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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