China-Taiwan Tensions and the Guomindang’s Existential Crisis

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People’s Republic of China vs Republic of China (Taiwan). CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In November 2014 the Guomindang (Chinese Nationalist Party) suffered a defeat in Taiwan’s local elections, winning 40.7% of the votes and only 6 out of 22 local seats. The main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), gained 47.5% of the votes. This setback led to the resignation en masse of the Guomindang executive cabinet.

It was widely believed that the Guomindang’s declining popularity was caused by its policy of rapprochement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The controversial signing of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) between Taiwan and mainland China was opposed by a majority of Taiwanese and resulted in the formation of the Sunflower Movement. Students occupied the parliament and eventually forced President Ma Ying-jeou to scale down his efforts to improve relations with the CCP.

The Guomindang did not draw the right conclusions from its electoral backlash. Instead of steering towards a more moderate policy, in June 2015 the Guomindang endorsed candidate Hong Xiuzhu (Wade-Giles: Hung Hsiu-chu), who stood out for her conservative pro-China views.

Hong’s poll ratings were so low that a few months later her own party ditched her, replacing her at an emergency meeting in October 2015 with Eric Chu, Guomindang chairman and mayor of New Taipei City. However, Eric Chu did not dissociate himself from Ma Ying-jeou’s pro-China stance. In May 2016, he travelled to mainland China to meet with President Xi Jinping. a move that further alienated Taiwanese voters. In the 2016 presidential elections, the DPP won 44.1% of the votes, while the Guomindang garnered a mere  26.9% of the votes.

Yet, once again, instead of aligning itself with moderate voters who viewed close Taipei-Beijing ties with suspicion, the Guomindang turned again to Hong Xiuzhu, electing her as its chairwoman – the party’s first female leader. Ahead of the chairmanship elections due in May 2017, the candidates are once again debating how to handle relations with the Communist Party, an issue that has been at the heart of the Guomindang’s internal struggles since the 1920s. Will the Guomindang be marginalized by the DPP and its Taiwan-centric stance? Or will it once again redefine itself so as to appeal to voters who reject closer ties with Beijing? Continue reading

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The 228 Incident – The Uprising that Changed Taiwan’s History

228 Incident (The Terrible Inspection), circa 1947, by Li Jun
At 11:00 A.M. of February 27, 1947, Taipei City’s Monopoly Bureau was informed that a boat carrying fifty boxes of illegal matches and cigarettes had arrived near the port of Danshui, north of Taipei. Matches and cigarettes were part of the system of government monopolies set up by the Guomindang regime after the Republic of China (ROC) had taken over the administration of Taiwan from the Japanese in 1945. Only traders with a special government license were allowed to sell them.
A team of investigators was dispatched to Taiping Street (present-day Yanping North Road) where it was thought the smuggled items would be sold. But there was no trace of the dealers. Instead, the investigators bumped into a street vendor, a forty-year-old widow. The officials, believing that the woman was selling contraband goods, confiscated the cigarettes. She resisted. “If you confiscate everything,” she said, “I will not be able to eat. At least let me have my money and the cigarettes provided by the Monopoly Bureau.”

One of the investigators hit her on the head with the butt of his gun. The woman’s daughter began to cry, and soon a crowd of angry citizens gathered around the officers, demanding that the men returned the cigarettes to the woman. One of the officers panicked and shot in the crowd, killing a man.

This episode led to violent protests, which the understaffed Taipei police forces were unable to handle. While the Japanese had 208,480 military and police personnel, in 1947 the Nationalist government had only around 10,000 police officers on the whole island (see: Tse-Han Lai / Ramon H. Myers / O. Wei: A Tragic Beginning: The Taiwan Uprising of February 28, 1947, 1991, p. 89). On 28 February 1947, the police tried to suppress the revolt and fired in the crowd, killing several people.

The protests turned into a popular uprising that channeled the dissatisfaction of many Taiwanese people with the corruption, inefficiency and arrogance of the Guomindang administration. On March 7 (other sources say March 9), Nationalist troops landed in Keelung (Jilong). They brutally suppressed the uprising and killed thousands of people. An American reporter in Nanjing, then capital of the ROC, related eyewitnesses’ accounts of the massacre.

