10/03/2010

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. 

13 comments:

Hans said...

Great post.I don't know how most of the Taiwanese are feeling, but for me, I really have little emotions for the celebration of ROC 100. It feels much meaningful to celebrate the year 1996, when we had our first direct presidential election, or 2000, the first year of party-change on presidency.

No wonder people say Taiwanese have that sense of "colonization," because it does feel like being colonized... celebrating holidays that mean little to the history.

Islander said...

Thanks for this post. I think decades of KMT brainwashing that downplayed Taiwan's unique history has everyone thinking that Taiwan was Chinese from the beginning of time. This post provides a different perspective.

Carlos said...

It means nothing to me or my family in Taiwan either… but that may have been a slightly too-rosy picture of the Japanese colonial period. The impression I have is that it was often a harsh police state, just better structured and less random than the Chinese White Terror. Your point still stands though. It’s silly how that period has been re-written into a black hole in which “nothing” happened at all.

EyeDoc said...

Hi Patrick,

Just to set the record straight, the Americans did not liberate Taiwan per se, they had simply bombed all towns big and small, never set foot on the Island itself. The Taiwanese self-ruled between 8/15 - 10/25/1945.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"Just to set the record straight, the Americans did not liberate Taiwan per se, they had simply bombed all towns big and small, never set foot on the Island itself."

They did land, in Keelung, to pick up POWS. Warships such as the USS Kretchner, Brister, Thomas J. Gary, Block Island were here. You can also see pictures of American soldiers in Keelung. By liberate, I simply mean beat the Japanese, which they did.

"The Taiwanese self-ruled between 8/15 - 10/25/1945." Yes, and no. Many Japanese bureaucrats stayed until October, and helped out.

Anonymous said...

“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.”

I am pretty sure that was not an offer but part of the agreements by 馬関条約 (in Chinese) or下関条約 (in Japanese); our ancestors were given two years to make up their minds. Fortunately all my grandparents in both sides choose to stay or I would not be born as a native Taiwanese. As you know that no choices whatsoever were given upon the end of WWII; KMT just stepped in and illegally converted all islanders into Chinese and made Taiwan part of the Republic of China without our approval or consent. Legally, Taiwan is an occupied territory of the United States.
It is true that USMC has never landed in Taiwan nor mainland Japan before it surrendered. However, that does not change the fact that Taiwan is still the occupied territory of the States. You may not remember but there were many USAF airbases in Taiwan for many years after the war.

Patrick Cowsill said...

I have received a comment on the side questioning my title; the individual believes that 1911 does indeed mean something to some in Taiwan right now. My point was, as stated in the title, to show how it has meant little at one time. Yes, Sun Yat-sen did visit Taiwan in the 1910s. But I believe he spoke to a select few in doing so. The Taiwanese folk would have had little knowledge of what was going on in China then. I believe Sun was not inciting the Taiwanese to rebel against the Japanese either. Had he done so, he would have ended up in jail. Taiwan was simply part of his speech circuit.

The reason I wrote this post was I believed history is currently being revised. I wanted to stress that Taiwan did not take part in the 1911 revolution in any way whatsoever because there seems to be some sudden doubt here, in 2010. It is likely the Taiwanese people, for reasons I have underlined, saw themselves as separate from the Chinese at that time. I think this is not being adequately considered or explained in our media now.

blobOfNeurons said...

1911 is important to the ROC. Then Taiwan came under the control of the ROC. Then Taiwan became all the ROC controlled. So 1911 is important to Taiwan because it's the day its current government was formed (whether they like it or not).

Patrick Cowsill said...

"1911 is important to the ROC. Then Taiwan came under the control of the ROC. Then Taiwan became all the ROC controlled. So 1911 is important to Taiwan because it's the day its current government was formed (whether they like it or not)."

The problem is that the other facts are ignored here when we celebrate ROC's formation, facts that are completely relevant to Taiwan's history. We need to state that Taiwan was a colony of Japan in 1911, and so would have given little heed to the day at the time. The reason I posted this is that it occurs to far too few people, when it should be included in the discussion every time. Like it or not, this point will not go away.

blobOfNeurons said...

>We need to state that Taiwan was a colony of Japan in 1911, and so would have given little heed to the day at the time.

(Assuming questions of acceptance of the ROC as controlling government as well as about ethnicity are out of this scope.) Just remember this "necessity" of stating all historical facts, as you put it, would be relevant to any nation which has ever expanded its territory. For example, all the states of the U.S.A. celebrate July 4 as Independence Day, but technically it's really only important to the original colonies that revolted.

Should the Republic of Texas be forced into discussion every time July 4 comes around?

My point is just that there's nothing particularly special or conspiratorial about a government celebrating its national day. Governments tend to do that.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Texas is a part of the United States. Taiwan is not part of China. But I think I know what you're saying: Taiwan is part of the ROC because Chiang Kai-shek said it was when he grabbed the island in 1949.

In my post, I was only saying people often do not get that this moment in China's history, 1911 to be specific, didn't have a whole heck of a lot of relevance at that time in Taiwan. Let me repeat: at that time.

There is a simple fact that could use some registering: Taiwan did not participate in the 1911 rebellion because the Ching Dynasty washed its hands of Taiwan 11 years earlier. There's really nothing to dispute here.

But let me say this: I believe the reason people are not registering this fact is simple: it hasn't been emphasized in the teaching of Taiwan's past. We should also know about how the railways were built, banks, hospitals and schools were established, etc., under the Japanese. The KMT invaders, who came from a much poorer and more backward place, portrayed Taiwan as General Keh put it upon landing in Keelung in 1945 as something to be sympathized with: Taiwan's people were degraded and Taiwan was "beyond the passes." The invaders never celebrated Taiwan's history, achievements and so on.

I don't understand why you put "necessity" in scare quotes.

blobOfNeurons said...

Ah well this is an old thread but since this topic is always at hand I might as well finish what I was saying.

>Texas is a part of the United States. Taiwan is not part of China.

As long as Taiwan is under the control of the "R.O.C." it will technically be a part of "China". This is precisely the problem. The decision of whether or not to celebrate 1911 is a natural consequence of whether or not the R.O.C. is accepted as legitimate. So instead of beating around the bush with just say what you're thinking: Taiwan's government should change it's name and rewrite it's constitution to reflect reality.

I'll repeat what I wrote with some changes:

So 1911 is important to Taiwan because it's the day its current [nominal] government was formed (whether they like it or not). All the more reason for Taiwan to formally replace it's current government.

The reason I put necessity in scare quotes is it's not necessary, most of the time. It's not necessary for Texas when July 4 comes around precisely because it accepts the Federal government of the United States. It's only necessary for Taiwan because Taiwan does not unilaterally accept the R.O.C.

Patrick Cowsill said...

OK blob,

Well said then. Taiwan needs to do some serious updating in terms of defining itself; it's like our government lives in a past era.