Thursday, January 26, 2006

Linda Arrigo and the Kaohsiung Incident

Posing with my son at the 2-28 Peace Park

I had the great good fortune to be able to run up to Taipei yesterday to attend a presentation on the Kaohsiung Incident by one who was present at the creation, Linda Arrigo, a person whom I admire very much.

Arrigo, Chen Chu, and Shih Ming-te in the late 1970s.

Linda Arrigo first came to Taiwan as a young girl, graduating from Taipei American School in 1963. She returned in the early 1970s to do research on factory workers for her graduate research. In those days martial law had a profoundly economic slant that has disappeared in the center-right "hagiography" that functions as the current reading of the past: it was anti-worker, and striking was a capital crime. Arrigo's research thus led her directly into a contemplation of Taiwan as an authoritarian state supported by the US, and thence to a position of opposition to it. Hence, in the latter half of the 1970s, she became deeply involved in the human rights, democracy, and independence movement in Taiwan. Eventually she became the English secretary to the group of Non-KMT politicians, the tangwai, out of whom the DPP would eventually spring, and married Shih Ming-te, one of the most prominent members of the pro-democracy movement. During the period of international media attention to the Kaohsiung incident and the subsequent arrests and trials, she was an important voice to the outside world.

Arrigo today.

Arrigo today is an attractive personality of great force and energy, with a blackly droll sense of humor and a low taste for high historical irony that I found completely congenial. She gave her talk in a brisk, anecdotal manner, giving the names and faces life with her own knowledge, judgments and opinions, jumping from point to point in a cascade of information, talking with her hands like all us Italians. Arrigo did not leverage her connection to the events of the past to position herself as speaking ex cathedra on them, but rather was careful to distinguish between what she knew, what she had heard, and what her opinions were. She talked for over three hours, and not one minute of it was dull.

Like so many narrators, she began her tale near the end, telling the story of the pictures she was about to show and how they had been fortuitously preserved after a raid by security forces on their house. Her opening shot was of Green Island in 1979, just prior to the Kaohsiung Incident. She and Shih Ming-te had visted the island on vacation. There they discovered that the KMT was building a new prison there, a signal that it was going to imprison large numbers of dissidents. They also had the surreal experience of mingling with the political prisoners there while they were on work detail cleaning seaweed on the rocks.

The next slide was of the first political prison on the island, a military prison in Ankeng, built next to tree-covered mountain slopes that now host rank upon rank of hideous identical apartment developments. The political prisoners there were kept 30 to a cell and given 600 cc of water. About 1/3 of them died. The KMT apparently had the same policy of infecting the prisoners with communicable diseases that the CCP does today, with the same ugly results, and Arrigo said that prisoners with TB were apparently deliberately kept in the cells. She also related an amusing anecdote about Chiang Ching-kuo, who imprisoned his uncle there, but insisted on visiting him once a month, to be berated for his pains.

This brings up a key point she made. During these years more mainlanders were imprisoned and executed than Taiwanese, since the KMT was paranoid about Communism. Taiwanese opposition would pick up steam in the next generation, when those raised on the destruction of 2-28 would come of age. Arrigo added that during this time the Chinese actually sent an agent to Taiwan to lay the groundwork for the liberation of the island, but the agent, like so many foreigners, fell in love with a local girl and later became one of the founding members of Mainlanders for Taiwan Independence.

She returned to her 1979 trip to Green Island, and told the story of the Taiyuan Incident, a little known-affair. According to Arrigo, the prisoners at the first political prison in Taiwan, in Taiyuan in Taitung, staged a breakout with the help of the guards. They hatched a plan to obtain weapons from the military, and then take over a radio station in Taitung and broadcast a declaration of Taiwan independence. The whole thing was a suicide mission, but the prisoners had no hope for the future, for they were often kept after their release dates. The plan failed when the weapons delivered turned out not to work. Shih Ming-te told her that he was involved in this, but that the authorities did not find out who was involved because none of the prisoners broke under torture. Arrigo does not know for sure, but she believes the guards involved were later executed. After that, the KMT moved the political prisoners to Green Island, to the first concrete prison there, built in 1971 with the help of US designers. The previous prison had been erected by the prisoners themselves, out of coral. A number of the participants were executed, and the Taiyuan incident is still commemorated every year by the surviving political prisoners.

