Ilan (Yilan or 宜蘭)

This is a picture of the Ilan (宜蘭) Train Station and also the street that runs in front of it (top). Built in 1918 during the Japanese colonial period, it is another example of Japan's lasting influence on the island. During fifty years of colonization, Japan hoisted Taiwan up from a rebellious and superstitious backwater to become Asia's second most modernized country (after Japan herself). Besides bringing peace and stability, Japan also built the first (with the exception of 42 km of track) railroads, banks, modern hospitals, universities and police force on the island. Taiwan was a world-leader in sugar and camphor production and it is said that Taiwanese rice fed the entire Imperial Army during WWII. Japan also rid the country of malaria and cholera (both came back when the KMT retook the island in 1945).

About the only place to find a cab in Ilan is in front of the train station. It must be hard to get passengers in Ilan. Once I had walked to the train station (no cabs anywhere else), two drivers offered me rides back to Taipei for NT $300 (the train is NT $223). It's an hour drive (1.5 hours on the train). NT $300 is less than US $10.

A rugged mountain range separates Ilan (northwestern Taiwan) from Taipei; much of the train ride goes through tunnels. The mountains made this part of the country fairly inaccessible to both the Dutch and the Ching. Dutch control over the area (1624-61) has been described as weak and the Ching Dynasty, like it did with most of Taiwan, had fits keeping Ilan's restless population, both Hoklo and Kuvalan (one of Taiwan's many Aboriginal groups), in check. In the end, isolation probably hurt the Kuvalan as the Ching Government was unable to regulate Hoklo expansion into the area. In the early 1800s, the Hoklo burst into the area. Within the next few years, some 40,000 settlers had cheated and robbed the Kuvalan out of most of their territory, pushing them down to Hualien (花莲).


China's Veto Power

Ten times in a row, China has used its UN veto power to block Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization (WH0). China has also blocked all 14 of Taiwan's bids to get into the UN. So why is it that many Taiwanese people have trouble understanding that it is China messing with them? A couple of weeks ago, I was even asked "Why does the US keep blocking Taiwan from getting into the WHO?" My interlocutor continued: "It's just like before, when the US deserted Taiwan."

The US withdrew from Taiwan at the insistence of China. This was the position the Chinese government expressed in the Shanghai Communique: "The Taiwan question is the crucial question obstructing the normalization of relations between China and the United States. The Government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government of China: Taiwan is a province of China which has long been returned to the motherland; The Chinese government firmly opposes any activities which aim at the creation of one China, one Taiwan . . . . The liberation of Taiwan is China's internal affair in which no other country has the right to interfere."

When I asked my interlocutor about his info., he replied vaguely: "There are some reports in the media."


On Costa Rica's plans to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan, The Taipei Times ran this editorial. It discusses how Taiwan's pan-blue politicians obscure China's attempts to isolate Taiwan. I think the writer(s) makes some good points, though I think Taiwan's "journalists" are more to blame:

"According to foreign ministry officials, Costa Rica has been in close contact with China as it needs Beijing's support to realize its goal of becoming a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Upon learning that Taiwan-Costa Rica relations might be in danger, KMT legislators, as usual, were quick to fault the DPP government. KMT Legislator John Chiang (蔣孝嚴) ridiculed the efforts of foreign ministry diplomats, perhaps thinking that his stint as a foreign minister somehow justified his criticism. However, the KMT never seems to utter a harsh word against China, which, after all, schemes incessantly to reduce Taiwan's space in the international community. Of course the administration and the foreign ministry should not be exempt from criticism. But in cases such as the ties with Costa Rica where Taiwan is clearly being set upon by China, the KMT invariably chooses to slam the government instead of aiming at the real target -- the despots in Beijing."

Taiwan is an independent state. The first reaction of patriotic Taiwanese should therefore be to denounce China's malignant suppression, not condemn their own government.



Taiwanese Not Forced to Serve

On May 31st, 2007, Taiwan's former president Lee Tung-hui announced he would visit Japan's Yasukuni Shrine to pay homage to his elder brother, who perished serving in Japan's Imperial Navy during WWII. Lee's proposed visit is considered provocative to say the least as Yasukuni visits by Japanese Prime Ministers Koizumi and Abe have already raised the ire of Beijing. Some of Japan's nastiest war criminals are honored at this site, men who have the blood of the Nanking Massacre, Singapore Massacre, Changi Prison Camp, Hong Kong Massacre, Hellships and Bataan Death March on their hands. But the shrine's English Website makes the following claim under the title of The Correct View of History: "There is no uncertainty in history. Japan's dream of building a Great East Asia was necessitated by history and it was sought after by the countries of Asia. We cannot overlook the intent of those who would tarnish the good name of the noble souls of Yasukuni."


All revisionist history aside, Lee's visit is important. First, it is steeped in historical significance. 200,000 Taiwanese fought against China and the Allied Forces – more than 27, 000 died and they are enshrined at Yasukuni. It seems this fact has been forgotten here in Taiwan in the frenzy to decry Japan's foul misdeeds against China and to spend much time celebrating the Generalissimo's achievements as the "supreme commander of the victorious Allied forces during WWII" (China Post, June 2nd).


That Taiwanese men did not fight for China and that they did volunteer for service in Japan's Imperial Forces – they were not forced to do so as Japan did not conscript soldiers from Taiwan – speaks to how much the Taiwanese considered themselves to be Japanese (and not Chinese) half a century ago. Second, that a single old man can still ruffle so many feathers shows much of what he started during his time in office remains unsettled, and how far apart China and Taiwan (or any other democratic country for that matter) are. In Taiwan, citizens enjoy certain rights. These include the "freedom of speech, teaching, writing and publication" (Constitution of the Republic of China "Taiwan". Chapter II. Rights and Duties of the People, Article 11). China doesn't really get it. By Taiwan's own rules, though, Lee should be able to go wherever he wants and say whatever he pleases.