The March Uprising, 1947
Formosa's legal status was peculiar. China had ceded Formosa and the Pescadores to Japan in 1895. Tokyo then gave the inhabitants two years in which to choose nationality, and a few thousand Formosans chose to leave or to register as Chinese subjects. The great majority did not, however, and for fifty years thereafter they and their children and grandchildren were Japanese subjects by law. Had they wished to migrate to China at any time, they could arrange to do so. Some did, but the vast majority remained. Under the Japanese they enjoyed the benefits of a rule of law. The police were strict, often harsh, and the Japanese colonial administration treated Formosans as second-class citizens. However, under Japanese reorganization and direction our island economy had made spectacular gains, and our living standard rose steadily until among Asian countries we were second only to Japan in agricultural and industrial technology, in communications, in public health, and in provisions for the general public welfare. Our grandparents had witnessed this transformation from a backward, ill-governed, disorganized island nominally dependent on the Chinese. They did not like the Japanese, but they appreciated the economic and social benefits of fifty years of peace which they enjoyed while the Chinese on the mainland proper endured fifty years of revolution, warlordism, and civil war.
In our father's generation, and in our own, hundreds of well-educated young Formosans had supported a home rule movement. This was first organized during World War I when they were encouraged by the American president's call for the universal recognition of the rights of minority people. Throughout the 1920s Formosan leaders pressed the Japanese government for a share in island government, and, at last, in 1935, Tokyo began to yield. Local elections were held for local assemblies, the voting rights were gradually enlarged, and in early 1945 it was announced that Formosans at last would be granted equal political rights with the Japanese.
But it was too late. By then Japan faced defeat and young Formosan home rule leaders were reading and listening to promises broadcast to them by the American government, promises of a new postwar life in a democratic China. To us this meant freedom to participate in island government at all levels and to elect Formosans to represent the island in the national government of China.
Japan surrendered Formosa to the Allied Powers at Yokohama on September 3, 1945. Transfer of sovereignty to China would not take place, however, until a peace conference produced a formal treaty. In view of promises made by President Roosevelt to Generalissimo Chiang at Cairo in 1943, promises then reaffirmed by President Truman at Potsdam, Washington decreed that the island of Formosa and the Pescadores should be handed over to the Nationalist Chinese for administration pending legal transfer. There was no reservation of Allied rights during this interim period and no reservation of Formosan interests, There was no provision offering Formosans a choice of citizenship as there had been in 1895. The Formosans, whether they liked it or not, were to be restored to China.
Formosa was a rich prize for the ruling Nationalists. Keelung and Kaohsiung had been heavily damaged and Taipei city had suffered, but the basic industrial and agricultural structure was there. Warehouses were full of sugar rice, chemicals, rubber, and other raw materials that had not been shipped to Japan. The power plants and sugar mills were not badly damaged The Japanese prepared an elaborate and carefully detailed report of all public and private properties handed over to General Chen Yi On October 25. It was estimated that these confiscated Japanese properties had a value of some two billion American dollars at that time. At Chungking and Nanking the factions around Generalissimo Chiang, the armed forces, the civil bureaucracy. the party, and the powerful organizations of Madame Chiang's family had competed fiercely to gain immediate control of this island prize. A temporary provincial administration was set up, and the Generalissimo made Lieutenant General Chen Yi the new governor general, carefully surrounding him with representatives of other leaning factions, principally of the army, the air force, and Madame Chiang's interests. T. V. Soong had hired representatives of an American firm to survey Formosan industrial resources on his behalf, and the surveying team reached the island even before Chen Yi arrived to accept the formal local surrender and transfer.
American planes and ships ferried the Nationalists from China to the new island possession. Formosans welcomed them enthusiastically in 0ctober 1945, thinking that a splendid new era was at hand. Within weeks we found that Governor Chen Yi and his commissioners were contemptuous of the Formosan people and were unbelievably corrupt and greedy. For eighteen months they looted our island. The newcomers had lived all their lives in the turmoil of civil war and of the Japanese invasion. They were carpetbaggers, occupying enemy territory, and we were being treated as a conquered people.
