Taiwan Historical Society

Here’s the latest edition of the Taiwan Historical Society (THS) e-newsletter. If you are interested in getting on the THS’ free mailing list, please send a message to jboyce AT asianwired.com.

Taiwan Historical Society (March 2004 / Issue 3.1)

Greetings THS Members,

The THS got off to a quick start in 2004, with seminars in January and February (the presidential election was education enough for March)… The January seminar saw Linda Arrigo provide her personal and professional insights into Taiwan’s 1970s democracy movement. The February seminar saw Shawna Ryan discuss research she has been doing for a novel on the 2-28 Incident… Primary Sources includes some recently released transcripts of conversations, regarding Taiwan, among Richard Nixon, Zhou En-lai and Henry Kissinger… We have been talking with the holders of the publishing rights to George Kerr’s Formosa Betrayed (a first-hand account, by an American official based in Taiwan in 1947, of the 2-28 Incident, this book is notoriously difficult and expensive to find in book form), Alan Shackleton’s Formosa Calling (which provides a first-hand Australian perspective of the incident) and Peng Ming-min’s A Taste of Freedom (a compelling autobiography by one of Taiwan’s most important dissidents and a 1996 presidential candidate). Our goal is to offer all three books to THS members for NT$1100, which compares to a NT$2200 list price (if you can find the books at all). If anyone is interested, please let us know. It won’t commit you, but will give us an idea of whether there is sufficient demand before we follow up with the publisher… Finally, if you know of anyone else who might be interested in Taiwan history, please pass on this newsletter.

Note: Online version available at www.geocities.com/taiwanhistoricalsociety/3.1.html


An Inside Look at Taiwan’s Democracy Movement

By J. Boyce

Linda Gail Arrigo provided both professional and personal insights into Taiwan’s protest movement when she spoke to the THS on January 14. Arrigo, who is doing post-graduate work at Academia Sinica on the democracy movement, said that her intimate knowledge of members of the movement – she was married to leading activist Shih Ming-deh and knew many other key players – gave her “a view of the leadership as well as that of someone involved in the protests.”

Arrigo was involved in protests leading up to the Kaohsiung incident in December 1979, when the KMT cracked down on protesters, “all hell broke loose” and Shih was arrested. She was deported two days after his arrest. (She said that despite her house being raided and searched by government authorities, she managed to have a drawer of photos snuck out of the country.) After leaving Taiwan, Arrigo toured the U.S. to talk about the arrest of the protest leaders. She showed us some of the propaganda that the Taiwan government printed about her, in which she is described as a “flower child” who had become a “militant agitator.”

Arrigo said the protest movement of the 1970s and 1980s got much of its strength from workers. “When the Taiwan middle class tried to go up against the KMT, they called on the masses… the taxi drivers, farmers and factory workers,” she said. “They turned out by the thousands.”

The movement was also propelled by the emergence of that middle class, by increasing Taiwanese identity (this was a time when Taiwanese restaurants began to pop up) and by the Taiwanese who had entered the KMT hierarchy. U.S. de-recognition of Taiwan also played a part. “The real worry was that it Taiwan didn’t stand up, it was going to be handed over to the marauding Chinese, with the Taiwanese having no chance to make their case,” she said.

Arrigo addressed the issue of whether the protestors in the 1970s had escalated the situation too quickly and caused the KMT to harden, rather than soften, its stance of martial law. “I’m quite convinced that if it weren’t for these mass protests, the opposition would have been picked off one by one anyway,” she said. She noted that the escalation was on both sides. On one hand, the protests were increasingly bigger and better organized. On the other, the government was buying riot control equipment and using to its advantage the patriotic fever that came in the wake of U.S. de-recognition of Taiwan.

The crackdown ultimately backfired on the KMT and was especially embarrassing to the more liberal parts of the party, said Arrigo. The KMT, being known as “Free China,” had an image to live up to and was susceptible to international, and especially American, scrutiny. The openness of the trials of those arrested during the Kaohsiung Incident was also significant as information that would otherwise have remained hidden made its way into the mass media. “The trials had a larger social impact than the prevailing five years of the movement,” Arrigo said.


Truth, Fiction and the 2-28 Incident

By J. Boyce

Shawna Ryan, who is writing a novel based on the 2-28 Incident, spoke to the THS on February 25. Ryan originally came to Taiwan on a Fulbright scholarship and returned last year to do more research for her book, which has as its main character a film narrator who, after the KMT arrived in 1945, began working on propaganda films for them. In addition to looking at primary sources, such as George Kerr’s Formosa Betrayed, she has interviewed elderly Taiwanese.

Ryan said that interviewees generally eased into the subject of the 2-28 Incident by talking about the event that sparked it – the shooting of a cigarette vendor by KMT soldiers – before getting into their personal experiences. Ryan discussed some of her interviews. One interviewee, now 88, explained how he narrowly escaped death when he decided, at the last minute, not to get involved in delivering a petition to the government. All of the other people involved in delivering it disappeared. Another interviewee told Ryan how a group of middle school students were killed because their teacher was accused of being a communist. Ryan is using such stories to help provide context for her novel.

There was an excellent discussion during the seminar as several attendees were working on or had finished graduate theses on the 2-28 Incident. For example, there are vastly differing estimates of how many people were killed, whether it is 2,000 (based on how many people claimed reparations), 9,000 (based on household registration), 18,000 (based on demographic studies), or 100,000 (the highest estimate). Most scholars state that between 15,000 and 25,000 people were killed during this period. Attendees also discussed the degree to which the upper levels of the KMT leadership were aware of the massacre, to what degree the soldiers were individually responsible, and what the 2-28 incident means to Taiwan’s citizens today.


The Takao Club Web site provides a wealth of information on Taiwan history, especially that of the southern part of the island. Maintained by David Oakley, who recently joined our mailing list, it includes information on Robert Swinhoe, who was a 19th century pioneer in documenting Taiwan’s flora and fauna, Lin Shao-mao, a Qing-dynasty official in Taiwan who later opposed the Japanese occupation of the island in 1895, and the Spanish Dominican priest, Fernando Sainz, who was among the first Westerners to legally enter Taiwan after the Treaty of Tientsin opened up the island in 1858. For more information, see www.takaoclub.com.


Recently released portions of documents, from The National Security Archive, related to President Richard Nixon’s trip to China and assurances on Taiwan given to the Chinese. Here is a summary of one memorandum, of a conversation between Richard Nixon, Zhou En-lai and Henry Kissinger on February 24, 1972:

[quote]… most of the newly released portions concern Japan and Taiwanese issues, ranging from the leak of a State Department memo on Taiwan to the Japanese to Kissinger’s scorn over the “unreliability” of Japanese journalists… During one of the exchanges on Taiwan, Nixon commented that without having forces in Japan, the U.S. would have no influence over Tokyo’s Taiwan policy – the Japanese would not “pay attention.” While he was trying to encourage Zhou to take a more positive view of the U.S.-Japan security relationship, the latter continued to hold by the goal of a “peaceful, independent, and neutral Japan.” To the extent that Japan’s successful economic expansion had become a worrisome problem, Zhou later suggested, it was an American responsibility: the United States had let Japan “fatten herself,” now Japan is developing “too rapidly” and has become a “heavy burden on you” (a likely reference to U.S. trade deficits).

The largest excised section, focusing on the Peng Meng-min affair, reflects Beijing’s concern about the Taiwanese independence movement. Bitterly opposed to the Nationalist regime imposed by mainlanders led by Chiang Kai-shek, native-born Taiwanese had created an underground pro-independence movement, which elicited sympathetic reactions in the United States. Peng, an international relations professor at National Taiwan University and a former diplomat, had turned into an opponent of Chiang Kai-shek’s dictatorship and a supporter of independence. During the mid-1960s, Peng was arrested on sedition charges and sentenced to eight years in prison, but international protest led to the commutation of his sentence after he had served seven months. Peng remained under close surveillance but secretly fled to Sweden in early 1970, with the help of local supporters and the Swedish chapter of Amnesty International. While in Sweden, Peng applied for a U.S. visa so he could hold a research position at the University of Michigan’s Chinese Studies program. The Nixon White House had been none too happy about Peng’s visa application – and Vice President Agnew opposed it altogether – but Kissinger and the State Department decided that it was better to approve the visa than face “congressional and public criticism which would prove harmful to U.S. policy” toward Taiwan. Peng’s status as a former participant in Kissinger’s international seminar at Harvard may have softened Kissinger’s attitude in this instance. The State Department granted the visa in September 1970.

Plainly, Peng’s status grated on Zhou: he had already brought it up with Kissinger during the secret trip suggesting that the CIA was behind the escape. Zhou brought up the issue of possible U.S. complicity again during the talks with Nixon, but Kissinger denied it and observed that left-wing groups had helped Peng escape. In any event, both Nixon and Kissinger assured Zhou that they would not support Taiwanese independence, although they were careful to note that that they could not use force to halt it if it came to pass. As Zhou suggested, Chiang kai-shek could repress pro-independence forces because the idea of an independent Taiwan was as anathema to him as it was to Zhou. Peng remained a thorn in Beijing’s side; after political conditions on Taiwan had improved, he returned and ran as the presidential candidate of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. While Peng had little chance of winning, the campaign elicited a large Chinese naval demonstration and missile shots over Taiwan, one of the major episodes in the 1995-96 crisis over Taiwan. [/quote]

For this memorandum, see gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSA … ndex.htm#7 for other documents.

:fume: :fume: :fume: :fume: :fume:

Australian indeed!

Historians shouldn’t be making mistakes like that.