An American who had just arrived in China from Taihoku [Taipei] said that troops from the mainland arrived there March 7 and indulged in three days of indiscriminate killing and looting. For a time everyone seen on the streets was shot at, homes were broken into and occupants killed. In the poorer sections the streets were said to have been littered with dead. There were instances of beheadings and mutilation of bodies, and women were raped, the American said. Two foreign women, who were near at Pingtung near Takao [Kaohsiung], called the actions of the Chinese soldiers there a “massacre.”

They said unarmed Formosans [Taiwanese] took over the administration of the town peacefully on March 4 and used the local radio station to caution against violence.Chinese were well received and invited to lunch with the Formosan leaders.Later a bigger group of soldiers came and launched a sweep through the streets. The people were machine gunned. Groups were rounded up and executed. The man who had served as the town’s spokesman was killed. His body was left for a day in a park and no one was permitted to remove it.

In a speech made on March 10, China’s leader Chiang Kai-shek defended the government’s decision to put down what he described as a “disturbance” caused by “evil persons” and by a “Japanese-style deceit”:

Since our recovery of Taiwan last year, the central government regarded the state of the harmony and order in Taiwan as very satisfactory, and we did not send troops to be stationed there … [The] spirit of patriotism and self- respect [of the Taiwanese] is no different from that of the Chinese people in other provinces. Recently, however, some people formerly mobilized by the Japanese and sent to the Southeast Asian theater to fight–and some Communists among them–took advantage of the Monopoly Bureau’s smuggling case to promote their own ends and create a disturbance. 

[On] March 7, the so-called February 28th Incident Resolution Committee unexpectedly made some irrational demands. That committee demanded that the government abolish the Taiwan Garrison Command Headquarters, that the Nationalist forces surrender their weapons, and that all security organs and the army and navy be staffed only with Taiwanese. These demands go beyond the jurisdiction of the local administration, and the central government cannot accept them. Moreover, yesterday many people illegally attacked government administrative organs.

Because these incidents have repeatedly happened, the central government has decided to dispatch a military force to Taiwan to maintain security. It has been reported that a military force already has safely landed in Keelung and that harmony has been restored.

After the indiscriminate butchering perpetrated by the army, a period of organised suppression of real or presumed dissent to the regime began. “China put down the revolt with brutal repression, terror, and massacre,” wrote Peggy Durdin on May 24, 1947. “Mainland soldiers and police fired first killing thousands indiscriminately; then, more selectively, hunted down and jailed or slaughtered students, intellectuals, prominent business men, and civic leaders.”

 

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Civilized Taiwanese vs Uncivilized Mainlanders: Peng Mingmin and Anti-Chinese Rhetoric

In recent years it has become common both in Taiwan and in Hong Kong to portray mainland Chinese as backward and uncivilized. Some controversial episodes that were covered by the media have shaped this perception. Only to name a few, in 2014 a mainland couple allowed their child to urinate on a street in Hong Kong; one year earlier, a mainland Chinese mother let her child defecate in a public area at Taiwan’s Kaohsiung Airport. Besides such incidents, mainlanders are often accused of behaving badly in other circumstances, too; for instance, they speak loudly, don’t line up, obstruct pedestrian traffic, etc.
   
In the present article we will try to show that the anti-mainland rhetoric based on mainlanders’ backwardness has a long history. A Taste of Freedom, the autobiography of Taiwan independence leader Peng Mingmin, is perhaps the first example of a consciously constructed anti-mainland rhetoric based on the contrast between civilized Taiwanese and uncivilized Chinese.
 
As we explained in a previous article, Peng Mingmin (born in 1923) belonged to Taiwan’s elite during Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945). He believed that the Japanese administration had brought modernity, economic development and efficiency to Taiwan. Long before Taiwan was returned to Chinese rule in 1945, Peng Mingmin and his parents travelled to Republican China. Looking back at his journey, Peng Mingmin described China as a backward, underdeveloped country that lagged behind Taiwan: 

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The Origins of Taiwanese Identity

The current discussion about Taiwanese identity is very much influenced by the ideological and political battle between those who think that the Taiwanese people constitute a separate nation, and those who think that the Taiwanese are simply a subgroup of the larger Chinese nation. Between 1945 and the end of the 1980s, when Taiwanese national identity was repressed by the official pan-Chinese ideology of the Guomindang regime, the only point of view that could be publicly expressed on Taiwan was that Taiwan was a province of the Republic of China (ROC) and the ROC was the only legitimate government of China. After the end of the Martial Law era, Taiwanese who believed in independence from China began to shape public discourse. 
 