In the nineteenth century, Formosa had been controlled by a disorderly garrison government, notorious even in China for its corruption and inefficiency, but after a half-century of strict Japanese administration we had learned the value of the rule of law. People made contracts and kept them. It was generally assumed that one's neighbor was an honest man. In the shops a fixed price system had made it possible for every merchant to know where he stood. We had learned that modern communications, scientific agriculture, and efficient industries must operate within a system of honest measurement, honored contracts, and dependable timing.
All these standards were ignored by our new masters. We were often treated with contempt. Incoming government officials and the more intelligent and educated carpetbaggers made it evident that they looked upon honesty as a laughable evidence of stupidity. In the dog-eat-dog confusion of Chinese life during the war years, these men had survived and reached their present positions largely through trickery, cheating, and double-talk, often the only means of survival in the Chinese cities from which they came. To them we were country Bumpkins and fair game.
The continental Chinese have traditionally looked upon the island of Formosa as a barbarous dependency. Addressing a large gathering of students soon after he arrived, the new commissioner of education said so, with blunt discourtesy, and this provoked an angry protest. On the other hand, Formosans laughed openly and jeered at newcomers who showed so often that they were unfamiliar with modern equipment and modern organization. I witnessed many examples of Chinese incompetence myself and heard of other extraordinary instances. There were well-advertised incidents when officials insisted upon attempting to drive automobiles without taking driving lessons, on the assumption that if a stupid Formosan could drive any intelligent man from the continent could do so. The conscript soldiers from inland Chinese provinces were the least acquainted with modern mechanisms. Many could not ride bicycles, and having stolen them or taken them forcibly from young Formosans, they had to walk off carrying the machines on their backs.
The year 1946 was one of increasing disillusionment. At all levels of the administration and economic enterprise Formosans were being dismissed to make way, for the relatives and friends of men in Chen Yi's organization. The secretary general, Chen Yi's civil administrator, had promptly placed seven members of his family in lucrative positions. One of them was given charge of Formosa's multimillion dollar tea export industry. The new manager of the Taichung Pineapple Company, one of the world's largest producers before World War II, was a Y.M.C.A. secretary from Shanghai who had never seen a pineapple plant. The new police chief in Kaohsiung was believed to have more than forty members of his family and close associates on the payroll. The commissioner of agriculture and forestry attempted to sequester a large number of privately owned junks on the East Coast or the pretext that they would be "better kept" under government management at Keelung, when in fact it was common knowledge that his subordinates were operating a smuggling fleet.
At the beginning of 1947 tension had reached a breaking point. The governor general had a direct family interest in the management of the Trading Bureau to which many producers were obliged to sell their products at fixed prices, after which they were sold in turn at great profit within Formosa or on the continent. The commissioners of finance, communications, and industry developed between them an elaborate network of rules and regulations which gave them a stranglehold on the total island economy. Nothing could move out of the island or be imported without some payment of fees, percentages, or taxes.
For a time we students of law, economics, and political science, the San-San Kai group, continued to devote ourselves to books, theories, and abstract discussions. We were not yet politicized, but it was impossible to close our eyes and ears to evidence of a mounting crisis. The Generalissimo's representatives on Formosa were extending to our island the abuses that weakened his position throughout China and brought about his ultimate downfall. By the end of 1946, Chen Yi's commissioners were acting with unlimited and desperate greed. They wanted to become as rich as possible before the Nationalist government collapsed. They. called it "necessary state socialism."
All this directly affected our own interests or the interests of our families. My father, Speaker of the Kaohsiung City Council, was not molested but he was well acquainted with countless incidents of extortion and illegimate confiscation of Formosan property, and of properties and businesses in which Formosans and Japanese had developed shared interests during the preceding fifty. years. The "collaborationist" charge was used by any unscrupulous Chinese who thought he saw a chance to dispossess a Formosan of attractive property.
