Mid-Autumn in Danshui

Boats, originally uploaded by Patrick Cowsill.

I wrote this for Culture Taiwan. As usual, I am mixing up Fort Santiago with Fort Domingo. For some reason, I can't get the two straight, a constant brain fart and I admit I still don't know the name. I'll have to google it once again: http://www.culture.tw/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1903&Itemid=156


1911 Has Meant Little to Taiwan

I was surprised to come upon this bubble work today in Taipei, Taiwan. If you look inside, you'll see the words "90 days." There's also a collection of Taiwanese symbols, like Taipei 101 and some dolls. You might be asking yourself, "90 days to what?" Well, it's a countdown to 2011, to mark the 100th anniversary of the fall of the Ching Dynasty, and in Taiwan no less. So, does America or Canada, France or Denmark. have such bubbles? And, more to the point, why do we care here in Taiwan? Why are we counting down to another country's milestone? It doesn't make sense, especially if we look at the historical account. In 1911, or 100 years ago minus of course 90 days, Taiwan was a colony of Japan and her connection to China was finished. It would continue to be so for another 35 years in regards to Japan. We were liberated when the Japanese surrendered to the US August 14th, 1945. We've been on our own ever since. When 2011 rolls around, Taiwan will have been out of the Chinese yoke for 116 years.

Let's get back to 1911. To my mind, 1911 is a meaningless moment in time to the Taiwanese people. When the Ching Dynasty fell in 1911, Taiwan was already a colony of Japan, and had been so for 11 years (just to strongly reiterate the first paragraph and work the other way time-wise). Taiwan was handed to Japan on a platter by China as part of the terms of the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki. 

To get a better read on what our indifference would have had to have been, we ought to revisit 1895, the year Fortune smiled on Taiwan. In 1895, after 212 years of colonization and 159 rebellions, the Chinese washed their hands of Taiwan. The incoming Japanese obviously expected resistance, so they had to be surprised when the leaders of Taipei were on hand when they landed in Keelung, to show them the way to Taipei. At that time, Taiwan was kind of backward, thanks in large part to the incompetence of Chinese rule. We didn't have an infrastructure to speak of, rule of law was a joke, and the people were in rough shape due to a lack of food and medicine stemming from poor organization. The Taiwanese leaders, like pretty much anyone else, were looking for stability, something the Ching  proved incapable of providing. After learning the lay of the land, the Japanese colonizers set about to sort these problems out. In fact, they did such a good job of it that Taiwan became the second most prosperous place in Asia 50 years later, after Japan.

The Japanese started by offering an amnesty to all dissenters. If you didn't want to be here, they told the Taiwanese, go back to China, just get lost. Around a percent of the population, mostly wealthy and/or prominent, took them up on their offer. They came to be known as the "Half Mountain People," after a term in the Taiwanese (Hoklo) language. The other 99 percent settled in, and in many ways reaped the rewards. Not only did the Japanese build up Taiwan's monetary system, railroads, hospitals and education, but they also gradually included Taiwan in a nationalistic way. Taiwan's people would eventually become citizens in the Japanese empire, with a right to vote and place political representatives in Tokyo. The price we paid was being disconnected from China from the get-go.

A Taiwanese friend of mine once told my that his history teacher taught them the Taiwanese were indeed on the scene in 1911, that we sent a bands of people over to get involved. This is ludicrous, and this "teacher" should be ashamed. Why would the Japanese allow that? I wonder if the Taiwanese even knew if 1911 was going on, especially in terms of the Taiwan I have just described and as Taiwan was under martial law at the time. Where would have these people received the information? What would have the Japanese said when they gathered arms, procured arms and set sail? Etc.

This does not mean that Taiwan and China had no relations. They did, but under terms that would have not seen an intermingling. I've already mentioned the Half Mountain emigrants. They were able to hold on in China, and a few of them were even on the first boats back to Taiwan. They could speak Taiwanese (Hoklo), and are credited by some academics with being the authors of the 1947 2-28 kill sheets, when 30,000 Taiwanese people were murdered by KMT soldiers. They hardly saw themselves as Taiwanese.

Taiwanese and Chinese individuals mingled on other occasions too, but on seemingly the most superficial of grounds. According to the historian Bruce Jacobs, there were 8,223 Chinese people in Taiwan in 1905, mostly here as laborers, building bridges and roads, much like we have Thai or Filipinos here today to serve the same purpose. By 1936, the number was 59,015. This of course came to a head when Japan (and thus Taiwan) attacked China in 1937. The fate of these individuals was up in the air; if memory serves me, "foreign" ships returned them to China. This relationship was "us and them-ish," with the Taiwanese looking down on Chinese people. There were also 100,000 Taiwanese living in China. We were awarded a special status as Japanese colonists; that meant we were above Chinese authority. Enjoying privileges and immunity, we were said to have flaunted our non-Chinese status in China. 

As anyone can see by perusing history for even five minutes, 1911 means zip to Taiwan. It is a KMT wet dream, one that has been forced down our throats for too long. My wife and I were looking at the pic I took (above). I suggested that August 14th, 1945, when the US liberated Taiwan from Japan, as the actual point of celebration. It's also a nice round number: 65 years. But my wife was having no part of this. She says American liberation of Taiwan simply opened the door to KMT bandits, 38 years of martial law, pilfering of Taiwan's infrastructure and general mayhem. But we did agree on one point: 1911 is irrelevant to Taiwan. We could only wonder at why somebody might want to promote 1911 as meaningful here in Taiwan, and to what end. 

Erhu (二胡) on a Lazy Saturday in Taipei