Taiwan’s cession by the Qing, and they
prefer the autonomy that has existed under more than fifty years of ROC rule.29
The PRC’s main strategy has been to isolate Taiwan diplomatically on the
international stage, most successfully by blocking any attempts by Taiwan to
reenter the United Nations after three decades of exclusion from that body. The
PRC also is able to use its almost superpower status and economic clout to prevent virtually any international recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign state. The
pettiness of these measures can be mind-boggling, such as the PRe’s unconditional demand that any international organization recognize Taiwan’s diplOmatic representatives, Little League and Olympic teams, or even Miss Universe
contestants (CND 2000) only as representatives of “Chinese TaipeL” But they
can also be deadly. In 1999, Beijing used its pull in the World Health Organization 

(WHO) to keep Taiwan out of the international body and its citizens ineligible to benefit from or contribute to advancements made by WHO (AFP 1999).
In September 1999, after a disastrous earthquake struck in central Taiwan,
killing over two thousand people, the PRC government prevented UN and Russian rescue teams from reaching Taiwan for more than two days, explaining that
“as Taiwan is not a member of the UN, then aid must be channeled through Beijing” (AFP 1999; CND 1999).30
As one China watcher puts it, for the PRC’s leaders, “Taiwan is an obsession, one that creates a hideous spectacle of a large dictatorship trying to intimidate a small democracy” (Chang 2001,37). Yet this forceful approach to resolving the “Taiwan question” is exactly what many people inside mainland China
have learned to welcome. InJuly 1999, a rare public opinion poll conducted in
Chinese cities found that 86.9 percent of those surveyed favored an invasion of
Taiwan “if necessary” (Reuters 1999).31
These actions have earned the PRC great enmity among many Taiwanese,
yet many businessmen from Taiwan have found the profits to be made in China
more significant than the threats to their nation’s sovereignty. Taiwan businesses, large and small, see China as an endless supply of cheap exploitable labor and loose environmental regulations. As a key to maintaining a “competitive edge,” these enterprises have invested more than U.S. $100 billion in
China, even as this has hollowed out Taiwan’s own industrial base (Hsing 1998;
Studwe1l2002, 280). As one Taiwan journalist writes, “Beyond the fact that the
water, power, and environmental protection costs [in China] are all low, land
can be acquired for next to nothing. Every Taiwanese businessman who comes
here feels like a prince-complete with his own fiefdom” (Li 2001, 9). Consequently, ahuge trade (U.S. $25.84 billion in1999)linksTaiwan andChina, a fact
that many observers feel makes some form of reunification inevitable in the
near future (Republic of China Yearbook 2001). Even in Taiwan itself, the struggling tourism industry is looking to well-heeled mainland Chinese tourists as a
new source of income; as one business leader said in 2001, “Taiwan can become
China’s Hawaii” (AP 2001). 

The PRC government also Wisely uses these growing
ties in order to sell Taiwan officials, academics, and businessmen on the financial benefits of reunification and has succeeded in pushing figures such as President Chen Shui-bian onto the defensive, calling for “economic war” against
China (The Economist 2000, 48; ITO 2001).
Taiwan’s unique status at the turn of the twenty-first century is reflected
best in one recent series of events. Liberal International, a London-based coalition of eighty-four liberal political parties from Sixty-seven countries, selected
President Chen Shui-bian to receive its 2001 Prize for Freedom, hailing his
“solid record as a human rights activist” (Taipei Government Information Office 2001). Liberal International was scheduled to present the award in Copenhagen, Denmark. Yet because of political pressure from China-which forbids
its diplomatic allies to allow visits by Taiwanese leaders-the Danish government refused to grant Chen a visa so he could receive the Freedom prize. And
when Liberal International offered to present the award to Chen at a later European 

Parliament meeting in Strasbourg, the French government also refused to
issue Chen a visa.32
Though it is Asia’s most vibrant democracy, Taiwan’s leaders must beg for
visas to visit the United States or other countries that supposedly stand for principles of freedom and liberty. With the admission ofTuvalu into the UN in 2000,
the Republic of China on Taiwan is the last nation in the world to be excluded
from the world body. The world’s seventeenth largest economy, Taiwan is recognized by less than two dozen tiny African and Caribbean nations. A sovereign
nation in every way, Taiwan has to justify continually why it should not be swallowed up by the PRC, a regime that has never administered an inch of Taiwan’s
territory. And, intimately tied culturally and economically to China, Taiwan’s future as a sovereign nation depends on its ability to convince the world of its historical independence from the mainland. Yet somehow these singular conditions seem fitting for Taiwan, an island whose history, as the following chapters
describe, has been nothing if not complicated and extraordinary.”

(Morris, 29-31)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: