8/21/2006

Give It Back to Whom?

There seems to be a pattern here in Taiwan concerning Taiwan's history. If you're a DPP crackpot, you distort it by minimizing Japanese influence after 50 years of colonization and completely ignoring the role of Taiwan's various aboriginal groups. Then you pretend that all white people are American and that they only showed up here to help Chiang Kai-shek do bad things to the locals. It's not advisable to talk about the Dutch, unless it is to accuse them of wiping out the deer fields in Taiwan or something along those lines. (Records show 1670 and 1672 to be the two biggest years for deer extermination. Traders operating under the Cheng ke-Shuang (鄭克塽) regime exported 200,o00 pelts in each of those two years, four times greater than any Dutch haul). If you are a KMT crackpot, Taiwan simply has no history and that's "her biggest sadness," etc. In recent papers we are treated to more of the same in the on-going KMT/DPP asset squabble.

According to the article (Taipei Times Aug. 21 - KMT to Release its Asset Report), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Yeh Yi-ching (葉宜津) said "Given that these party assets are stolen, the KMT should return the remaining assets to the country and people and return the money for assets it has sold to third parties." http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2006/08/21/2003324052 . Yeh said the KMT should fork over 144.51 hectares of real estate (market value of NT$21.9 billion). Thus far, the KMT has come up with 1.86 hectares or 1.29 percent of the total. Maybe he has a point if it comes to general greed and corruption within the KMT. But still, what's this guy talking about? It's not like those assets ever belonged to "the country and people" unless he's talking about aborigines.

The chronology of landownership in Taiwan is as follows. For thousands of years, aborigines from various tribes had free reign. From 1624-61, part of Taiwan's territory was also held under the Dutch Crown. In the early part of the 18th century, in order to prevent official and military officers from gaining a monopoly over the land, the Ching Dynasty decreed that all land be held under private ownership (see From Landlords to Local Strongmen: The Transformation of Local Elites in Mid-Ch'ing Taiwan by Chen Chiuken). From here a complicated system developed where original settlers and aborigines did not engage directly in farming but rather collected rents from tenants. Following a period of unrest culminating in the Chu Yi-kuei rebellion in Tainan (1721), the process kicked into high gear. Those from China willing to take a chance would first make their way across the strait. After obtaining land rights, they would then return to ancestral homes in China to round up interested parties as settlers and tenants for their new properties. Over the next 80 years, a landlord class developed with tenants paying a part of their harvest as rent to a proprietor who ran these properties for these deed-holders, who were in most cases absentee. Tenants in turn rented out sections of their already leased acres becoming landlords themselves on a smaller scale. By the time the Japanese arrived in Taiwan, the country was controlled in this way by a few very wealthy families, such as the Lins of Panchiao or Wufeng or the Chens of Kaohsiung. These families organized their own militias to protect their interests from mandarins as well as Taiwanese - in other words, the "country and people."
In 1895, the Japanese began to gather up some of this land for public works. Prior to this, for 400 years going back, the assets have never really belonged to the "people" but rather "some people." Yeh is right to call for the KMT to clean itself up, but it is irresponsible of him to misrepresent history, even if it does make for dramatic political speeches.

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