The Birth of the Republic of China
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Ching dynasty, which ruled territories stretching from Manchuria in the east to Mongolia in the north to Hainan Island in the south to Kashgar in the west, was weakened after decades of internal strife and interference by foreign powers. During this period, a number of societies dedicated to overthrowing the Ching leadership were formed, prominent among which was the Revolutionary Alliance set up by Sun Yat-sen in 1905 as an amalgamation of a number of like-minded groups. Sun established the group while in exile in Japan for having previously been involved in anti-government activities.
After ten failed revolts, on October 10, 1911, allies of the Revolutionary Alliance began a revolt in Hubei Province’s Wuchang. By January 1, 1912, the Revolutionary Alliance had control of 16 of 22 provinces and established a provisional government in Nanjing, electing Sun Yat-sen as provisional president of the Republic of China, which would eventually incorporate into itself all of the territories held by the Ching dynasty. The Xuan Tong Emperor (also known as Pu Yi) abdicated on February 12, 1912, and, in return for an alliance with Yuan Shi-kai, the commander of Manchu forces in the north, Sun Yat-sen relinquished the Republic’s presidency in favor of Yuan.
Under the Ching dynasty, Yuan had trained the elite, Western-style Beiyang Army. Inaugurated as president on October 10, 1913, Yuan soon sought to disband Sun Yat-sen’s Revolutionary Alliance. He also dissolved the parliament and then assumed dictatorial powers. Unmoved by the advice of foreign governments and opposition by the Revolutionary Alliance, Yuan Shi-kai declared himself emperor on December 12, 1915.
Revolts in many provinces and districts fragmented the young nation. The newly formed National Protection Army opposed Yuan’s return to monarchy and demanded that he step down. During the spring and early summer of 1916, one after another, provinces and districts declared their independence from the Yuan regime. While faced with such intense opposition, Yuan Shi-kai fell gravely ill and died on June 6, 1916. General Li Yuan-hong, vice president of the Republic that Yuan Shi-kai had sought to dismantle, succeeded him, while General Duan Qi-rui retained his post as premier.
In February 1917 when the American government severed diplomatic relations with Germany, it pressed the ROC to do the same. President Li strongly opposed the move, but Premier Duan and his supporters pushed through a declaration of war on Germany in August. Despite having sent over 100,000 men to France during World War I, the ROC reaped little benefit from its participation in the war. It was assured a seat at the Versailles Peace Conference, but the ROC delegation was stunned to discover that Germany’s holdings in China would not be returned to the Chinese people. Rather, the Western powers had acceded to a Japanese claim to the German concession in Shandong Province as a reward for Japan’s participation in the war.
On May 4, 1919, students in Beijing protested this decision. A riot ensued and many students were arrested. Waves of protest spread throughout the major cities of China, merchants closed their shops, banks suspended business, and workers went on strike to pressure the government. Finally, the government was forced to release arrested students and discharge some of the Chinese officials who had collaborated with Japan. Ultimately, the government refused to sign the Treaty of Versailles.
An intellectual revolution sparked by the events of May 4, 1919, referred to as the May Fourth Movement, gained momentum. The movement was led by a new generation of intellectuals who scrutinized nearly all aspects of Chinese culture and traditional ethics. This new intelligentsia emerged in China after the traditional civil service examination system was suspended in 1905. New educational reforms enabled thousands of young people to study science, engineering, medicine, law, economics, education, and military science in Japan, Europe, and the United States. These “overseas students” returned to modernize China and, through their writings and lectures, exercised a powerful influence on the next generation of students.
Guided by concepts of individual liberty and equality, a scientific spirit of inquiry, and a pragmatic approach to the nation’s problems, the new intellectuals sought a more profound reform of China’s institutions than what had been accomplished by the self-strengthening movement of the late Ching period or the Republican revolution. Peking University, China’s most prestigious institution of higher education, was transformed by its chancellor, Cai Yuan-pei. Cai made the university a center for scholarly research and inspired educators all over China. A proposal by Professor Hu Shi that literature be written in the vernacular language rather than in the classical style also won quick acceptance.
