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Indigenous Taiwanese have inhabited Taiwan for 15,000 years. The Portuguese named Taiwan, Ilha Formosa, the beautiful island in late 16th Century voyages. Although the island is about 200 km away from the Hokkien Coast of modern China, the systematic immigration of Hokkienese into Taiwan had to wait until the arrival of the Dutch in the early 17th Century. Hokkienese and Cantonese were considered by Europeans as preferred plantation workers and were compelled to work in European colonies throughout Southeast Asia, including Taiwan. After the Manchurians conquered China, they defeated Koxinga, a Hokkienese warlord, who, in the journey of exile, took western Taiwan from the Dutch. The Manchurian Empire had attempted to halt the immigration of its subjects into Taiwan, but the Hoklo and Hakka settlers from Hokkien and Canton eventually outnumbered the indigenous Taiwanese nations. While colonial powers succeeded one another on the Western Plain of Taiwan, the new settlers and indigenous nations competed for the control of the vast Central Mountain and Eastern Valley. In 1887, the Manchurian Empire officially made Taiwan a province only to cede it to Japan in 1895. Taiwan, diverse in every sense, was nevertheless united, through the brute force of 20th Century technology, under the Japanese command until the end of WWII.




After WWII, the Allies went on to consolidate the world map. The Soviet Union entered Eastern Europe. The United States returned to the Philippines. The United Kingdom re-colonized Malaysia. France re-occupied Vietnam. The Republic of China, also a member of the Allies, was entrusted with the governance of Taiwan.


In 1945, Taiwanese had experienced governance through due process and limited representative democracy under the exploitative colonial rule of Japan. Influenced by wartime propaganda, the Taiwanese placed high hopes on the Allies to elevate them from the second-class citizen status imposed by the Japanese. In a few months, the Chinese administration disappointed Taiwanese through rampant corruption, pillage, and abuse. On February 28th, 1947, Taiwanese in the capital, Taipei, demonstrated for reforms after a fatal incidence of police brutality the previous evening. The bullets of Chinese machine guns greeted the demonstrators, igniting a full-scale confrontation throughout the island. For a few days, local gentry and students managed to maintain social order and negotiated with the Chinese administration to stop the random killings and arrests. Not knowing of the dispatch of additional soldiers from China, Taiwanese still demanded the Chinese to honor civil rights.


On March 8th, 1947, Chinese reinforcement troops arrived at Taiwan on the US transport ships. In the subsequent months, Chinese soldiers and agents committed unspeakable crimes against the Taiwanese. The number of deaths, injuries, and missing persons became widespread, amounting to tens of thousands. In the 1949 U.S. State Department's White Paper, John Leighton Stuart, former U.S. Ambassador, described the "systematic search and beheading of high school students, the machine gunning of civilians, the numberless bodies floating in the harbor." Taiwanese students, educators, doctors, labors, farmers, bankers, lawyers, prosecutors, judges, police officers, and elected representatives were arrested, tortured, mutilated, and executed. Intellectuals and students were especially sought after and many of them did not hide because they believed they did not involve themselves in any confrontation. Unfortunately, a people without country had no human rights, let alone civil rights protection.


The Taiwanese holocaust of 1947 has come to be known as the "2-28 Massacre", or simply "2-28." In 1949, the Republic of China government took refuge in Taiwan after Chinese communists won the Chinese civil war. In the subsequent four decades, Taiwan was under Martial Law and the families of "2-28" victims were continuously harassed and discriminated by the self-imposed Chinese government. The Taiwanese were afraid of any discussion of "2-28" but the memory of "2-28" never died. With the recent democratization, the Taiwanese have gradually taken control of the government and in 1997, February 28th became a national holiday for the country, ironically, called the Republic of China on Taiwan.





"It is every person's right - indeed duty - to promote freedom and democracy. Freedom does not come cheaply. We must be prepared to pay a high price in struggle and sacrifice. While we must remain peaceful and not resort to violence, neither can we ever yield to violence."                             


"Huang Hua, writer and former political prisoner


In 1945, the Republic of China (ROC) occupied Taiwan on behalf of the Allies. Taiwanese opposed, unsuccessfully, the abusive Chinese rule in 1947. On May 19, 1949, the ROC officially declared Martial Law on Taiwan -- less than six months after the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations. The ROC had just fled to Taiwan from China and imposed itself as a minority government over Taiwanese. This awkward political arrangement had been sustained by the authoritarian rule of Martial Law. It became the longest period of uninterrupted Martial Law in modern history.


The beginning of Martial Law was a naked terror: Taiwanese people were bayoneted on the streets; others were robbed. The cities were filled with soldiers and the streets littered with the dead and wounded. This set the scene for the next forty years of military rule on Taiwan.


Under Martial Law, free assembly, association, demonstration and the right to petition were prohibited. The ROC government controlled "speech, teaching, newspapers . . . pictures and other publications." Religious activities and union activities were closely watched and restricted. Mail was censored; personal property was inspected.


