CAUGHT IN THE REBELLION
On Saturday, March 1st, in Takao I had occasion to return to Taipei, and on making inquiries at the station found that the officials had obtained a report of a railway strike in Taipei and there was no through-train to Taipei. There were also rumours, which later were found to be more or less true, of street fighting in Taipei and of students being killed. In view of this, my interpreter and I considered that it would be as well to remain for the time being at Takao. The following day the station officials informed us that the rioting had now spread to Shinchiku and there were, of course, still no trains. During the day the Chinese friend with whom I had once worked in CNRRA came and warned me that there was going to be trouble and that I should "go away". When I asked him where I should go, he could give me no definite answer, but he kept on insisting that is was very unsafe for me to be in Takao and that I should seek refuge elsewhere. His reasoning did not appeal to me because I had been in Takao for periods probably totalling about a month and was very well known by sight to the populace, and my business in attempting to rehabilitate industry there was also pretty widely known. Therefore, I considered that I would be as safe in that town as a anywhere. I was, of course, better known in Taipei, but Taipei was at that moment an extremely "hot spot". When I asked my Chinese friend where he was going as I would like to go with him, he said he was going to a place where I could not go. He was profuse in his apologies for not being able to take me, but he said those were his orders. My interpreter and I stayed on at the Tonyan Hotel, a large three-story concrete building that was largely run Chinese style.
We were wakened on Monday morning by the sound of marching and saw thirty Chinese soldiers with fixed bayonets and a machine-gun of the Vickers type going past. All morning there was a tense air in the streets and people were standing about in groups. We were practically the only ones at the restaurant where we had lunch. As the Tonyan Hotel was mainly patronized by Chinese, we thought it was likely to be attacked by the Formosans and would therefore be a centre of trouble. However, we decided to remain for the time being at least. We had our dinner in a large restaurant which they told us had had only two other customers that day. It was dark and we could hear the groups marching about in the streets. There were sounds of a gramophone blaring out the illegal Japanese songs, the idea being to lure the police. My interpreter became anxious and wanted to get out, but realising that there was no immediate danger and that we were as safe as anywhere, we stayed on. We did not realise at the time that by this action we had saved the life of a police inspector. He had taken refuge in the restaurant and the crowd were going to attack but were waiting till the Westerner had left the building. Our delay, therefore, had given the proprietor time to get the inspector out the back way to make his escape.
Shortly after our arrival back at the hotel we heard the mob surging down the street and, on looking out, we found there was a large fire about 100 yards down the street in front of the police station. The police having fled, the records had been taken by the Formosans and burned in the middle of the street. Things were looking serious so we decided to pack and be ready for any emergency. There was no sign of the police or military and the only Chinese to be seen were in the hotel. With the guests and staff, we stood at the entrance. A man came running past shouting "Your hotel is going to be burned tomorrow as you keep Chinese". I was in a very difficult position because I could not understand what was being said and I did not know whether the running crowds were fleeing from danger or rushing to the attack. Everybody else round about me who could speak English was usually too excited to attend to me. Suddenly several bullets hit the step in front of the entrance and I considered that it would be safer in our room with the concrete walls. As it looked as though the night was going to be fairly exciting, I decided to get to sleep while there was still a chance.
I must have dozed off and was awakened by the sound of tramping feet in the building. I said to myself, as I said many times later, "This is it", so I went to the head of the stairway to meet the mob, accompanied by my interpreter, and we sat on the railing as casually as possible. They bore no arms, I was very pleased to see, except that the leader had a wicked-looking length of sawn timber. When he saw me he stopped, saluted and bowed, and so did all the rest as they came up the stairs. He said, "O.K.?" and I replied "O.K.". They spoke to my interpreter and he replied. They went on. They looked in several rooms and finally returned downstairs and left the building, again saluting me. I did not know till later that the reason I was treated with such respect was that a rumour had got about that the American Consul was staying at the hotel and the one thing they did not want to do was to give any offence to the American nation. I was told afterwards that they were looking for Chinese guests, and on being told that there were none in the hotel had made a cursory examination of some of the rooms and then had departed satisfied. The Chinese guests apparently had gone to the same place as my ex-CNRRA friend. We took the precaution of sleeping with our clothes and boots on, but the rest of the night was for us uneventful.