Important economic and social changes occurred during the first years of the Republic. With the outbreak of World War I, foreign economic competition against native industries abated, and state-run light industries experienced rapid growth. By 1918, industry employed 1.8 million workers. A large portion of capital flowed from the agricultural sector to new industries in China’s coastal provinces, and modern Chinese banks with growing capital resources were able to meet expanding financial needs.
In the 1920s, the United States, Great Britain, and Japan seemed to be moving toward a new postwar relationship with China. At the Washington Conference (1921-1922), the major powers agreed to respect the sovereignty, independence, and territorial and administrative integrity of China; to give China the opportunity to develop a stable government; to maintain the principle of equal opportunity in China for the commerce and industry of all nations; and to refrain from taking advantage of conditions in China to seek exclusive privileges. The powers also agreed to take steps leading toward China’s tariff autonomy and the abolition of extraterritoriality.
The Warlord Era
Despite general noninterference in affairs of state by foreign powers, China was fractured by rival military regimes to the extent that no one authority was able to subordinate all rivals and create a unified and centralized political structure. Having witnessed the collapse of the fledgling central government he had worked so hard to create, Sun Yat-sen turned south to his home province of Guangdong, where he established a military government in August 1917.
In 1919, Sun reorganized his party into the present-day Kuomintang (KMT), and in 1921, he assumed the presidency of the newly formed southern government in Guangdong. When war between the northern warlords erupted the following year, Sun issued a manifesto urging the unification of China by peaceful means. Finally, in 1924, Sun and his southern government moved to set up a military academy that would train an officer corps loyal to the KMT and dedicated to the unification of China. Sun appointed Chiang Kai-shek as commandant of the Whampoa Military Academy.
On November 10 of that year, Sun Yat-sen called for the convocation of a National People’s Convention to bring each of China’s regional leaders to the conference table. Two weeks later, Duan Qi-rui became the provisional chief executive of the Beijing-based government and Sun, as head of the southern government, traveled north to hold talks with Duan. While in Beijing, Sun succumbed to liver cancer and died on March 12, 1925, at the age of 59.
Sun’s untimely demise left the southern government in the hands of a steering committee. This 16-member committee established a national government in July 1925 and some 11 months later appointed Chiang Kai-shek commander-in-chief of the National Revolutionary Army. In this capacity, Chiang launched a military expedition northward to defeat various feuding warlords in central and northern China and bring their territories under the jurisdiction of the ROC. This military campaign lasted three years and came to be known as the Northern Expedition. On March 22, 1927, troops of the National Revolutionary Army entered Shanghai and, two days later, captured Nanjing. Despite a split between the right and left wings of the KMT, Chiang Kai-shek was able to establish a new National Government in Nanjing on April 18, 1927, and the Northern Expedition continued without interruption, leading to a successful incorporation of the northern provinces into the ROC and the establishment of a new capital at Nanjing.
The Sino-Japanese War, Internal Conflict, and Relocation to Taiwan
The impending unification of the northeastern region of Manchuria with the rest of China threatened Japan’s economic privileges in central China and its domination in Manchuria. The Japanese therefore created a puppet state known as Manzhouguo in 1932. However, Japan was not the only threat to China’s territorial integrity. The Chinese communists established a provisional Soviet “government” in Jiangxi on November 7, 1931. While the KMT government’s policy was one of “unity before resistance against foreign aggression,” the Chinese communists opted for a “united front” strategy against Japan.
On July 7, 1937, a minor clash between Japanese and Chinese troops near Beijing finally led China into war against Japan—the Eight-Year War of Resistance Against Japan (or Second Sino-Japanese War). During the early period of the war, Japan won successive victories. The ROC’s capital, Nanjing, fell in December 1937, and the tragedy that is the Rape of Nanjing occurred when Japanese forces occupying the city killed some 300,000 people in seven weeks of unrelenting carnage. The loss of Nanjing forced the ROC government to move its capital up the Yangtze River to Chongqing.