A tremendous amount of repression was used to force the people of Taiwan to accept this undemocratic type of government. This repression began early in the form of thought control. Primary school textbooks and education extol the virtues of Chiang Kai-shek, the self-appointed ROC leader, and his valiant fight against the Chinese Communists. Students were forced to speak Mandarin-Chinese, rather than their native tongue — Taiwanese languages. Moreover, military instructors dictated what students should believe and the student network monitored the students' activities. Secret police agents and ROC operatives often collaborated with organized crime groups and freelance vigilante to enforce ROC power. It was difficult for people to advance in such occupations as teaching, the civil service, or military without ROC'"s political party, Kuomintang (KMT) membership.


To suggest that the people living in Taiwan decide the future of Taiwan was considered treason. The ROC government imprisoned and in many occasions, killed thousands of Taiwanese. Many of these so-called "political dissidents" were jailed for over 40 years. Laws empowered the police and the national government to "cleanse" the Taiwanese populace of any talk of political reform.


The United States played a role in Martial Law on Taiwan: The U.S. government provided over U.S. $4 billion to the ROC in economic and military aid in the 1946-68 period. For decades, the United States aided right wing regimes around the world - any regime that opposed communism - and the U.S. aid to the authoritarian regime of the ROC was no exception.


Despite these awesome barriers to democracy, the people of Taiwan have continued to struggle for genuine self-government and self-determination.




"I was sent to the United States as a spy. I had little choice. In 1976 the Taiwan Garrison Command police secretly arrested me and tortured me . . . Finally I was forced to write a confession and agreed to work for them. (Amnesty International documents numerous cases of ROC torture to extract confessions.) In 1977 the ROC sent me to New York City to spy on Taiwanese-Americans. The ROC even sent a Major from the Taiwan Garrison Command to watch me."

----John Chen


John Chen was among many Taiwanese students both in Taiwan and in the United States who were approached, often forcefully, by ROC officials, to "work" for the government. Many of these draftees had been students from UC Berkeley. In March of 1976, The Daily Californian published a three part series: "Spies Watch 'Leftist' Taiwan Students." Fong, an engineering student, received a form and a $50 check that had accompanied it. On the form the list of questions read: How many are from Taiwan? How many are from Hong Kong? How many are patriotic? How many are neutral? How many are members of the Taiwan Independence Movement? What are the names of the major figures among the enemy? What are their academic backgrounds? What are their political stances?


No one can say for certain what these spies did; however, there have been many speculations of their activities here at Cal. On March 2, 1971, the day an advertisement protesting the massacre of Taiwanese by the ROC in 1947 and calling for the replacement of the Chiang regime was printed, 22,000 copies of the Daily Californian were reported to be missing. Many students believed that a group of ROC spies might have stolen the copies of the Daily Californians as part of their job to "check up" on the politics of other Taiwanese students. Any kind of political activity engaged by political dissidents was considered dangerous by the ROC regime. Taiwanese students suspicious of "leftist" activity were often questioned, denied of passport renewals and in certain cases, imprisoned if were found on Taiwan. Worse yet, once a report of disloyalty is made on a student, his or her whole family is brought under suspicion. Some returned to Taiwan, only to be murdered, as was the fate of Carnegie Mellon professor, Chen Wen Chen in 1981.







Taiwan was under Martial Law imposed by the Republic of China (ROC). The ROC lost China to the communist People's Republic of China (PRC), fled to Taiwan and imposed itself as a minority government over Taiwanese in 1949. Under one party dictatorship, The ROC is synonymous to KMT, the Chinese Nationalist Party.



The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed against the ban on political organization under Martial Law.


July 14, 1987:

ROC President Chiang Ching-kuo lifted Martial Law, replacing it with a similar, "National Security Law."


January 1988:

Chiang died; Vice President Lee Teng-hui was sworn in as first native Taiwanese president. KMT had increased the number of native Taiwanese in its leadership.


May 1990:

Lee, as part of a series of reforms, authorized first semiofficial contacts with the communist China.


December 1992:

Taiwan held first democratic elections to parliament; opposition parties win seats.



Chen Sui-ben becomes first opposition party member (DPP) to be elected to Taipei Mayor.


December 1995:

Parliamentary elections saw the KMT's majority slashed to just three seats, and the KMT won only 45 percent of popular vote.


March 1996:

Taiwan had its first direct, free presidential election. Lee was elected to presidency.



December 1997:

DPP received more popular votes than the KMT in local executive elections, granting DPP rule of over 70% of Taiwanese population.


April 2000:

Taiwan's April 2000 presidential election witnessed the election of Chen Shui-bian of the social movement-turned-opposition Democratic Progressive Party. Chen's election marked the fledgling democracy's first peaceful transfer of power, after over half a century's rule by the KMT party-state apparatus. 




As early as 1996, China President Jiang Zemin maintained China's position on the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty, claiming that China will not let Taiwan declare independence and that military force would not be ruled out if Taiwan were to do so.