The next morning my interpreter went out after breakfast to find out what was happening. There was the occasional sound of a shot in the distance and he was of the opinion that we should keep to the hotel. I had an entirely different ideas. I thought that it was as well that the people should know all about us so that there would be no misunderstanding in an emergency. So we went along to the police station and were immediately greeted by the officials there, including the new Formosan policeman who was, after all, occupying the position he had held in Japanese times. All shops were now shut and we had great difficulty in obtaining lunch, but managed to persuade a restaurant to give us some "chicken rice" a dish which, I understand, is easily prepared.
On returning to the hotel we were the object of considerable interest from the groups of men that were standing about, but I was unable to decide whether their attitude was hostile or friendly. We felt tired after the previous night's events and decided to go to bed. But no sooner had I got into bed than a message came asking if I would help the Mayor, now a Formosan, in his negotiations for a "cease fire" order. I said that I was willing to consider suggestions that they might make and asked for an official request direct from the Mayor. The messenger had hardly gone when I received a card from my Chinese friend with the message, "Mr. Chocoton, please release me from the jail with my two friends just now. We are in danger. Please help our trouble just now". I went to the jail, and through my interpreter told the Formosans that this man had once worked for CNRRA and that I had come to China to help Formosa, and their Chinese prisoner had once helped me to do so, following with a description of his work. The Formosans said they would keep the three of them safe in jail and look after them. They said that all the Chinese had retired to the Naval Base, and apart from the base this jail was the safest place for the Chinese. My Chinese friend said he had left the base to attend to some business in his office and had been caught. He wanted to go to our hotel, but it was obvious that his presence would tend to make the hotel an object of attack and so we refused to take him. I had taken the precaution to fill our jeep with petrol and for the purposes of "face" was using it for every movement, even to travel the 100 yards between the police station and the hotel. On coming out of the jail I found that the jeep was surrounded by a large mob at the back of which were some young people in a truck. My interpreter said to me, "You had better make a speech", and the attitude of the mob left us in no doubt as to what the subject should be. I told them who we were and why we were in Takao, maintaining that in this trouble we took a strictly neutral attitude, and also that in pursuance of this neutral attitude I had accepted an invitation from the Mayor to endeavour to bring about a "cease fire" condition in the town. My speech met with a very mixed reception, some clapping and groups ominously silent. However, we got in the jeep and drove away to the People's Headquarters which were the local municipal Government Offices. Almost in front were the Chinese Military Headquarters on the opposite side of a three-lane road. We drove up in full view of a machine-gun post mounted on top of the flat roof of the Military Headquarters and of the soldiers at various vantage points of the building on guard. We went into the People's Headquarters by a back entrance. I was taken to the Committee, of which a lawyer friend of mine seemed to be the head. There was no sign of any guards whatever and everyone was talking at once, including my interpreter who, after about three minutes' talk, said to me, "Alright, let's go".
"Wait a minute. What is it all about? Where are we going and what for and who are going?"
"Oh", he said, "you are to head a deputation to the Military to ask for a "cease fire" to be carried out. This order was already been agreed upon, but the Military are out of touch with their units."
