Monday, June 06, 2016

Blast from the Past: Harper's Magazine, September 1963 Chiang Kai-shek's Silent Enemies

The famous old tofu street off the Miaoli 62 east of Dahu.

I was reading Ong Iok-tek's Taiwan: A History of Agonies when I encountered a cite from an article I had never seen before, "Chiang Kai-shek's Silent Enemies" by Albert Axelbank (Harper's Magazine, Sept, 1963):
If a poll were taken now to determine what status Formosans want for their island, I am sure that at least a two-thirds majority would favor independence. Of course, such a poll is impossible since just the mention of the words "independence" or "self-determination" on Formosa is taboo. But responsible Formosan leaders, both Kuomintang and opposition members, have told me that more than 90 per cent of the people desire the establishment of an independent Formosan republic — shunning both Communist and Nationalist Chinese ties.
This comment ought to give pause to the increasingly common claim in the media that support for independence in Taiwan is "rising" -- everyone familiar with Taiwan history knows it has had majority support in Taiwan since the arrival of the KMT in 1945. The article is very comparable to Douglas Mendel's 1970 classic The Politics of Formosan Nationalism in its brutally frank revelations of KMT rule on Formosa. Both Mendel and Axelbank lived on Taiwan at the same time. Axelbank writes:
From late 1960 till the middle of 1962 I was the bureau manager on Formosa for United Press International and I watched a steady flow of repressive acts directed against the population by the Nationalist government. I traveled widely over the island and spoke to hundreds of Formosans, including city mayors, provincial officials, merchants, doctors, soldiers, teachers, farmers, and pedicab drivers. Usually I took with me a Japanese interpreter since most of the Formosans preferred to speak Japanese although a few had received degrees at American universities and spoke fluent English. 
Mendel reported that he too spoke Japanese in discussing the KMT. Think Taiwaneseness is a creation of the Chen Administration? Rising in the present era? Axelbank observes:
I have often started to address a group of Formosans as, "You Chinese . . ." only to be pointedly told: "We are Taiwanese, not Chinese." (Taiwanese is the Japanese as well as Chinese name for Formosans.) There is, incidentally, very little intermarriage today between "mainlanders" — as the Chinese are called — and Formosans. Not long ago I heard a Formosan student say in a journalism class: "If I married a Chinese girl, my mother would lock me out of her house."
As many scholars have observed, the colonizer creates the identity of the oppressed through the acts of repression which demonstrate to the locals that colonizer and colonized are different and the colonized are inferior. It was the Japanese and the KMT who taught the Taiwanese that they were Taiwanese. Axelbank describes the regime in pointedly colonial terms:
Thus, in the 1,500-man National Assembly — it elects the President and Vice President and amends the Constitution — there are fewer than forty Formosans. In the Legislative Yuan (Parliament) of over 500 members, no more than two dozen are Formosans. There is only one Formosan in the Cabinet — the Minister of the Interior. There are no Formosa-born ambassadors. And in the 600,000-man military today — of which Formosans provide more than 75 per cent of the ground troops — the number of Formosan officers above the rank of colonel can be counted on both hands despite the existence of nearly 1,000 generals and admirals. In many police units, such as the Peace Preservation Corps of the Formosa Garrison Command, Formosans are almost nonexistent.
This tradition continues today: recall that President Ma appointed mainlanders to most high appointed positions... Axelbank also met opposition leaders:
When I visited the home of a noted Formosan opposition provincial assemblyman, he turned up the volume of his radio "so that police won't be able to tape-record our conversation." He told me: "I sleep with two suitcases near my bed every night. In one bag I've packed things I'll need if police come to arrest me and I have time to escape; the other's filled with some personal items if the police toss me in jail."
Axelbank's narrative also echoes Mendel's in that it shows how hollow the government's economic claims were, in fact using government sources:
If land reform aided the farmers, excessive government demands in the form of taxes have to a large extent negated these gains. At the end of 1961, for instance, the government-controlled press admitted that increased "defense" taxes on the farmer had actually lowered his standard of living to almost what it was ten years before.


