Thursday, September 13, 2012

Harlow M Church Dispatches from Formosa, 1946

The caption on the website reads "This photograph appeared in American newspapers on April 8, 1946. The caption read, "These are Formosan col miners. Barely 8 years old, the boys toil underground to extract coal that never reaches the Formosan people, except through the black market whose prices are far beyond the nudgets of miners' families. This exclusive Acme photo was made by Harlow M. Church, first Occidental photographer to visit Formosa since 1936, when the Japs banned all Occidentals from the island."
Harlow M Church wrote several articles on the transition from Japanese to Chinese Nationalist rule in April of 1946, apparently one of the first foreign correspondents to arrive on Formosa after the occupation by the Chiang regime. As you can see he found what other correspondents, arriving later, would also find: a corrupt regime busy devastating the economy and alienating the locals. [UPDATE: A commenter found this article on Google News. It is much easier to read. Thanks!]

One article he wrote (Altoona Mirror, Apr 15, 1946):

The handful of Chinese police sent to Formosa like the one shown above chasing a would-be train passenger from an over-crowded train at Taihoku cannot cope with liberation crime wave. They replace a large efficient police force maintained by the Japs who didn't make any allowances for the barrier that separates them from the Formosans. The Formosans speak a south China dialect that few of the officials know or understand. Some 65 per cent of the population speak the Japanese they learned during the Nips occupation. But all official documents and proclamations were printed in Mandarin, the official Chinese which is completely incomprehensible to the Formosans and Mandarin was the only language spoken by central government officials and police who first arrived to administer the island. Only a handful of Chinese police have been sent to the island to take the place of the large contingent of Japanese police force that maintained law and order. And the Chinese seem reluctant to employ native Formosans as police. As a result a wave of crime and gangsterism has swept the island. Most Formosans fear to leave their homes after dark or leave them unattended during the day. Child kidnapping became so widespread that newspapers pleaded with Formosan mothers not to leave their children alone for a minute lest they be kidnaped and sold into slavery in China The most feared and best gang of thugs and bandits are the Roma, Formosan for Slimy Eels. The Slimy Eels were suppressed by the Japanese during their occupation and the Nips maintained a special prison with special methods of punishment for them. Now in roving bands that cover every province they keep the local population in abject fear. Many arrests have been made but they haven't resulted in any business for the island's criminal lawyers. The Slimy Eels have apparently been able to settle their cases by negotiating directly with local authorities. The government's failure to distribute rice, sugar, and coal with resultant black market prices that have skyrocketed. The cost of living has caused widespread discontent. The Chinese government's avowed intention to keep Japanese technicians as slave labor to keep Formosa's industries going has raised a large cry of public ment. The Formosans feel that they're technically able to fill most of the jobs and that the use of slave labor will  cause mounting unemployment. The Formosans place no small share of the blame for the present plight on the United States. They feel that the lion of least until the formal peace treaty has been signed should have been a joint affair with the Formosans left in control of civil government as much possible. The American army and navy trained thousands of special officers for Formosan administrative posts in anticipation of the invasion of the island that became unnecessary after Japan's surrender. FIRST SINCE 1936 who went to Taiwan, Harlow M Church. "Lighting or aborigine from Formosa's..." Only one of the thousands trained Is actually serving in the Island. In August the United States offered an American army and navy advisory group to assist the Chinese in administrating the land but the Chinese have completely and consistently ignored any advice or suggestions or the ment no authority and furnished no backing by our state department despite repeated pleas and requests. The advisory group became the Formosan liaison group. Then after scores more of requests for clarification of authority and a clear definition of Its ties in Formosa went unheeded. It degenerated into the Formosan repatriation group, an organization of less than 100 men in the entire Island, whose sole task it is to repatriate the Japanese soldiers and civilians from the island. Chinese responsiveness to American aid or advice In the governing of the island can best be summed up by one Chinese colonel's answer to an American request "The Americans should be driven into the ocean at the point of Chinese bayonets" [MT: lotsa editing by me, sorry couldn't rescue it all]
"newspapers pleaded with Formosan mothers not to leave their children alone for a minute lest they be kidnaped and sold into slavery in China" ... Was this the origin of that longstanding urban legend of babies kidnapped and sold to China as slave beggars (Ex: "My uncle found his neighbor's boy in Shanghai with his tongue cut out.")

