Showing posts with label chiang_kai_shek. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chiang_kai_shek. Show all posts

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Chiang Kai-shek did not save Taiwan from the CCP: Part 2 - what did stop China from taking Taiwan?

29342453_10156257130006202_799312513505165312_n

This is from a post for some movie I've long forgotten the title of.


This is Part 2 of a longer post. For Part 1, which discusses the ways in which Chiang Kai-shek is actually to blame for CCP interest in Taiwan, click here

Because it explores historical factors that I don't think many people are aware of, that post didn't address the core of the bad argument I keep hearing -- that sure the KMT wasn't great, but it's thanks to them that Taiwan isn't a part of the People's Republic of China! 

The belief here actually comes from something else: an interpretation of historical events between approximately 1949 and 1955, which places the ROC as the main bulwark against CCP designs on Taiwan. There's even a pretty terrible News Lens op-ed from a few years ago -- it's so bad that I won't link to it, but I did respond at the time -- that called Chiang "the greatest single fighter of the Chinese Communist Party, bar none", which is funny to me, because they thoroughly defeated him, and in order to hold Taiwan against them, he needed US assistance. 

My main source, once again, is Hsiao-Ting Lin's Accidental State, but I'll also be drawing on other sources, including this article from the Journal of Northeast Asian Studies. I'll try to quote frequently from it for those who don't have access.

I also want to say here that anyone who really knows Taiwanese history is likely already aware of everything I'm about to say; nothing here will surprise you. Instead, this is a sort of self-service: instead of writing the same reply to such comments over and over again, I'm putting it all in one handy blog post that I (and you!) can just link to whenever it inevitably comes up. Again

Here's the summary: despite some victories by the Nationalists, we don't have Chiang or his government to thank for Taiwan being saved from incorporation into the People's Republic of China. In fact, it was mostly the US's efforts to contain the CCP that led to Taiwan staying out of PRC hands. This had nothing to do with any sort of sincere care for the ROC on the part of the US, and certainly had nothing at all to do with any sort of goodwill toward Taiwan. Although the Nationalists did score some victories toward the end of the civil war, the lasting repellent that kept the PRC out of Taiwan was (somewhat grudging) American assistance to the ROC, due to a US desire to secure a defense perimeter around the PRC and renewed desire to include Taiwan in that defensive corridor due to the outbreak of the Korean War. 

From the link (all emphasis mine):

If there had not been a Korean War, the Chinese Communists would probably have invaded Taiwan in 1950. After the outbreak of the Korean War, the United States began to reverse its hands-off policy toward the Chinese Nationalists on Taiwan. The Korean War first compelled the United States to grant military aid to Taiwan and then put the island under U.S. protection. The war forestalled the deterioration of the ROC' s international status, but the legal status of Taiwan became undetermined in the eyes of U.S. policymakers....

Both attacks compelled the United States to go to war, and on both occasions this simultaneously saved the Kuomintang (KMT) from total defeat. One high-ranking KMT official even described the Korean War as the Sian incident in reverse - an unexpected twist of fate that saved the KMT from total annihilation. 2 Before the outbreak of the Korean War, KMT-controlled Taiwan (then called Formosa) fell outside the U.S. defense perimeter, and the Truman administration had assumed the final defeat of the KMT to be only a matter of time. Immediately after the outbreak of the war, President Harry S. Truman decided to neutralize Taiwan, both to protect it from communist invasion and to prevent the KMT from using it as a base to mount an assault on the mainland. The Korean War also forced President Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson to resume their entanglement with the KMT. 


The details of how all this happened are a bit muddier. Accidental State asserts that the Allies considered many options at different points, including simply allowing the PRC to take Taiwan, a United Nations trusteeship that would help Taiwan transition from Japanese colonial rule and backing of Formosan home rule groups; in other words, post-war US support for the ROC was far shakier and more ambivalent than people seem to believe. Lin (Accidental State) agrees with Lin (article quoted above) that there was a period when Communist takeover of Taiwan was considered "inevitable", and the US was, for a time, prepared to just let that happen. Around 1949-1950, the US made it clear that it would not interfere in the Chinese civil war and that it considered Taiwan to be a part of China. To me, it seems US support was more ambivalent rather than outright dismissive in those years, an ambivalence which remained through 1952, but that might be a topic for a later post.

In Untying the Knot, Richard Bush dismisses this idea that the US ever seriously considered a "trusteeship": 

FDR had his own plans for the island, and allowing international trusteeship of the island and a plebiscite to elicit the wishes of its people was not one of them. In his vision for postwar peace and security, "four policemen" -- the United Sates, Britain, the Soviet Union and China -- would insist on disarmament by most other countries and enforce it through a system of military bases. 

In fact, the idea of UN trusteeship, while it was never of interest to FDR, was of great interest to others, including several Senators and Dean Rusk (who would eventually become Secretary of State) recommended removing Chiang and UN trusteeship for Taiwan to then-Secretary of State Dean Acheson. Acheson seems to have completely ignored Rusk's letter, and was planning to enlist Sun Liren in a plot to remove Chiang and put Taiwan under new administration, but it never came to be. By 1950 it was considered a bad idea to support an independent Taiwan for a variety of reasons that I mostly disagree with, including a lack of US control over the outcome. 

