Daily Archives: 26 February 2005

The Guomindang in Taiwan: Liberators or Recolonizers?

The February 28, 1947 Incident and its aftermath represented a conflict between decolonization and reintegration, when the legacy of Japanese rule and the drive for local self-government clashed with the centralizing mission of Jiang Jieshi’s [= Chiang Kai-shek’s] Nationalist regime. Nationalist incompetence and misrule caused the short-lived uprising, but long-term Taiwanese political goals shaped its denouement….

The Taiwanese considered both the Chinese and Japanese regimes exploitative, but deemed the new government particularly dishonest, incompetent, unpredictable, and inefficient. Suzanne Pepper, in her review of the Nationalists’ takeover of occupied China in late 1945 and early 1946, noted four major problems: inability or unwillingness to punish collaborators; corruption; ineffective measures to rebuild the economy; and “condescending attitude adopted by returning officials.” The last three were amply evident in the Nationalist administration of Taiwan. The first point, however, is more difficult to assess in regard to Taiwan because of its complex colonial legacy. Policies on important issues such as the disposition of Japanese assets and economic reconstruction, cultural reintegration and language, and political participation engendered disappointment, frustration, then resistance. The Nationalists did nothing to dispel the ambivalence of Taiwanese toward the colonial experience. Because so many islanders soon came to see few major differences between the Japanese and the mainland Chinese economic and political systems, they began to discuss Nationalist rule as a form of colonialism.

The island faced two difficult economic transitions in late 1945: from the Japanese to the Chinese orbit, and from wartime mobilization to peacetime reconstruction. The Nationalists inherited an industrial infrastructure worn down from the demands of Japan’s war effort and American bombing. The most damaged areas included harbors, housing in coastal cities, sugar refineries, and communication and transportation facilities. Work on repairs ceased upon surrender, as Japanese technical experts and managers began to return home, and spare parts for equipment became difficult to obtain. Agricultural production, insufficient in late 1945, remained inadequate because of a lack of fertilizer. Food shortages and unemployment worsened as hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese who had been soldiers, laborers, students, merchants, and low-level bureaucrats in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia were repatriated. In such a situation, any government would have had a difficult time managing the island’s resources. The Nationalists magnified these problems by connecting Taiwan to the mainland’s economy even as the latter struggled, then failed, to recover from the war.

SOURCE: Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, by Steven E. Phillips (Stanford U. Press, 2003), pp. 64-65

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Taiwan’s Transition from Qing to Japanese Rule

The extent of Taiwanese participation in Qing-era government is closely connected to the issue of the island’s historical relationship with the mainland which, in turn, forms part of the debate over the island’s independence from China today. As one of the last parts of China settled and brought into the Middle Kingdom, Taiwan was more weakly tied to the central government and Confucian culture than other areas populated by Han peoples. For example, the Qing imperial bureaucracy had been less developed on the island than in mainland provinces. This made it easier for the Japanese to rule once they acquired the island, since there existed few leaders with strong political ties to the former central government to compete for legitimacy. As the historian Chen Ching-chih writes, “there were no more than 5,350 degree holders in Taiwan on the eve of the Japanese takeover. This figure would give Taiwan, which had a population of 2,546,000 in 1896, 21 degree holders for every 10,000 people. Taiwan thus proportionately contained a smaller group of degree holders than each of the eighteen provinces in China.”

The decisive defeat of the Qing dynasty in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 marked a major turning point in Taiwan’s history. The island became distinct from the mainland in an important way–of all China’s provinces, it was the only one surrendered completely and permanently to imperialists by the Qing. The island was no longer tied to a chaotic and crumbling China, but became part of an increasingly powerful and economically developed Japan. Colonial rule created the island’s post-1945 elite and shaped its attitudes toward a national-level government. Under the Japanese, the Taiwanese experienced the benefits of a relatively efficient and honest administration as well as its rigid and intrusive demands. Islanders were excluded from full citizenship in the Japanese nation, even as the colonial regime held out the prospect of limited participation in the state. The Japanese era presented a tangle of contradictions: law and order with repression in a police state; economic development and exploitation; and education and employment opportunities limited by systematic discrimination. Wealthy and educated Taiwanese reacted ambivalently, organizing a series of reformist political movements that vacillated between seeking further assimilation into the empire and demanding greater autonomy from it. In particular, the elite’s attitude toward the dual character of Japanese rule became clear in its attempt to expand self-government without seeking independence–setting a pattern for interaction between the islanders and Jiang Jieshi’s regime after 1945.

SOURCE: Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, by Steven E. Phillips (Stanford U. Press, 2003), pp. 6-7

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Taiwan at the Fall of the Ming Dynasty

During the Ming, Taiwan was not under the control of the Chinese state, although traders, fishermen, and pirates from Fujian Province had established themselves on the west coast of the island. Political upheaval on the mainland helped link Taiwanese and Chinese history. When the Ming collapsed in 1644, Taiwan became a redoubt for a fallen regime that claimed to represent the true China and its culture against alien rule, an image the Nationalists revived after 1949. The life and career of Zheng Chenggong (1624-62), known in many Western histories as Koxinga, a regional strongman and pirate who gained increasing influence as the Ming collapsed, linked Taiwan to the mainland’s political history. Zheng’s support of the Ming court against the non-Han Manchu invaders made him a permanent icon of Chinese patriotism. Even today he remains a particular source of local pride in Tainan, the city on the site where Zheng’s forces brought about the Dutch evacuation from their small colonial outpost in 1662. A combination of effective military strategy and generous peace terms, however, in 1683 enticed Zheng’s heirs to surrender to the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644-1912).

SOURCE: Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, by Steven E. Phillips (Stanford U. Press, 2003), p. 4

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