During the first weeks of 1947 while we were concentrating on our work for degrees, a series of acts by the Chen Yi administration provoked a violent protest. The commissioners of finance, communications, and industry, working with the Trading Bureau, issued a series of new regulations that drastically tightened the monopolies, the "necessary state socialism," that was draining Formosa's wealth into the pockets of these commissioners, the governor general, and their patrons on the continent. These regulations provoked heated discussion among the students in our group. Concurrently the central government announced adoption of a new constitution for "democratic China", but Governor Chen Yi, on Ching' Kai-shek's orders, informed the people of Formosa that since they were unfamiliar with democratic processes, the provisions would not apply in Formosa until after a period of political tutelage. In other words, we would not be able to have an effective voice administration until the Nationalist party leaders were ready to take the risk. According to us, students of law and political science, the true reason was that Formosa was not yet legally Chinese territory, and the local administration could not take the risk of exposing itself to a public vote of confidence. Then followed a third provocation, and the consequences of this action nearly blasted Chen Yi and the Nationalist from the island.
On the night of February 28, 1947, several of Chen Yi's Monopoly Bureau police savagely beat an old woman who was peddling a few packs of cigarettes without a license in the street-market of Round Park. A riot followed. The Monopoly agents were chased to a nearby police station, and their cars were burned. On the next day the whole of Taipei was seething, and by nightfall a great confrontation between the Formosan people and the occupying Chinese had begun. The first wave of angry protests were directed against the Tobacco Monopoly Bureau. Its branch offices were ransacked and burned and its employees beaten in the streets. Demonstrators marched on the Monopoly Bureau headquarters to demand moderation of Monopoly policies. Getting no satisfaction there, they marched toward the governor's office to protest and present their petition. As they approached the gates, the unarmed marchers were mowed down by machine-gun fire before they could enter the compound.
Pent-up public auger immediately burst forth. By nightfall next day Chen Yi's administration was virtually paralyzed. The principal officials and more influential carpetbaggers had established an armed camp in the northern suburbs to which they sent wives, children, and truckloads of private possessions, under heavy guard. A majority of newcomers from the continent hid in their homes, fearing a general massacre.
There was actually no threat of this. The Formosans were unarmed and police functions were taken over temporarily by students who were observing strict discipline. In the first two days there had been some violence on both sides, for Governor Chen's roving patrols were shooting at random in an attempt to terrorize the people, and the Formosans sometimes resorted to clubs and stones. Several Monopoly Bureau employees were beaten so severely that they died of injuries. Greater public anger was provoked by the disappearance of a number of middle school students who had entered the Railway Bureau offices to ask when service would be resumed on the main line so that they could leave the city for their homes south of Taipei.
On the third day Governor General Chen Yi announced that he was ready to hear the people. He appointed a committee of prominent Formosans to meet with his own representatives to settle the "incident" by drawing up a program of reforms which he promised to submit to the central government for consideration. He promised to withdraw roving patrols from the city streets and pledged that no troops would be brought into Taipei. This widely representative committee included members of the emergency and temporary police force that had assumed the duties of Chen Yi's men, now in hiding. Among his own representatives on the committee, I am ashamed to say were several men who were Formosans by birth but had gone to China in the 1920's and had worked there for the Nationalist government. They had come hack to serve under Chen Yi, and can only be described as "professional Formosans," men who were well paid by the government and who were always brought forward as "native Formosans" to talk convincingly with foreign visitors on behalf of Chen's administration.
In setting up the committee, the governor announced he wished to receive the recommendations for a program of reform on March 14. Seventeen branch committees were set up in cities and towns throughout the island. At each of these, local Formosans grievances were discussed, recommendations drawn up, and forwarded to the central committee at the capital. The Settlement Committee met on the stage of the city auditorium, and the seats in the large hall were crowded at every session.