Last year, to help meet its defense costs, the government levied a highly unpopular 30 per cent "counterattack surtax." Formosans were irked not only because the tax hit their pocketbooks, but also because the tax was okayed by the Legislative Yuan (which passed it in ten minutes) where the number of Formosan members is about 5 per cent of the total.
Mendel points out that some work in his day showed that Taiwan did not regain the living standards it had known in the late Japanese era until the mid-1960s. Many people forget that the 1950s were not an era of export-oriented manufacturing but of an insular island economy floating on a sea of US cash, with few exports, governed by a regime that did little more than loot it. The export-oriented Taiwan Miracle really began after 1960 and especially after 1965 as Japanese and US firms invested heavily on the island.

The KMT government typically begins its economic data on Taiwan in 1950, hiding the huge economic crash that Taiwan suffered between 1945 and 1950 in the wake of war, the KMT looting of the island's assets, and the move to Taiwan of hundreds of thousands of Chinese. Most scholars follow suit, perpetuating, inadvertently for the most part, this sly bit of KMT history-construction. Today it has been forgotten how impoverished 1950s and early 1960s Taiwan really was. For the Taiwanese of that day, they were not experiencing "growth" but a decade-long recovery to return to the living standards they had known in the late Japanese period.

Axelbank ends with a long discussion of the island's future. After reviewing the potential successors to Chiang Kai-shek, he finishes with a plea to the US to encourage the regime to reform itself: disband the secret police, allow political activity, end martial law. At one point, he records:
Some Formosans, who assume that the island's political complexion will remain unchanged for the next fifteen or twenty years, foresee that the time will come when younger generation Formosans — and mainlanders who have become "Formosanized" — will live in harmony under a government run predominantly by Formosans. Other Formosans are pessimistic; they darkly envision eventual control over the island by Communist China — unless the island is soon sliced off from its present "Chinese" connections.
Today we are living through the first, and struggling to avoid the second.
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an angry taiwanese said...

To Tsai yng-wen (蔡英文)

You and your party are losing support from Formosans rapidly.
I suspect you will care.
I suspect you will ever know why.

Carlos said...

I think it's fair to say that support for independence is rising. It was always high among the generation that grew up before the ROC's arrival, and people born through the '50s (roughly), but ROC identification seems to have been higher in the following generation. I've even seen it within the same families. They're the ones who grew up during economic growth, after all, and an increase in interaction between the different ethnic groups. Those a little younger than them saw real political improvements during their student years, still under the ROC banner.

Then with less control over the media and educational system, and looking to the public like they weren't really onboard with this whole democracy idea once Lee Teng-Hui was out, the KMT saw the generation after that revert back away from them.

That's my interpretation, anyway.

Zhuxiu said...

Michael, do you have a link to the Harper's article?

Michael Turton said...

Zhuxiu, it is in the Internet Archive in text form. Search some text strings.


Anonymous said...

Link to Harper articles:

You will need to do a search on "CHIANG KAI-SHEK'S SILENT ENEMIES" on that page

Robert Scott Kelly said...

Fantastic post, Michael, but I think Carlos has it that independence sentiments have likely fluctuated. Yes, in the 1960s, independence likely would have been the secret goal of most (as people were living in hard times), but by the late 80s and 90s, after two generations raised on KMT propaganda, with every man having served in the military, with so many traces of local culture suppressed or wiped out, with people having very little direct contact with the land (little hiking or cycling, and tourism was limited to spots that implied Taiwan was part of China), and with living standards rapidly rising, then I can believe that the numbers would have been significantly lower and that they did indeed begin to rise after the lifting of Martial Law and direct presidential elections. But these kinds of papers are so instructive to read. Thanks for sharing.

Michael Turton said...

I'm of two minds about it. I learned about independence from reading stuff written in that period, after all, particularly Ahern and Gates on Taiwan culture. I need to explore the issue of the 70s and 80s in greater detail.