During the summer of 1995 and in March 1996, China fired missiles near the coasts of Taiwan as a means to intimidate Taiwan and its people during Taiwan's first popular presidential election. The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 had established the US policy of protection should it be threatened. Hence, at the peak of China's intimidation, two US carriers were deployed near Taiwan.




On March 18, 2000, Taiwan experienced an electoral earthquake.  After half a century in power on the island of Taiwan, and after eight decades of continuous rule at the peak of some political system, the KMT lost power in a free and fair presidential election.  This was only the second direct presidential election in the country's history.  The first, in 1996, completed Taiwan's long, artful decade of peaceful, incremental democratization.  But it also confirmed — for the first time in a truly democratic presidential election — the KMT's continuing domination of the political system.  The outcome of the March 2000 presidential election was a humiliating defeat for the KMT as a party.  Although many KMT politicians privately feared defeat, because of the deep division in the party ranks signified by independent candidate James Soong's challenge, and because of the lackluster character of the KMT candidate Chan Lien as a candidate, none anticipated the scale of the defeat.  And it was by no means clear that Chen Shui-bian and the DPP would come out on top.  Indeed, just a few months in advance of the election, Soong, the most effective "grassroots" politician in Taiwan, appeared to be headed towards a decisive victory.


It is possible to attribute the KMT defeat in part to a factor beyond its control, or that of any party in Taiwan: the international zeitgeist that has seen democracy and freedom expand in almost every region of the world during the past quarter-century.  The people of Taiwan were eager for change, any change that would produce electoral alternation and thus turn out of power the only ruling party they had ever known.  While Taiwan was indisputably a democracy by 2000, some element of democratic vigor was lacking in a system that had never seen the ruling party lose control of any branch of power at the national level: not the presidency, not the cabinet (the Executive Yuan), not the parliament (the Legislative Yuan), and not the constitution-amending body (the National Assembly).  In a sense the stakes were limited in March 2000.  No seats in the Legislative Yuan or the National Assembly were being contested.  Although the president is not constitutionally required to obtain parliamentary approval of his choice of premier, the system retains much of the character of a French-style semi-presidential system.  Yet, since 1949, power has mainly flowed in Taiwan from the presidency on down, and there could be no doubt that this was the pinnacle of the political system. 


The election of DPP's Chen shui-bian signifies a transformation that reaches every corner of Taiwan's social and political systems.  These changes span from the election's effect on the core of the political system, with the removal of the central control and cohesion that the party-state enjoyed, to the open space that is now available for civil society to flourish and participate in the decision-making processes, to the much anticipated political and institutional reforms that the new leadership has promised in its bid to rid of black gold politics, and to the state apparatus' changing role in the international system.  The aftermath of the national electoral change in Taiwan is indeed interesting to observe since this fundamental change would threaten the impunity of the old regime still in place in local governments and bureaucracies, and the clientalist relationships that the insulated old regime has long pampered and was able to rely on until the most recent election. 




Nearly 50 years have passed since Chinese Nationalists fled China for this island 170 kilometers off the coast; in that time, particularly in the 10 years since the lifting of Martial Law, a remarkable transformation has taken place. For decades, the majority Taiwanese population was taught that China was its motherland and that all things Chinese were superior. Slowly but inexorably, that has changed.


Once punished for speaking Taiwanese in school, children are studying Taiwanese history for the first time.

Long indoctrinated that all great culture derives from 5,000 years of Chinese history, Taiwan are now embracing native-grown arts and literature. And after 40 years of rule by 1949 immigrants, Taiwan's first native-born president has ushered in an era of growing "Taiwanization" in politics.


Surveys show a majority of people consider themselves Taiwanese -- rather than Chinese and a poll last recently found that for the first time, Taiwanese prefer some sort of separation over unification. This preference frightened some 1949 refugees in Taiwan who yearn for unity with China, as well as many who fear Beijing would use force to stop Taiwan from asserting itself on the world stage. It has also fueled fears of ethnic tension among a politicized population of 21 million.




When the UN was incepted on June 26, 1945, the Chinese nationalist regime that controlled China, known as the Republic of China (ROC), stood with other founding members as the UN Charter was officially promulgated. After the ROC lost to the communists in China, they fled to Taiwan in 1949. China's seat in the UN remained in the hands of the ROC. Yet in October 1971, at the height of the Cold War, the 26th session of UN General Assembly passed Resolution 2758, expelling ROC from the UN. The UN seat went to the People's Republic of China. The Resolution never arranged another seat for Taiwan. Thus, the rights of the 21 million Taiwanese citizens have not been represented in an important international governmental organization and its specialized agencies since.


Taiwan's exclusion from the UN is rationalized by the Chinese fear of Taiwan's potential to formally establish its independence or national sovereignty. The reality is that the current Chinese government has never ruled Taiwan. The preamble of the UN Charter contains an affirmation by the signatories of their "faith in fundamental human rights, [and] the equal rights of...nations large and small." Without representation in the UN, Taiwanese citizens are being deprived of their basic and inherent right to participate in deliberations that could affect their social, economic, and political interests.

©2003 BST