How many prisoners went through the system? Arrigo said that Shih estimated about 80,000. Some estimates went as high as 130,000. To put that in perspective, the population of Taiwan in 1960 was about 12 million. There was a considerably interplay of mainlanders who were pro-Taiwan independence, Chinese nationalists who were disgusted with the KMT's exploitation of Chinese nationalism for its own power and similar types in this period. Most of the Chinese nationalists got executed -- which puts me in mind of a comment I often make, that the mainlanders are going to be shocked when China comes over and claps many of them in irons, or worse. Authoritarians always shoot their friends.

Arrigo then returned to the early 1970s and the Diaoyutai Movement of 1971. This was a movement of younger KMT intellectuals, many of whom had been educated in the US. Many were also pro-PRC, and inspired college students. Until the 1970s, these mainlander intellectuals were the major target of the KMT. Arrigo later mentioned that the US was considering supporting Taiwan independence in the early 1970s, but gave no details.

The democracy problem began to surface in the mid 1970s with the rising discontent on all sides, mainlander and Taiwanese, and the emergence of a middle class. The contradictions between the KMT fantasy of FREE CHINA and the reality of KMT rule were obvious to all.

The immediate issue was KMT ballot box stuffing, according to Arrigo. The famous Chungli incident of 1977 was a riot that resulted from KMT ballot box stuffing. Arrigo said that Hsu Hsin-liang had told her he had instigated it, though she doesn't think he meant for it to get as out of hand as it did. Arrigo also said that at that time Chiang Ching-kuo, Chiang Kai-shek's son, was encouraging young Taiwanese to join the KMT to help build up a base for himself that he could use against the diehard mainlander faction that had supported his father.

American human rights workers with a local political activist.

Arrigo said that she married Shih Ming-te to give him additional political safety, and to give herself additional safety to stay in Taiwan. Several democracy activists married foreign women at this time. We saw a few pictures of the wedding of Shih Ming-te and Arrigo, at which Arrigo, noted, security personnel took pictures of everyone present. "It took real courage to attend," she observed. Lots of familiar faces among the crowd, looking young. One of the best aspects of the presentation was not only seeing so many important individuals as people, but also hearing the names of those now gone, but who had been so crucial to the cause....

That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come

Arrigo's description of the early movement, and its factions and politics, also drove home to me how complex it had been, and enabled me to better understand Lin Yi-hsiung's recent resignation. For the original movement, while dominated by the Taiwan independence activists, attracted pro-PRC types. Further, many of the people who had been original Taiwan independence activists had drifted over to China to see what was going on there, and had evolved into pro-PRC types, and vice versa. The movement underwent a complex evolution, at both the group and individual level. It had been a diverse group united for a cause. Arrigo also observed, that the structural problems and corruption of the movement that we see in the current DPP, with its policy drift, and its factional politics, were present at the beginning.

Arrigo also recreated that forgotten time, when security agencies and informers interpenetrated into every aspect of Taiwanese life -- factories, schools, and even homes. When you could get imprisoned for writing "Taiwan" instead of "ROC" on an export good. Getting rid of the pervasive security apparatus was one of the major goals of the movement.

The logo of the tangwai movement, with a visual pun (the word for fist sounds like the word for rights)

Moving to 1978, the movement was strongly prepared for the 1978 elections, which were canceled when the Carter Administration switched recognition to China. This came as a shock to the KMT (as is recorded in Fires of the Dragon, David Kaplan's book on KMT surveillance activities in the US, the State Department was heavily penetrated with KMT spies and sympathizers, so Carter informed only a few trusted individuals at the top). There was paranoia about a Chinese invasion throughout the island. Arrigo said that the opposition was also sure that the Chinese would do something. In this vein, she also added that even then the opposition was afraid that the KMT would sell the island out to China.

