In Formosa Betrayed, George Kerr’s foundational work on the 2-28 massacre, he describes the provision of intelligence on Taiwan to the US government by the Republic of China (ROC) government in Chungking during WWII, saying:
"In addition to these reports on subversion potential, and on specific communications and industrial objectives, we also received from Chungking a long report on Formosan-Chinese leaders, and on Formosans who were exiles in China."(p14)The report had been prepared by an exiled Formosan whom Kerr identifies as a notorious schemer, but this brief remark is a window into a world generally neglected in historical writing on 2-28. After opening that window, we can ask: did Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT set up the massacre so they could murder the local leadership, which otherwise might oppose KMT rule?
The problem of historiography
Formosa Betrayed opens with a discussion of US policy toward Formosa during the war, then presents the background of Chen Yi, who would become governor of Formosa in 1945, and then briefly covers the expectations of Formosan leaders in 1945. Kerr then moves on to the arrival of the US and ROC leaders in Taiwan, and from there to a narrative of the development of the revolt.
Similarly, in A Tragic Beginning: The Taiwan Uprising of February 28, 1947, another commonly cited work on 2-28, Ramon Myers and Lai Zehan, after setting the stage in the first chapter, move on to a detailed discussion of the people of Taiwan under Japanese rule, followed by a chapter describing the establishment of KMT rule in Taiwan.
This pattern of presenting the Taiwan experience of Japanese rule, followed by the beginning of KMT rule on the island, is true of almost all presentations of 2-28’s history, long or short. Even the Wiki page on the event offers a Background that briefly describes the experiences of Taiwan and its people under Japanese rule, followed by a somewhat longer explication of KMT rule. It then presents the revolt.
There’s a key element missing: this discourse emphasizes the continuity of the Taiwanese experience with Japanese Formosa while ignoring the continuity of KMT experience with Japanese Formosa.
Instead, the KMT in Taiwan in 1945 is always presented as if it had simply parachuted in from China with little or no prior knowledge of Taiwan. Chen Yi’s trip to Taiwan and background is often mentioned, but the KMT’s extensive knowledge of Taiwan and Taiwanese in the prewar era typically draws no attention. Kerr, for example, writes:
“Chiang's personal power within China derived from his consummate skill in playing off one powerful Party or Army faction against another and his family alliance with the leading industrialists and financiers. In mid-year 1945, the so-called Political Science Group was the faction momentarily in the ascendant at Chungking. When a temporary committee was established to plan for the "Provisional Government of Taiwan Province," a member of this group became the Chairman.Kerr provides detailed information on the relationship between Chen Yi, the Soong family, and Chiang Kai-shek, yet tells us nothing about this committee or of the KMT’s knowledge of Formosa. What was its understanding of Formosa? What were its information sources?
This was Chiang's friend General Chen Yi.”(p47)
Instead of presenting a chapter on the extensive and detailed knowledge the KMT had of Taiwanese and their politics on Formosa, most writers simply give Chen Yi’s background in Fujian and his trip to Taiwan. This unconsciously signals the reader that no other knowledge exists or is necessary. Thus, Chen Yi’s Taiwan-related background comes to stand in for the KMT’s background on Taiwan.
This neglect of the KMT’s connections to Formosans and its knowledge of their political positions functions as an apologetic for Chiang and the KMT in its own right. If the reader never learns of prior deep KMT knowledge of Taiwan, the reader will never make the connection to possibility that Chiang planned it all. Indeed, that possibility is disallowed by the discourse.
It also underpins further apologetic positions, such as the oft-heard “Chen Yi misled Chiang” or “Chiang was too distracted by events in China” and so forth. Such comments only make sense if the analytical context is that the KMT and Chiang were completely ignorant of Formosa prior to the KMT's arrival there in 1945, and Chen Yi was the Party's sole major connection to Taiwan. But that is totally untrue.
As we have seen in my two other posts (here and here), the KMT had deep knowledge of Taiwan’s politics and its major leaders. But there’s another issue with Chen Yi I’d like to highlight.
2-28 was a reprise. When Chen Yi was governor of Fukien province, he imprisoned and killed students protesting for stronger anti-Japanese members, along with members of the People’s Political Councils. According to Kerr, Chen Yi brought in the big state monopolies and Japanese businesses, and drove thousands of small traders into bankruptcy.
“In the period of Chen Yi's governorship the Province of Fukien was systematically looted. Hot-headed students demonstrated, rioting broke out again and again, and Chen Yi reacted without mercy. The brutality with which students were tortured and killed in Fukien set something of a record even for China”(p55).The province was “systematically looted” according to Kerr. Sound familiar?
When Chen Yi was posted to Taiwan, there were protests from both Chinese and from expatriate Formosans living in China. Indeed, it was Formosans who were familiar with Chen Yi’s record from Fujian who were among his biggest critics after he took over Taiwan. These vociferous criticisms and predictions were of course known to the KMT and to Chiang.
Did Chiang set up 2-28? Either Chiang understood the consequences of Chen Yi’s appointment and meant for something like the revolts in Fujian to happen so that a generation of Formosan leadership could be wiped out, or he was completely indifferent to the fate of Taiwan, or he was stupid beyond belief.
Yet remember, when you pick, that whatever his innumerable faults, one strength Chiang had was strong political skills...
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Actually quite some research has been done on the preparation committee you mention (especially by Taiwanese historians and published in Chinese). [mt: yeah, so its influence on the construction of the discourse on KMT entry into Taiwan is limited]. Among other things, the committee did not have any Taiwanese members when it was founded in April 1944. CKS insisted on putting some Taiwanese on only after the first few months, but even then their influence remained restricted. The whole thing was more for show and to appease the few voices within the KMT, who argued for Taiwan's incorporation into China, most of whom were banshan.
The committee eventually did publish a report and made all kinds of suggestions about the future rule of Taiwan, it even mentioned the possibility of some kind of self-rule. Of course, all those suggestions remained non-binding in the end and the government opted for what was in fact a military occupation. One of the main reasons being that the KMT didn't even know if the Taiwanese, in particular the soldiers, were actually going to welcome them (remember that Taiwanese in general were still despised by the KMT high echelons during the war and seen as collaborators and/or slaves of the Japanese [sound familiar?]).
I think it's also important to remember the larger historical context here, namely that the KMT had never considered "getting back" Taiwan before the Cairo Conference in late 1943, when the allies winning the war had already become an increasingly realistic scenario. However, they were surely not prepared for the rather sudden end of the Pacific War. This is easily forgotten, but by August 1945 there was just no internal consensus among KMTers of how to rule Taiwan after the war, which was another reason CKS opted for the military occupation. The military occupation had nothing to do whatsoever with what the committee had been working on.
Nothing of this exculpates CKS of course, quite to the contrary. He might have not really been able to anticipate the situation in Taiwan, but as you said, he did know Chen Yi and he gave him all the powers to do as he wanted.
[Taiwan] Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!