I thought I could run the responsible officials round in the jeep and so said, "Alright", but I have never seen a more worried group of men and there seemed difficulty in getting two responsible men to come with me. I was then told that on two previous occasions when attempts had been made, one man had been wounded and another killed, so the project was not very rushed. However, I took comfort in the thought that evidently contacts previously had been made and negotiations were on the way. Out of the front door we went into the open with our hands up, myself soon in the lead looking straight at the business end of a machine-gun and half a dozen rifles. The distance between the two buildings was about 200 yards but, of course, it seemed much greater. Halfway across I stopped and shouted, "O.K.?". After a while someone on the roof waved us on and the rifles and machine-gun disappeared from view. Several preliminaries had to be gone through before we met the officer-in-charge, who looked just as worried and distressed as the people in the building on the other side of the road. The interpreting here was difficult. I spoke to my interpreter in English, who spoke to another officer in Japanese, who spoke to the Chinese officer in Mandarin. After I had explained my idea in coming, including the offer of the use of the jeep to contact outlying units, I was cut out of the discussion, which seemed to be rather animated but was finally broken up with a sharp rattle of gun-fire. To a man they all flattened themselves on the floor and, although there was no sign of the bullets coming our way at all, I decided that if it was not good enough for them it was not good enough for me, and I did the same. While there I inquired of my interpreter what was wrong and he replied that we were being attacked. However, after lying there for about thirty seconds and all being quiet, I got up and began to reconnoitre, but on my own. I went into the main part of the building where the soldiers were on guard and they, too, were taking cover and no-one was on the look-out. Again there was a burst of fire which this time seemed to come from the roof. So I went to the door to see what they were firing at. On the side of the road two hundred yards away was a woman trying to get up and her left leg was red with blood. As there was no sight of any attackers, I started off to go to her but a Formosan youth, oblivious to his danger, came out from a building, gathered the woman in his arms, and started to return. Then he changed his mind, probably after seeing me, and I met him and helped him to carry her into the Military Headquarters. There was no first-aid whatsoever. The girl had a bullet wound high in her left thigh and her thigh-bone was broken. She was not losing much blood and it seemed to be clotting satisfactorily. There being no dressings I decided to leave it. Everyone was standing round helplessly and left her moaning, as she was quite conscious. There were, of course, no bandages or splints so I got the soldiers to tear up into strips some of their towels that were drying. The woman was still carrying her personal belongings in a scarf and also an umbrella. Using her umbrella and a piece of wood for splints, I bandaged her up and, with a blackboard for a stretcher, had her carried across to the People's Headquarters where there was a doctor.
This incident had entirely disrupted the negotiations and neither side seemed willing to start them again. It appeared that nothing I could say through my interpreter was of much use, so we returned to the People's Headquarters, where I found that the doctor had ordered her to be carried to a hospital which was about a half mile down the road.
When we returned to our hotel we found several friends waiting for us. They were unanimous in their advice that we should leave the hotel, and so we accepted the invitation of one of them to stay as his guests in his house. But there we found that it was completely overlooked by Chinese military sentries posted with a machine-gun on the top of a hill. However, we stayed there the night and the next day went to an hotel which, being on the outskirts of the town, was considered safe. This hotel was run Japanese style.
That night there was desultory firing in various parts of the town, and the following day there was nothing of note except the report that the military had retired from the headquarters we had visited and had taken refuge in the fortress built for the protection of the harbour. In the evening, however, while we were sitting cross-legged at a Japanese table, a machine-gun commenced to fire directly underneath our window and the lights went out. In springing to my feet I sprained my ankle, and was thus confined to bed. Throughout the next day we heard various rumours but it appeared as though the students were in control of the town, and they came to the hotel to commandeer rice. They also tried to commandeer our jeep but were dissuaded. The wireless broadcasted reports of the aims of the rebellion, and it appeared as though the whole Island was in the control of the rebels. However, shortly after lunch there were bursts of machine-gun fire which gradually came nearer and nearer to the hotel, so we took refuge in an inner room covered by as many mattresses as we could find.
It was obvious that there was an organised attack by the Chinese military to clear the town, for up till this time all the arms we had seen in the possession of the rebels had been about six rifles belonging to a truck-load of about twenty men. We considered ourselves fortunate when the firing gradually went past the hotel and ultimately sounded in the distance. From the hotel we could see that the Chinese Flag was flying both from their previous Military Headquarters and the People's Headquarters and machine-gun crews were taking up strategic positions. Single shots which every now and again echoed down the streets made me realise that the mopping-up process had begun. The shots came closer, until we found it expedient to retire again to our retreat. Suddenly there was a shot and a crash of glass in the entrance-way. I put my head out of the door to see dust in the building, and realised that this was the time to meet the Chinese soldiers. So I went along the passage calling out in English, "Alright! Alright! There is no need for all that", with the idea of letting them know that I was a Westerner. However, when I poked my head round a corner, I found my eyes were six inches from the bayonet at the end of the rifle of one of the soldiers, which he had up to his shoulder, and it appeared to me that he was taking the pull preparatory to firing. I immediately dodged back and shouted to him in English and, putting my head round the corner at a lower level, was relieved to find that he was lowering his rifle. When I came into full view, he came forward with his right hand outstretched to shake hands. I called out to my interpreter to come along, and the first thing the soldier did was to order everybody to line up in the front. One of the men of his section that had now arrived, marched the men who were staying in the hotel off to prison. My interpreter and I, of course, refused to go. But, eventually, my interpreter agreed to accompany him to the Headquarters once more. While they were away - and the remainder of the soldiers having left - another group made their entrance in a similar manner. Fortunately one of the guests could speak Mandarin and explained the situation. While they were still discussing the matter, my interpreter returned with an English-speaking officer who took us to the fortress on the hill beyond the town. He had been in the Burma Campaign and drove us in our own jeep. On our way we saw immediately that the rebellion was doomed to failure. The streets and the hillsides bristled with machine-guns, some of them of very large calibre, and the comparatively unarmed Formosans would not have had the slightest chance.