The government rebuilt its scattered armies and tried to purchase supplies from abroad. When war broke out in Europe, shipments decreased dramatically. The United States, however, had by then sold the ROC 100 fighter planes. On July 23, 1941, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved a recommendation that the United States send large quantities of arms and equipment to China along with a military mission to advise on their use. The goal was to revitalize China’s war effort as a deterrent to Japanese military and naval operations in the south.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Shortly afterward, the United States and Britain declared war on Japan. China, which also formally declared war against Japan after four years of staunch resistance, joined the Allies in waging the Pacific War. During November and December of 1943, the leaders of the Allied countries met in Cairo, Egypt. In a December 1 unsigned communique now known as the Cairo Declaration, the restoration of Manchuria, Taiwan, and the Pescadores was promised to the Republic of China. On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The subsequent Japanese decision to surrender was delivered to the Allies via neutral Switzerland the next day. On August 14, Japan announced its formal surrender in accordance with the terms of the Potsdam Declaration of July 1945, which stated that “the terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out.” The Japanese government accepted this in the instrument of surrender concluded on September 3, 1945, between Japan and the Allies. The Japanese armies in mainland China surrendered to the ROC government on September 9, 1945, in Nanjing.
Even before Emperor Hirohito’s announcement of Japan’s surrender was known, Chinese communist troops had moved into Japanese-held territory and seized Japanese arms. The government and the Chinese communists held peace talks that culminated in an agreement on October 10, 1945. The agreement called for the convening of a multiparty Political Consultative Council to plan for a liberalized postwar government and to draft a constitution for submission to a National Assembly. A new constitution was promulgated on January 1, 1947. Within a year, members of the National Assembly, the Legislature (Legislative Yuan), and the Control Yuan had been elected. In April 1948, the new National Assembly elected Chiang Kai-shek to the presidency of the Republic of China.
Military setbacks against the Chinese communists, combined with economic problems stemming from war debts, military campaigns, and runaway inflation for even the most basic of goods, damaged the cause of the ROC.
In early 1949, Chiang Kai-shek began deploying a force of 300,000 troops to Taiwan backed by a few gunboats and planes. After the Chinese communists had successfully crossed the Yangtze River, the ROC government began relocating its offices to Taiwan. As the mainland fell to the communist forces, some 1.3 million people (both soldiers and civilians) accompanied the ROC government to the island of Taiwan.
History of Taiwan
The Original Taiwanese
Taiwan’s first inhabitants have left no written records of their origins. Anthropological evidence suggests that Taiwan’s indigenous people are descended from proto-Malayans. Their vocabulary and grammar belong to the Malayan-Polynesian family of Indonesia, and they once practiced many Indonesian customs such as tattooing, using identical names for father and son, gerontocracy, head-hunting, spirit worship, and indoor burials.
Over 500 prehistoric sites in Taiwan have provided more, and sometimes seemingly contradictory, clues to origins of Taiwan’s aborigines. The majority of the prehistoric artifacts unearthed so far (flat axes, red unpolished pottery, decorated bronze implements, megalithic structures, and glass beads) indicate an Indonesian connection. Other items (painted red pottery, red polished pottery, chipped stone knives, black pottery, pottery tripods, stone halberds, bone arrowheads), however, would suggest that Taiwan’s earliest settlers might have come from the Chinese mainland.
European Trading Bases in Taiwan (1624-1662)
When Portuguese navigators came upon the island of Taiwan in 1590, they were struck by the tremendous beauty of its green mountains, which rise steeply out of the cobalt waters of the Pacific. The Portuguese navigator named the island “Ilha Formosa,” meaning “beautiful isle,” and under this name Taiwan was introduced to the Western world.
The next Europeans to come to Taiwan were from the Netherlands via bases in the Dutch East Indies (today’s Indonesia), and from Spain via colonial holdings in the Philippines. In 1622, the Dutch East India Company established a base on the Penghu Islands (Pescadores), but was promptly driven away by Ming-dynasty Chinese forces. It then set up a base in Taiwan in the vicinity of today’s Tainan City in 1624, from which it extended its hegemony—not absolute control—over the island’s southwestern coast.