It is important to note that collective identity – and the case of Taiwan is no exception – is seldom coherent and homogeneous. Identity is a combination of different elements. A person can have a class identity, a religious identity, different local identities (city, region etc.), national and cosmopolitan identity etc., and all these layers can – and usually do – coexist. For example, a person who was born in Berlin can be a Berliner, an East or West German, a German, and a European, and if he is an immigrant, another layer might be added. These different elements do not exclude each other (as nationalist ideologies often assume), but just make up the complexity of individual identity.
Let us now examine the emergence of Taiwanese identity during and after the Japanese colonial period.  

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The 1992 Consensus and China-Taiwan Relations

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Meeting between Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping in November 2015 (source: Voice of America [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons)

From 2008 to 2016 Taiwan’s Guomindang administration and China’s Communist Party sought to deepen cross-strait dialogue and improve relations between the two sides. The meeting between Zhang Zhijun, the chief of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), and Wang Yuqi, the chief of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), as well as Zhang Zhijun’s visit to Taiwan in 2014, showed that the two parties were committed to taking cross-strait relations to a new level. Ma Ying-jeou, the chairman of the Guomindang, repeatedly defended the so-called “1992 Consensus” as the basis for dialogue between Taipei and Beijing. PRC’s state-run news outlet China Daily echoed this view in a 2012 article, arguing that “the 1992 Consensus will be the proven foundation for future peaceful cross-Straits relations“. But the rapprochement between the Guomindang and the Communist Party, which culminated in the historic handshake between Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping in 2015 (see picture above), alienated a large number of Taiwanese voters. They feared closer ties with the Communist giant, which still threatens to invade Taiwan and annex it if no other options for unification were left. In 2016 the Taiwanese electorate punished the Guomindang, gaving a broad popular mandate to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), thus putting an end to reconciliation as based on the 1992 consensus. 

But what is exactly the 1992 consensus and what does it mean for the development of China-Taiwan relations?

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The Chinese Revolution of 1911 – The Founding of the Republic of China

The Chinese Revolution of 1911, also called Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命) after the year of the Chinese calendar in which it occurred, was an uprising that led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and to the foundation of the Republic of China (中華民國, ROC). The revolt began on October 9th when the accidental explosion of a bomb drew the attention of the local police to a house in Wuchang’s Russian Settlement. The house was searched and a list of names of revolutionaries was found. Since the incident had exposed their plans and identities, the insurgents decided to strike at once. On October 10th, the revolutionaries attacked and overwhelmed imperial forces in the city of Wuchang. The uprising spread to other cities and provinces, causing panic among Qing officials. The imperial house hoped to save itself by seeking the help of Western powers, but they chose to remain neutral. The dynasty that had ruled China for 267 years fell with astonishing rapidity, and the insurgents became masters of China. October 10th was later declared the National Day of the Republic of China (國慶日 / 国庆日; pinyin: Guóqìng Rì), also known as Double Ten Day (雙十節 / 双十节; pinyin: Shuāngshíjié).

1992 Double Ten Day celebration in front of the presidential palace in Taipei

One of the earliest references to the Double Ten Day commemoration can be found in a speech given by Sun Yat-sen on October 10, 1912, at a meeting of the Chinese World Student Association in Shanghai (Sun 1994, p. 100). The Double Ten Day celebration became an integral part of the rituals of power of the Guomindang one-party state on the mainland and later on Taiwan. Nowadays, the Double Ten Day remains the National Day of the ROC on Taiwan, while in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) the Xinhai Revolution is praised for having overthrown the feudal Qing Dynasty, but it is considered only a transition period that paved the way for the Communist victory of 1949. The Double Ten Day used to be celebrated in Hong Kong, especially in the Guomindang enclave of Tiu Keng Leng. It is also celebrated by some communities of overseas Chinese and by ROC sympathisers in the PRC.

The Founding of the Republic of China (1911-1916)

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