We were courteously received by the Commanding Officer, who informed us that they were compelled to attack the town as the communists had come in. For our part we had seen nothing that would indicate that there were communists. We were given the Quarter-Master's office for our room and beds were made up for us on the office tables. There was a shortage of food and, fortunately, due to the foresight of one of the guests, we had brought with us some bread and cheese which the hotel had specially obtained for us.
During the evening we were visited by two officers who were also engineers and could speak English, having had to use English textbooks for their professional studies. They also impressed on us that this rebellion was the dirty work of the communists. We had quite an interesting discussion and were very pleased to have their company.
We slept fitfully that night, interrupted frequently with the sound of machine-gun firing. We got up about eight o'clock, but an hour later there was still no sign of breakfast. The reception given to some fresh vegetables which had been brought to a group of soldiers next door indicated that food was scarce and the soldiers were probably hungry. This was confirmed by a request from one of our engineer friends of the previous evening to borrow our jeep which we had left locked in the front of the building. After we had explained that it was impossible for us to allow an UNRRA jeep to be used for military purposes, he said that it was for relief work; it was wanted to take the rice from the military stores to the camp where all the Chinese civilians were taking refuge, and they were short of transport. Further discussion brought out two points: one was that the food store was cut off by the rebels and the other was that the rice had to be brought to the fortress where we were, before being distributed to the refugees. It was obvious, then, that what rice would go to the refugees would be what the military did not want, so we respectfully declined. We were strengthened in our position by the fact that we had refused to let the students use the jeep for commandeering rice in the town, and we were only maintaining a strictly neutral attitude. So he went away, obviously to discuss the situation with the Commander of the fortress, but returned some minutes later to state, to our great relief, that they were able to make other arrangements.
Our breakfast eventually arrived at 11 a.m. and comprised poached eggs in diluted soya bean sauce - but no rice. So, with our blessings on the guest who had given us the bread at the last moment at the hotel, we supplemented the meal with the bread and cheese. Later we saw several field guns harnessed behind motor trucks and realised why there was a shortage of transport for food. We also met the station-master of Takao, and from him gathered that fighting was still going on round his station. But what hope would the rebels have against machine-guns and field guns!
Tea in the evening was our next meal and comprised fried duck-eggs with boiled rice, Chinese Army bully beef, and again our bread and cheese. As the lights kept failing and we had no visitors, we retired to bed early, but were again wakened in the early morning by the sound of firing, but this time in the distance. We had hopes, therefore, that we might be able to return to the town.
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.
After breakfast we discussed the question of going back to town; but the military were unwilling to let us go. When they began to insist on our staying, we pointed out the serious repercussions it would have for them by making UNRRA officials their prisoners. Their next argument for our staying had more point to it. They said that, in the jeep, we were likely to be sniped by one side or the other. We therefore decided to make a flag out of a pillow case we had with us, by writing "UNRRA" along the top and the Chinese characters below. This was done on both sides, so that when it was mounted above the head of the jeep it could be seen clearly from almost every direction.
But we had more difficulties to overcome before we got away. An examination of the jeep showed that the spare wheel was missing and, of course, no-one knew where it was. Eventually a story was put together that it was locked in a shed and the officer who had the key was absent in Takao on duty and would not return till the evening. However, the condition of the tires on what jeeps they had, indicated to us that our spare was most likely running round the country helping to quell the rebellion. After considerable argument, when we refused to be satisfied by a receipt for the wheel, they promised to deliver it to us at a specified hotel by ten o'clock the following morning. Tempers were rather short, and in trying to start up our jeep to leave the fortress the starter jammed, and the officers heaped coals of fire on our heads by sending a mechanic to make repairs, an operation which took about two hours.