Meanwhile, in 1626, a rival Spanish consortium occupied areas in northern Taiwan corresponding with today’s Keelung City and Danshui Township, only to be driven out by the Dutch in 1642. Under Dutch control, Taiwan’s seaports became important entrepots for maritime trade and the transshipment of goods between Japan, China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Europe.
The Dutch East India Company employed Chinese immigrants to work its sugarcane and rice plantations in the southwest. This marked the beginning of large-scale, intensive cultivation in Taiwan. The sugarcane and rice cultivation initiated by the Dutch continued to be mainstays of the island’s economy and export business until as recently as half a century ago.
While the Dutch were active in Taiwan, Ming-dynasty China was experiencing a series of rebellions, followed by the invasion of Manchu conquerors, who wreaked havoc throughout China for many years. The resultant toll in human suffering, exacerbated by famine and banditry, prompted thousands of Chinese in the coastal provinces of Fujian and Guangdong to risk the dangers of crossing the Hei Shuigou, or “Black Ditch” (today’s Taiwan Strait) to reach the island. By 1662, an estimated 40,000 of them had successfully done so.
Reign of the Zheng Family (1661-1683)
As troops poured into northern China from Manchuria beginning in 1644, Ming loyalists fled southward, where they resisted Manchu incursions for over two decades. One of the best-known resistance fighters was Zheng Cheng-gong (Koxinga). The offspring of a Chinese father and a Japanese mother, he inherited his father’s position as the “godfather” of a syndicate of traders, pirates, and private armies whose operations ranged from Japan to Southeast Asia.
In 1661, when forces of the deposed Ming dynasty were on their last legs in their fight against those of the Ching dynasty, a fleet and army commanded by Zheng laid siege to the Dutch East India Company headquarters in Taiwan, and the two sides negotiated a treaty under the terms of which the Dutch left in 1662.
Under the rule of Zheng Cheng-gong, his son Zheng Jing, and grandson Zheng Ke-shuang, a mini-kingdom with a Chinese-style political system was created, which lasted for 22 years before being absorbed into the Ching Empire in 1683.
Ching-Dynasty Rule (1683-1895)
During the two-plus centuries of Ching-dynasty rule over Taiwan, hundreds of thousands of impoverished people in China’s Fujian and Guangdong provinces flouted the Ching court’s bans on immigration to the island, traveling there to make a fresh start.
The bulk of these people were farmers who, like the people hired by the Dutch East India Company, mainly engaged in rice and sugarcane cultivation. Most of the steadily growing agricultural exports were shipped to China.
As a consequence of the Second Opium War (1856-1860), four ports in Taiwan were opened by the Ching dynasty to Western traders. Thereafter, tea and camphor, which enjoyed large global demand, became major cash crops. Being the production base of these products and of coal, northern Taiwan overtook the southwest as the island’s economic and political hub.
As in the preceding eras of rule by the Dutch and the Zheng family, during Ching-dynasty rule, the desire of refugees to stake out a piece of land for themselves in their new homeland came into conflict with the indigenous peoples’ determination to defend their ancestral homelands from invasion. This conflict was exacerbated by the international demand for tea and camphor, which could be produced only in highland areas inhabited by indigenous peoples.
Taiwan’s resources attracted growing international attention. Japan and the United States both dispatched punitive expeditionary forces to southern Taiwan in 1874 and 1876, respectively, as retribution for the killing of their shipwrecked nationals by indigenous people. A decade later, the French invaded parts of northern Taiwan in 1884 and 1885 during the Sino-French War.
The Ching court in Beijing strengthened its claim of sovereignty over Taiwan by buttressing the island’s defenses, developing its coal mining, and laying telegraph lines between northern and southern Taiwan as well as an undersea telegraph cable between the island and Fujian Province. The Ching declared Taiwan a province in 1885, appointing Liu Ming-chuan as the first governor.
Japanese Colonial Rule (1895-1945)
In 1894, war broke out between the Ching dynasty and the Japanese Empire after the latter invaded Korea, which the Ching court regarded as a satellite state. Under the terms of the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki that concluded the conflict, known as the First Sino-Japanese War, Taiwan was ceded to Japan. Rejecting this outcome, Taiwanese intelligentsia proclaimed the establishment of the “Democratic Republic of Taiwan.” This bid for selfrule failed, however, as Japanese troops crushed all resistance offered by local militias within half a year.