Within five days after the initial upspring, Taipei was quiet, although tense. Shops reopened and supplies began to come in from countryside to city markets. Despite the governor's pledges, he tried to bring troop up from the south, hoping to forestall the necessity of receiving the reform proposals. Fortunately word of the events of February 28 and March 1 had spread rapidly throughout the island. Alert citizens in the Hsinchu area prevented troop movements by tearing up the rails at certain places and stalling the troop trains. Governor Chen's attempt at deception heightened the anger and mistrust of the Taipei people. Riots occurred in some of the principal towns where the governor's men attempted to maintain control. A handful of communists, men and women released from local Japanese prisons in late 1945 on General MacArthur's orders, attempted to take advantage of the confusion. They failed to attract a following. Formosans had become accustomed to fear communism ever since Japan adopted its determined anticommunist policies at the close of World War I.
During the height of the excitement at Taipei, we students at the university gathered at the medical school auditorium to discuss the situation. There was no organization, and the meetings were inconclusive. Our situation on the campus was a favorable one, and we still thought we lived in a detached world. We would have liked a better and larger faculty, but we had no real academic grievance. Our only grievances were both personal and general, the troubles, injuries, and losses suffered by our families and by Formosans in general. When our meetings broke up, we each went our own way with the tacit understanding that each would do what he wanted in the crisis.
Chen Yi and his principal officers addressed the people from time to time on the radio, urging them to be calm, saying that their demands for reform were justified, and that their proposals would be given careful consideration. But we began to hear rumors that a large military force was being assembled in Fukien, a hundred miles away across the straits. The committee therefore hastened to finish the Draft Reform Program, knowing that if Nationalist troops arrived in force, Governor Chen would never bother to consider it.
All through the week our local papers issued regular and special editions to keep us informed of the committee's work, and from time to time the proceedings in the city auditorium were broadcast. Occasionally some of our university group attended these sessions, and we talked of nothing else throughout the first week of March. On March 7, after consulting with all the seventeen local committees, such as the one which my father was a member of, the spokesmen for the committee transmitted to the governor the reform proposals he had requested them to make.
One politically active group of students drew up a written petition for reforms and addressed it to General Chen. It was phrased with restraint, and when taken to the governor's offices it was politely received. The governor's officers called it very useful advice, and politely asked the petitioners to write down their names and addresses. This they did, in all innocence.
Meanwhile my father experienced a cruel ordeal at Kaohsiung. Kaohsiung was one of the seventeen cities and towns to form a Settlement Committee and he was asked to be its local chairman. In this strange interim period it was charged with maintaining local law and order and formulating proposals for consideration by the Central Committee at Taipei. The committee therefore decided to call on the local garrison commander, General Peng Meng-chi, to ask that he restrain the soldiers who were attempting to terrorize the city and intimidate the committee. His roving patrols were shooting at random whenever they spotted small groups of Formosans gathered in the streets discussing the crisis. My father's deputation was to ask General Peng to withdraw these patrols and to keep his soldiers in barracks while local leaders debated reform in response to the governor's invitation for recommendations.
The Kaohsiung garrison headquarters is located on a hill overlooking city and harbor. As soon as my father and his companions readied the compound there, they were seized and bound with ropes. Unfortunately one committee member, a man named Tu, was an impulsive man recently returned from China, who had at one time served under Wang Ching-wei, Chiang Kai-shek's bitter rival in the Nationalist party. This man now burst out in a violent tirade against the Generalissimo as well as against his appointee, General Chen.
After this he was taken from the others and bound with bare wires instead of ropes. The wires were twisted with wire-pliers until Tu screamed in agony. After a night of torment, he was shot.