Yu Dun-fa (center), Shih Ming-te, Chen Chu, and other tangwai leaders.

The turning point came in 1979. Late in 1978 the tangwai movement planned to saturate the island with a pro-democracy declaration, starting in southern Taiwan. A southern politician, Yu Dun-fa, was bankrolling the strategy, and the KMT arrested him in early January. For the first time, the movement protested the lock up of one of its members. From that time, said Arrigo, things began to snowball.

The ham-handedness of the KMT is a major theme of any narrative that depicts the reformist and democracy movements in Taiwan, and Arrigo's story was no exception. For despite operating an authoritarian state, the KMT had no anti-riot gear and thus were caught off guard by the movement's taking to the streets. Quickly they ordered up some from fellow pariah state South Africa, and by mid-1979 confrontations between police and demonstrators became more one-sided as police showed up in large numbers, well-equipped. At one demonstration in Nantou, related Arrigo, they even brought tanks and rolled them in circles around the protestors.

The Kaohsiung Incident

As the movement swelled, they staged the now-famous Human Rights Day protest on Dec. 10, 1979, in Kaohsiung. She estimates perhaps 50,000 people showed up. Arrigo says the police triggered the violence by surrounding the crowd and then tear-gassing one side of it, forcing everyone to run to the other side, thus "attacking" the police. She also saw thugs unloaded to attack the police, and later revelations have corroborated the KMT's use of thugs at the demonstration.

Arrests began on Dec. 13 and it became obvious that the government was determined to finish off the movement once and for all. All of the top leadership was taken, and many in the second tier as well. Incredibly Shih Ming-te escaped arrest for over a month. As it turned out, this was crucial.

The other leaders of the movement were taken into custody, and tortured, and gradually broken down. At their trials, which were in public thanks to mounting international pressure, many seemed incoherent. But Shih had one less month of torture to face, and had been imprisoned before. Consequently, he was able to speak coherently, giving a stirring oration, and admitting that yes, they had planned to overthrow the current government -- at the ballot box, and saying that Taiwan had been independent for 30 years. Further, again because of international interest, the local papers printed pretty much everything that was said. The editor of the China Times, the pro-KMT Chinese paper, had gone to the KMT and told them that he'd be damned if he would ignore a story the international papers were printing, so he published on the trials, and the other local papers followed suit. Arrigo pointed out that even the KMT-owned Hong Kong papers published accounts of the trials and what the defendents said.

The KMT hired a PR firm to send this around.

The international spotlight on Taiwan found Arrigo for her fifteen minutes. The movement had no fixed address and Arrigo's phone number was their listed one, so she talked to the international reporters. This led to a comical series of exchanges over the casualties at the Kaohsiung incident. James Soong, then head of the GIO, wrote Newsweek to complain of its coverage, saying that Arrigo was not a reliable source, and no protesters had been hurt, whereas 180 police were wounded. That unbelievable story was nevertheless the story the KMT used when it hired an American PR firm to distribute anti-democracy propaganda, referring to Arrigo by name. The PR firm spread the story around the US, using a stilted translation that was obviously propaganda, and which Arrigo said backfired completely. Score: Arrigo: 1, Soong: 0.

Arrigo takes questions.

Another thing that Arrigo emphasized was how much has vanished in what she called the "hagiography" of modern writing about the past. She pointed out that the original demands of the tangwai included a significant component of economic rights, heavily influenced by socialism and marxism. This has gone by the board with the modern DPP, which has embraced a center-right economic philosophy.

In addition to the major events of 1979 between the tangwai and the KMT, that year also saw the split between the pro-PRC types and the Taiwan Independence types, over UN entry, which the latter did not support. The movement by then was in the firm hands of a group of five, Shih Ming-te, Lin Yi-hsiung, Hsu Hsin-liang, Annette Lu, and a fifth name I missed. Additionally, the KMT reformist crowd also bailed (Arrigo opined that their leader had been a KMT operative anyway), leaving the movement essentially a pro-democracy and pro-independence movement.