Broadly speaking, the Japanese colonial era can be divided into three periods:Pacification and “Special Governance” (1895-1919)
In addition to “hard” measures taken to suppress and deter rebellion, the Japanese colonial government in Taipei instituted a number of “soft” legal measures designed to ease the transition from existing conditions to those deemed more desirable. These included a phased ban on opium smoking and a land reform program whose main feature was “one person, one farm.” In addition to taking control of opium distribution, the government nationalized the production and marketing of camphor, salt, and a number of other commodities. It also strove to expand sugar and coal production.Assimilation of Taiwan as an Extension of Japan (1919-1936)
Tokyo proclaimed that the Taiwanese enjoyed the same legal rights as Japanese citizens in the home islands. Compulsory Japanese-language education was enforced, and programs for cultural assimilation were promoted. At the same time, economic development accelerated.Kominka or Japanization (1936-1945)
Tokyo implemented a policy to encourage the Taiwanese to adopt Japanese names and customs, including Shinto religious practices. To meet wartime needs, the development of heavy industries accelerated, and Taiwanese men were recruited into the Japanese imperial army.
By the time the United States declared war against Japan in December 1941, Taiwan boasted what some scholars describe as the most modern industrial and transportation infrastructure in Asia outside of Japan, and its agricultural development was second to none. Public health programs had eradicated diseases common to many other countries in Asia, sophisticated banking and business practices were in place, and literacy levels had greatly improved.
Despite such admirable material progress, persistent discrimination, which denied Taiwanese positions of authority throughout all sectors of society, led to widespread protests against Japanese rule. A movement seeking autonomy for Taiwan and the establishment of a “Taiwan Assembly” was launched in the 1920s and continued into the 1930s, promoted mainly by Taiwanese university students in Japan. This, however, came to nothing.
A short but bloody conflict, known as the Wushe Uprising, began in October 1930 in the mountain village of Wushe in today’s Nantou County. In outrage at Japanese colonial administrators’ humiliating treatment of the Sediq people, their chief, Mona Rudao, led hundreds of people in an allout war against the Japanese. Ultimately, the uprising was crushed not only by virtue of superior numbers, but by the use of poison gas bombs dropped from aircraft.
In China (the ROC), meanwhile, a shooting incident at the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing occurred in July 1937, by which time Japan had added both Korea and Manchuria to its empire. This marked the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), which became one of the fronts in the Asia-Pacific theater of World War II.
In December 1943, US President Roosevelt, ROC leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met in Cairo to discuss the future disposition of Japanese territories. Soon thereafter, their governments released a joint communique, or position paper, that became known as the Cairo Declaration. In part, the document reads, “The Three Great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan. They covet no gain for themselves and have no thought of territorial expansion. It is their purpose that ... all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China.”
After Japan announced its surrender in August 1945, ROC troops and administrators took over Taiwan on behalf of the Allied Powers and accepted the surrender of Japanese troops on Taiwan on October 25, 1945.
The ROC on Taiwan (1945- )
Shortly after taking over Taiwan on behalf of the Allies in 1945, the Nanjing-based ROC government declared Taiwan a province of the ROC. October 25, the date upon which Japanese troops in Taiwan surrendered to ROC administrators, was officially proclaimed “Retrocession Day.”
Only four years later, the ROC government was defeated in the Chinese Civil War that had been fought sporadically since the late 1920s. It vacated the continent and relocated to the island of Taiwan. In terms of actual exercise of sovereignty, the ROC was thereby downsized from a vast territory to one that comprised only Taiwan and a few small islands.
Over the six decades since then, the ROC and mainland China have coexisted as separate sovereign entities, and their societies have developed in radically different directions.
