Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Formosa Betrayed and Kerr's Original Memo

Most of you are familiar with George Kerr's brilliant and angry account of the looting of Taiwan by the Chiang Kai-shek government, Formosa Betrayed, which is online in a couple of places. Taiwanophile Andrew Leonard, who writes a regular column at Salon.com, discusses a post at Frog in a Well that scanned Kerr's original memo on the 2-28 massacre. Leonard writes:

This is an astonishing document: 23 pages of typewritten manuscript marked up with notations in the margins and handwritten corrections. It positively reeks of history. "Formosa Betrayed" is an angry book, but its publication came nearly 20 years after the events that make up its heart. Kerr's memo is dated April 21, 1947 -- just a month and a half after Kerr personally witnessed machine-gun fire mowing down unarmed protesters. I have talked to people whose relatives died in that crackdown, and I have watched moving films made about the massacre decades later, but nothing I've ever experienced packs the emotional wallop of Kerr's memo.

After some initial rioting sparked by discontent at the policies put into place by the KMT, and the pistol-whipping of a black-market-cigarette vendor, Chen Yi, the governor general appointed by Chiang Kai-shek, met with a Settlement Committee representing the aggrieved population. But his conciliatory gestures were just a play for time as he waited for thousands of troops from the mainland to arrive. As soon as they disembarked, mass slaughter began.

Leonard posts an excerpt from the memo:

Beginning March 9, there was widespread and indiscriminate killing. Soldiers were seen bayonetting coolies without apparent provocation in front of a Consulate staff residence. Soldiers were seen to rob passersby. An old man protesting the removal of a woman from his house was cut down by two soldiers. The Canadian nurse in charge of an adjacent Mission Hospital was observed bravely to make seven trips under fire into the crowded area across the avenue to treat persons shot down or bayonetted, and once as she supervised the movement of a wounded man into the hospital the bearers with her were fired upon. Some of the patients brought in had been shot and hacked to pieces. Young Formosan men were observed tied together, being prodded at bayonet point toward the city limits. A Formosan woman primary school teacher attempting to reach her home was shot in the back and robbed near the Mission compound. A British business man attempting to rescue an American woman whose house was being riddled with machine gun fire from a nearby emplacement was fired upon and narrowly escaped, one bullet cutting through his clothing and another being deflected from the steering gear of his jeep. Another foreigner saw a youth forced to dismount from his cycle before a military policeman, who thereupon lacerated the man's hands so badly with his bayonet that the man could not pick up his machine ...

By March 17 the order of seizure or execution seemed to have become, successively, all established critics of the government, Settlement Committee members and their aides, men who had taken part in the interim policing of Taipei, middle school students and teachers, lawyers, economic leaders and members of influential families, and finally, persons who in the past had caused members of the Government or their appointees serious loss of face. On March 16 it was rumored that anyone who spoke English well or who had close foreign connections was being seized "for examination," and that many Japanese technicians in the employ of the Government were being taken.

In addition to Formosa Betrayed, another eyewitness account is also online: Alan Shackleton's heartbreaking account entitled Formosa Calling.

During the morning we saw several groups of prisoners brought in with ropes around their necks. One of the prisoners was standing by himself at an entrance-way trussed up with wire which tied his two wrists together behind his back. The wire had been screwed so tightly that it was buried in the flesh. A similar arrangement with wire brought his two upper arms closely together and he also had a rope around his neck. He looked in the last stages of exhaustion and could barely stand up, but every time his head drooped the guard clipped him under the nose with the back of the bayonet which was fastened to the end of the rifle. My interpreter thought it was our friend, one of the leaders of the people's group who had been very concerned that there should be no fighting. I did not think so, but my interpreter maintained that I did not make allowances for the harrowing experiences that the man had undergone. For one thing, he certainly was very much thinner. Nevertheless, no matter who he was, it was a shock to see a man so treated. We discussed whether we could do anything about the matter but decided that, if we showed any interest in the man, it would probably only bring him more trouble at the hands of the military.

Why does the DPP want to rename the memorial to Chiang Kai-shek in downtown Taipei? This mass killing is one of the (innumerable) reasons.

UPDATED: Kerr actually wrote the book in conjunction with UNRRA official Ed Paine. Here is a partial tale of Paine.


Anonymous said...

Interesting timing for this post, Michael.

Exactly 50 years ago (May 24,1957) the US Embassy was sacked and looted by the KMT. I posted an article on this awhile back if anyone is interested. (from Chapter 19 in Kerr's book)


Unknown said...

Thanks for this post, and for the blog in general. My wife is from Taiwan but has been in the U.S. since she was 18. She's 30 now and only started learning the truth about Chiang Kai-shek after she met me 7 years ago and I started studying Taiwan's history. That's some powerful propaganda she grew up with.

Do you know of resources similar to the ones you mention in this post that are written in Chinese, which she might find easier to digest? The idea of Chiang Kai-shek as hero is so ingrained in her that even though she believes what I've told her I think the information would be more convincing coming from a Taiwanese source. She understands now that Chiang was not such a hero, but it is still a shock to her to see the renaming of the memorial and the removal of his name from other places.

Many thanks.

Michael Turton said...

Awright! It's amazing how access to the real history changes minds.

I think Formosa Betrayed is now available in Chinese, but I wouldn't know where to find it. My wife has it in book for. Visit Taiwan documents.org at


there might be stuff there.

Michael Turton said...

Chris, WUFI's website should have Formosa Betrayed in Chinese. The translation was done in 1973 when WUFI bought the rights directly from George Kerr (Chiang Kai-shek bought the copyright to suppress the book)


Runsun said...


Just go google it and you will find tons of mandarin documents on the net. These documents have been around for some time.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Michael. I'll point her in those directions. Taiwandc.org looks good for me, too.

Anonymous said...

Chris wrote: “Do you know of resources similar to the ones you mention in this post that are written in Chinese?...”

Well, Chris, here you go.
I had just a moment ago come across the answer to your quest.
50 works for nurturing Taiwan knowledge and Taiwanese consciousness.
The list – complete with authors and publishers’ names – comes at the bottom of a review under the title:
Evaluation of the 50 must-read for nurturing Taiwan knowledge and Taiwanese consciousness.

The following opinion piece in today’s edition of the Liberty Times provides the link.
“Who made Taiwan an orphan of the international community”

And to build up Taiwanese pride I suggest a pre-prandial morning read of the Liberty Times opinion page.
自由時報 at http://www.libertytimes.com.tw/

And how about the following to get the adrenalin going.
南方快報 at http://www.southnews.com.tw/

Anonymous said...

Michael, fyi, there's a movie in the work with the same title, "Formosa Betrayed". It involves the assination of a Taiwanese professor in the US. The plot involve includes a US detective and KMT conspiracy. I can't remeber the producers' name but he is actively raising money for production.

Anonymous said...

Kerr's account matches what I have heard from other eye witnesses and I even had a chance to talk to one of the characters mentioned in FB, who recalled the details. It is unfortunate that the ROC government is still sitting on soem of the documents and materials. A couple years ago, some scolars from Academia Sinica and other universities sent Chen Shui Bian a letter urging him to open the archives on 228, for academic research, but there is still a lot that is being retained.

Anonymous said...

too many dead links