My father and the other committee members were then bound with ropes looped around their necks and were threatened by soldiers with bayonets. They too expected to be shot at any moment, but on the second day my father was released and sent home. General Peng had intervened and shown clemency saying that he knew my father well. He said, "We know this man Peng is a good man. There is no reason to hurt him."
Totally exhausted, Father went home. He had nothing to eat for two days and he was emotionally shattered. His disillusionment was complete. Henceforth he would have nothing more to do with politics and public affairs under the Chinese. His was the bitterness of a betrayed idealist. He went so far as to cry out that he was ashamed of his Chinese blood and wished that his children after him would always marry foreigners until his descendants could no longer claim to be Chinese.
At Taipei I knew nothing of this at this time. We students were listening to radio reports of fighting here and there, of the action along the railway lines near Miao-li that had kept Chen Yi's troops out of the city, and rumors that the aborigines were coming down from the hills to help us confront the Chinese.
My grandmother from Patou village was keeping house for me in Taipei, as she had done for my brothers and sisters so many years ago. She had many relatives and friends in Keelung, and on the afternoon of March 10 a terrified visitor from Patou relayed the news that troop ships were coming in from China, and that soldiers on deck had begun strafing the shoreline and docking area even before the ships had reached the pier.
This began a reign of terror in the port town and in Taipei. As the Nationalist troops came ashore they moved out quickly through Keelung streets, shooting and bayoneting men and boys, raping women, and looting homes and shops. Some Formosans were seized and stuffed alive into burlap bags found piled up at the sugar warehouse doors, and were then simply tossed into the harbor. Others were merely tied up or chained before being thrown from the piers.
By late evening military units had entered Taipei city and from there began to move on through the island. At the same time other troop ships from China arrived at Kaohsiung where Nationalist army units joined General Peng's garrison and repeated there the ferocious behavior of the troops at Keelung and Taipei. General Chen Yi was determined to intimidate the Formosan people and to destroy all Formosans who had dared criticize his administration.
Until March 8 the Formosans who were members of the Settlement Committee and many others who were not, continued to call for reform and tried again and again to appeal to Generalissimo Chiang to recall Chen Yi and replace his commissioners with honest men. By March 10 most of these leading Formosans were dead or imprisoned or in hiding, seeking a way to escape from the island. On March 12 Nationalist planes flew low over the principal towns, scattering leaflets bearing a message from the Generalissimo, "President of the Republic, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and Leader of the Party." These carried the text of his comments on the "incident" delivered to a body of high officials at Nanking. He fully endorsed Chen Yi's actions. The leaders of the riots, he said, were "Communists" and "people spoiled by the Japanese." He said the Formosan people owed a great debt to the continental Chinese who had "struggled for fifty years to recover Taiwan."
Nobody knows how many Formosans died in the following weeks, but the estimates ranged from ten to twenty thousand. Members of the Settlement Committee were the first to disappear. Editors and teachers, lawyers and doctors who had dared criticize the government were killed or imprisoned. The university students who had carried a petition to the governor's office and had so naively given their true names and addresses were sought out and killed. Many of the middle school students who had taken the place of the cowardly Chinese policemen during the previous week were killed. After that it seemed that anyone who had dared laugh at any Chinese at any time since 1945 was in danger of his life.
During these terrifying weeks I remained quietly within my grandmother's house, frightened and worried. I had not been a member of any politically active group on the campus, and my name was on no petition or manifesto. No soldiers came to search our house, and I was not called out in the middle of the night as were some friends who disappeared. For all my hard work toward a degree in political science at the university, I was still far removed from practical politics and very naive. I had not yet fully realized how much more threatened our personal freedom was now than it had been under the Japanese. In several letters to my father at this time I expressed an angry reaction to the terrible things taking place at Taipei. I did not then know that my father's mail was being censored until one day the chief of police at Kaohsiung quietly warned my father to tell his son not to write such letters, and that my name too was now on a blacklist.