As summarized in the remaining sections of this chapter, and discussed in other chapters, political and economic developments inside and outside Taiwan since 1945 have dramatically transformed the self-perceptions of people in Taiwan. Events such as the exclusion of the ROC from the United Nations beginning in 1971, the lifting of martial law in 1987, the repeal of restrictions on travel and investment in mainland China, and democratization over the past two decades have prompted people in every social stratum to acknowledge a number of on-the-ground realities, including:
February 28 Incident
The first years of the Nanjing-based ROC government’s rule over Taiwan were marked by rampant corruption and profiteering, illegal expropriation of personal property, galloping inflation, reoccurrence of contagious diseases, and shortages of essential commodities. Resultant tensions between civilians and ROC administrators exploded on February 28, 1947, when a woman in Taipei was beaten by police while resisting arrest for selling bootlegged cigarettes, and a bystander was fatally shot during the commotion.
People rose up against the authorities throughout the island when Governor Chen Yi ignored demands for reform. In the succeeding weeks and months, military reinforcements dispatched from the Chinese mainland killed, executed, imprisoned, and tortured tens of thousands of people. The prime targets of attack were the island’s educated elite.
In 1995, President Lee Teng-hui made the first formal apology for the atrocity and the decades-long repression that followed. Also that year, the February 28 Incident Disposition and Compensation Act was enacted to compensate victims and their surviving relatives. In 1996, then-Taipei Mayor Chen Shui-bian renamed the city’s best-known park the “228 Peace Park.” In 1997, the Executive Yuan designated February 28 a national holiday. In 2003, President Chen Shui-bian exonerated 228 victims of trumped-up criminal charges, restoring their good names. And, on the 60th anniversary of the February 28 Incident in 2007, President Chen unveiled the name plaque of the National 228 Memorial Hall.
Political Developments and Reform
The ROC government’s relocation from the mainland to Taiwan at the close of the Chinese Civil War marked the beginning of the period of martial law (1949-1987) in Taiwan. Under martial law, the KMT-controlled government imposed press censorship, banned new political parties, and restricted the freedoms of speech, publication, assembly, and association. Direct elections for some local government heads and legislative council representatives were initiated in 1950, however.
Following the death of President Chiang Kai-shek in 1975, Yen Chia-kan briefly served as president, and was succeeded by Chiang’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the formation and development of an informal coalition of democratic opposition politicians and democracy activists known as the dangwai, or “party outsiders,” indicating that they were not part of or affiliated with the KMT.
In December 1979, a rally in Kaohsiung City organized by leading dangwai figures and Formosa magazine to observe international Human Rights Day turned into a violent confrontation when thousands of participants were hemmed in by military police. In connection with this event, known as the Kaohsiung Incident, prominent dissidents were detained, convicted of sedition by a military tribunal, and sentenced to long prison terms.
Ultimately, however, the incident and the repression that followed added steam to the democracy movement. In September 1986, dangwai leaders established the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in defiance of the ban on the formation of new political parties.
Recognizing that the demand for democracy in Taiwan could only grow, President Chiang Ching-kuo rescinded martial law in 1987 shortly before his death. His successor, Lee Teng-hui, took vigorous action to reform the political system and dismantle the party-state machinery that had been in place in Taiwan for the preceding four decades. Under his administration, press freedoms were respected, opposition political parties developed, private visits to mainland China increased dramatically, and the Constitution was revised to allow for the direct election of all legislators and the president. In 1996, incumbent President Lee Teng-hui became Taiwan’s first popularly elected president. Previously, the president and vice president had been elected by the now-defunct National Assembly.
In 2000, DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian was elected president, marking the first-ever transfer of power between parties. He was re-elected in March 2004.
Under the Chen administration, the Referendum Act was enacted in 2003, the first national referendums were conducted in 2004, and the National Assembly was abolished while its power to ratify constitutional amendments was transferred to the people through referendum in 2005. Meanwhile, a new “single-member-district, two-ballot” electoral system instituted through constitutional amendment in 2005 was used in the national legislative election held on January 12, 2008 (see Chapter 5, “Democracy and Elections”).
On March 22, 2008, KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou was elected to the presidency, and, on May 20, completed the ROC’s second transfer of political power between parties by taking office.