Lawyers for the Kaohsiung Incident prisoners.

At this point, after about two and a half hours, Arrigo took questions. My son, who had accompanied me, indicated that it was time to go. The presentation was a wonderful experience, and am very glad I took the time to see her.


Michael Turton said...

Linda showed us several wedding photos, but everyone was smiling. She truly is an amazing person. And you are very welcome for the post!


Anonymous said...

Yes, indeed, great post. I forwarded the link to a bunch of people on the Taiwan scene here in London.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great write-up! I certainly would've gone to hear Ms. Arrigo speak in person if given the opportunity, but your post was very detailed and thought-provoking.

I recall that a year ago, Ms. Arrigo had some issue with her visa/residency or ROC citizenship. I assumed all along that Ms. Arrigo would've been granted some kind of permanent residency by now. Was this problem resolved at some point or is it still ongoing?

Michael Turton said...

Arrigo's visa problems would appear to have been resolved. She did the whole thing on purpose, to bring attention to a problem, as I recall. The Taipei Times' archives should have the story.


Anonymous said...

Another excellent post, Michael. Thank you. I'm sorry i missed to opportunity to meet so many interesting people.

I went to Green Island a couple years ago in Nov. The weather was still perfect, but the place was empty. As i drove my scooter, i came up to one of the prisons -(the one with the star like layout). I crept through a crack in the wall and decide to explore. I was shoeless, but feeling amazed that only I was walking through this ugly place with the big KMT propoganda paintings on the walls, the cells, history, etc. I am not sure if this was the political prison or if the large orange/red roofed buildings was the prison(?). One thing I found disappointing was that the (poorly designed) statue/fountain on the political prisoner memorial was broken and looking like crap, as typical.

Also, in 1979/80/81 i was in the us army in Germany. I can't recall ever hearing about Taiwan back then, most of the talk was about Iran. (and bader minehof terrorism including a bomb going off in the Oktoberfest gate in '80). Interestly I came to taiwan less that 7 years later (1987) and have been here since. I just wish/hope the Taiwanese get their act together before it is too late. There is a article I posted on forumosa/taiwan politics about the consequences of ccp takeover that you may find interesting.

Anonymous said...

Detailed article about the presentation. One question though, why still use the term "mainlander" who those people were born in Taiwan, raised in Taiwan, has "blood-ties" to her native land Taiwan as opposed to you foreigners (now, do you like to be called a foreigner after you've lived in a place for tens of years?) Please avoid making the simple dichotomy between your so-called "mainlanders "and native Taiwanese, because they are one and the same.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Michael, I've written to you before about your thoughts on Taiwan, from a "foreigner's" perspective. Thanks for the new blog -- came across your Linda Arrigo posting, which was very informative. In the late 70's, I was a high school student in Fremont, California, babysitting for a family who were most likely closet "tangwei" sympathizers, and I knew something was up, from reading literature found at their house, but my parents made me stop babysitting, because they didn't want repercussions from my association with these people (my parents are native Taiwanese who emigrated to the U.S. in the late 60's), so sadly, my attempts at learning more "true" Taiwan history were thwarted at that time. It's nice now to finally be able to "catch up" on some of the story. Btw., I went to Taiwan to teach English (don't we all?) in 1986, witnessed the dissolution of martial law first-hand, and ended up marrying one of my former students, whose family escaped with CKS to the island, and they are heavily KMT, with strong military connections. One of the more interesting ironies of my life. My husband has been living in the U.S. for 16 years now, and he actually voted for Kerry in the last election! Will wonders never cease! Have a good one, and thanks again for the new blog.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, Jane. Life sure takes some weird turns and twists. Next time you're on the island we should meet and talk...


Unknown said...


I am one of Linda's former students. She taught a course in Taiwan politics at Chengchi University during Fall 2001. I've been trying to get in touch with her; but all her old email addresses don't seem to be working.

Do any of you have a current email address for Linda Arrigo?