Kaohsiung had suffered terribly during the incident and the weeks following the arrival of Chiang's troops. In these days the garrison commander, General Peng, earned his reputation as "the Butcher of Kaohsiung." For example, when a large number of leading Kaohsiung citizens had gathered in the city auditorium to debate the crisis, the doors were closed and the chamber swept with machine-gun fire. Families were compelled to watch the public execution of fathers and sons in the square before the railway station. There were many stories of torture inflicted on prisoners before their execution. My father, who had been an idealist all his life, became more bitter and more depressed.
Throughout Formosa prominent men or men with property were being intimidated and blackmailed by petty Nationalist officials who threatened to charge them with "antigovernment sentiment." The deputy speaker of the Kaohsiung City Council, for example, was subjected to extortion by several young Nationalist army officers, and barely managed to evade a demand that he hand over a young daughter to one of them. He had been a wealthy man, but was soon bankrupt. It was rumored at one time that my father would soon be arrested and tried for having been chairman of the local Kaohsiung Committee for Settling the Incident. He was closely watched for a long period and only narrowly escaped the hard fate of many friends.
Gradually Taipei became quiet. General Chen Yi was recalled to Nanking, made a senior advisor to the government, and soon President Chiang made him governor of the large and important province of Chekiang. His successor at Taipei was a lawyer, Dr. Wei Tao-ming, who had once been Chinese ambassador to Washington and had many American friends.
We students gradually returned to the campus one by one. We did not dare meet in groups anywhere at any time but confined our angry discussions to moments when we could walk together in twos and threes across the broad university grounds. We quickly realized that there were informers planted among us in the classrooms, and that it was never safe to speak out frankly before a mere acquaintance or before any university group. Occasionally the dreaded secret police, the military police, or the city police raided university dormitories apparently following up leads given to them by members of the student body. Among those arrested in these campus raids were liberal and outstanding Chinese students who were as severely critical of the government as we were. By now we were fully aware that one of the most common Chinese practices was the use of paid informants and the offering of rewards ranging from a few Formosan dollars in cash to promises of lucrative jobs and offices.
In the summer of 1948, sixteen months after the incident, I graduated from Taita with a bachelor's degree in political science. My classmates and I who were members of the San-San Kai had completed the four-year point requirements in two years time. We had really done little more than polish up our Mandarin Chinese. But at last we had B.A. degrees from a Chinese university recognized by Nanking.
I now had to choose between the academic world and a career in business. I was invited to remain at Taita as an assistant in the College of Law. This meant that I world not teach but do research on my own and assist the department chairman in the administrative chores. At the same time I was offered a position in the First Commercial Bank. This was an important institution. As a reward for his cooperation during the 1947 crisis, former mayor of Taipei, Huang Chao-chin, had been made board chairman. He was one of the few men of Formosan birth who survived service on the Settlement Committee unscathed and emerged well rewarded. The government owned more than one-half the shares in this bank, and therefore it was a semi-official institution, but the former mayor was allowed to pin it with an iron hand and more or less as if it were his private business. Undoubtedly the offer of a job there came to me because Huang himself was my father's old friend. His younger sister was my mother's closest friend, and Huang had put his wealthy brother-in-law on the bank board. I was well known to him. and he knew that my academic reputation was quite high.
It was a difficult choice to make. The bank salaries were at least three times as large as academic salaries at Taita, and if I performed with even reasonable competence, I could expect rapid promotion. But my heart was really not in commerce.
Nonetheless I decided to enter the bank, and reported for the beginner's training program. At once the favoritism shown me became apparent, for having only one hand, I could not count bank notes properly, one of the first things required of a new recruit. We were expected to begin as clerks and then to move on for training in every lower department in the bank organization.
For one month I reported faithfully to work each day, but it was clear to me that I could not be a good bank clerk. The financial attraction vanished. Neither banking nor any other commercial activity was to my taste. I quit after thirty days and returned to the Taita campus where my future seemed to be. My course was set.