Other versions of this report may be found at the Brownsville Herald, Gastonia Daily Gazette, Portsmouth Times, and Lima News. Church had another piece in the Independent Record which is a mess, but you can still get the flavor:

June 2, 1946 
Rice Market Is Problem For Formosa 
Graft and Thievery Flourish in Unfortunate Land 
By Harlow M. Church

Is the watchword of Chinese rule in Formosa The in Its is an arresting picture of democracy at not in American occupation forces cured tho Island after the nese surrender and turned it over to Chinese forces when their first troops landed on Oct. 1040. Government by has been in active operation ever One of tho first acts of the Chinese administration was the seizure of tho Taiwan Development tho Japanese sored monopoly corporation that completely controlled the chase and sale of the Island's principal conl and well as the bulk of the island's the Chinese look over all of tho Japanese army and navy rice All of they told the was to assure sufficient rice for the Chinese occupation They didn't point out to the For- mosans that the Japanese had a two-year supply of rico for their troops and that the Chinese occupation forces totaled something less than The Taiwan Development company then purchased the entire 1945 fall rice crop which had Just been ed yen per a Chinese weight unit that equals 1.33 This move didn't surprise the Formosans because the com- when controlled by the bought the island's entire with the exception of needed by the ors for their own then of- tho rice for public salo at four yon per The Japanese used the com- profits on these tions to purchase commercial needed by the rice growers or yield that fed tho entire Island nnd still allowed per cent of tho to exported to The Chinese government ised to administer tho company In tho siime but tho ad- ministration line beon n ly one-way Tho Is bought nl tho two yen price
I had never heard of Harlow Church before, so hope you enjoyed finding out about his existence as much as I have....
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! Delenda est, baby.


Marc said...

Interesting take on attempting to corral the chaos of the late 40s into some kind of narrative. But I think Vern Sneider was more successful with his tragic novel "A Pail of Oysters."

Anonymous said...

That's some really bad OCR from a service that asks for 5.99~9.99 per month.

Readin said...

The newspaper article says "American forces secured the island after the Jap surrender and turned it over to Chinese forces".

Wikipedia says the Japanese surrendered directly to Chinese forces. Can anyone shed light on this?

Readin said...

I'm not sure I said that right (I already submitted and can't see what I wrote). Wikipedia says the Japanese troops in Taiwan surrendered to the Chinese. That seems like it might not fit with the newspaper saying that American forces secured the island.

Unknown said...


James said...

Fascinating stuff. Not heard of him. Where did you dig this up, Michael?

James said...

@Readin: Trust me - the Americans definitely 'secured' the island. They may have officially surrendered to the Chinese but you only have to read things like Formosa Betrayed to see how embarrassing it was watching the dishevelled rabble taking over from the pristine, orderly 'vanquished'.

Anonymous said...

There's some more information here - on Google News. It's a bit easier to read, as well.

Laurens said...

Although it has been written 47 years ago, George Kerr's "Formosa betrayed" (first edited in 1965) was an impressive read to me.

Kerr is focussing heavily on the chaotic transition from Japanese colonial rule to the import of the KMT's oppressive regime that tried to squeeze the maximum of profits out of Taiwan for a long time.

I warmly recommend the book to all who have not read it yet.

And I hope to visit Taiwan again as soon as possible. Five times has not been close to enough, loving it!

BTW: My connection to Taiwan? I'm a journalist specialized in bicycles, that should say enough.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks Laurens! Kerr is well known, but Church I'd never heard of, and he was on the island during an important period.

Readin said...


I'm supposed to just trust some guy on the internet? ;)

My question wasn't, "Will someone re-affirm the statement that Americans secured the island?" My question is more like, "What did he mean by "American forces secured the island? Did large numbers of American forces arrive and take over peacekeeping operations before the Chinese showed up? Were there pockets of Japanese or Taiwanese resistance that ignored the surrender order and had to be neutralized by American troops?"

From what I recall reading, and sometimes my memory is isn't perfect, is that a few Americans (like less than 2 dozen) showed up for diplomatic purposes just prior to the Chinese arrival, but they didn't arrive in enough numbers to "secure the island". It was Chinese troops that showed up with something that could be called a military force to formally accept the Japanese surrender and govern the island during the transition. If it is true that "American forces secured the island" than I'm missing something in the narrative.

Anonymous said...

Re: What did he mean by "American forces secured the island?"
We imagine most readers have the same question and reaction as the true meaning of American forces and their tasks and tactics in securing the island. No, we have not seen any documented story of significant amount of US ground troops on the island in that period except the relentless bombing from US forces prior to the surrender order from the emperor. Could Harlow mean the bombing instead of the boots on the ground style securing?

People of or on Taiwan said...

It could mean that American forces showed up for securing the Formosa by the intelligence dispatch and found there was no need or justification of injecting large amount of ground troops as most war torn regions. It's also possible that as an US reporter, he was obligated to say that as Formosa was bombed into surrender to Allied Forces by US and the (
principal) occupier had the obligation under the law of wars to secure the occupied regions until civil order or civil government is establised.