That whole thing makes the pro-democracy, pro-self-determination, anti-war, anti-Big Power military-enforced imperialism liberal in me want to barf, but hey, that's history for you. It also clarifies that the US has never, at any point, held a sincere interest in the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan. It was always about power. The only way in which I can sign onto that as acceptable is my belief that the PRC did need to be stopped, and still needs to be stopped today, and wagged fingers and disapproving looks were never (and are never) going to accomplish that. Sometimes that entails accepting realities that I really wish weren't...real. 

On everything else, though, he agrees with Lin and Lin: 

In the Truman administration in 1949, there was a consensus that a Communist takeover was both likely -- again because of the Nationalists' political and military ineptitude -- and detrimental to U.S. security interests....

North Korea's invasion of South Korea in June 1950 saved Taiwan and the ROC. Washington -- afraid that the invasion of South Korea was part of a larger campaign by the communists to extend their control and wanting to end the ROC's continuing minor attacks against the mainland -- deployed the 7th fleet to the Taiwan Strait to prevent the PRC and ROC from attacking each other. The net effect, however, was to ensure Chiang's survival. The ROC is was able to retain its seat in the United Nations and diplomatic relations with a majority of the world's countries 
[for the time being]. The Truman administration justified its policy reversal by saying that because there had been no peace treaty with Japan to dispose of "ownership" of Taiwan, its legal status (whether it was indeed part of China) had not been determined; thus its security was an international issue, not a purely domestic one.


You don't actually care about Taiwan for Taiwan's sake just as you've never cared about any other country for its own sake, and you never did, but Taiwan still needed the PRC stopped. So thanks, America! 

But also no thanks, because your previous ambivalence and lack of interest in home rule or international trusteeship is what precipitated the KMT occupation and subsequent military dictatorship and campaign of mass murder in the following decades. Yet you seemed fine with that. Yikes, America! 

Some might use that information to argue that for the brief period that it lacked strong US support, that the ROC did, in fact, "save" Taiwan by staving off the Communists without US help. 

And I can't deny that they won a few victories (Guningtou being the most prominent one that I'm aware of) in that time period. They were, according to Accidental State, "at least able to stop and search ships flying the flags of either Nationalist China or the PRC in the territorial waters surrounding Taiwan and the other Nationals-controlled isles to prevent military supplies from reaching Communist-held ports" and they had a "weak but still-functional naval capacity". (Why they would also search ships flying the Nationalist flag is unclear to me, but also irrelevant here.) 

But, the Communists were exhausted -- I can't find the source but I've read somewhere that the PRC attack on Guningtou was carried out by a rather ragtag group of falling-apart junks, they had insufficient supplies, and the main reason the ROC won was because one of their ships was in Kinmen awaiting a delivery of foodstuffs that they were going to smuggle to China. Indeed, they were still putting down "bandits" across China, and not only is the Taiwan Strait in fact ridiculously hard to navigate but also Taiwan itself is difficult to land on as an invading force. So, sure, we can give some credit where it's due, but there was a lot of luck involved, too. 

Let's not forget, however, that not only did the ROC's claim to Taiwan precipitate the Communists' interest in the first place, but their landing here also likely redoubled CCP desire to take Taiwan. From Bush:

Ever since the Cairo Declaration of December 1943, Mao Zedong and his revolutionary colleagues had set their sights on seizing the island as well as the mainland, and Taiwan became part of their mission of national recovery and unification. That their civil war rivals, whom they termed the "Chiang Kai-shek reactionary clique" planned to mount a last ditch stand on Taiwan was all the more reason to take the island. 


In fact, those years when one might argue that the KMT bravely and successfully fought off the PRC looked very different from the perspective of Chiang and his minions. Accidental State describes Chiang's attitude at this time as: 

so disheartened that, at one point in early June [1950], he seemed to truly believe it was no longer possible for him to find a living space in this world. In his personal diary around this time, Chiang, despite a despairing situation, still hoped against hope to fight against the "dark forces" for his very survival to the last...Adopting the posture of apparent self-abegnation that he had taken with President Truman, on June 15 Chiang passed the following message to MacArthur..."The Generalissimo, aware of teh danger of his position, is agreeable to accept American high command in every category and hopes to interest General MacArthur to accept this responsibility...soliciting his advice, guidance and direction."


Ha ha.

Sorry, I just hate Chiang Kai-shek so much that any despair of his, no matter how far in the past and even though he's dead and rotting at Cihu, gives me great joy.

Given that, what honestly matters more from a historical perspective is what forces helped keep the PRC away long-term. And, again, the answer to that is US strategic interests, not any sort of military genius or salvation by the ROC.

Lin goes on to call Chiang's solicitation of a mutual defense treaty with the US in the early 1950s as "desperate", and discusses in detail how Taipei anticipated that the outbreak of war in Korea would need to a US need to engage with them more proactively, and might even give them the necessary "in" to get the US involved in their desire to re-take China. They wanted nothing more than to be included in the US defense perimeter, their initial exclusion evoking the terror in Chiang outlined above. In 1950, Chiang even offered to send 33,000 troops to the Korean war effort, which the US rejected. From the linked article: 

President Truman objected to MacArthur's suggestion of a "military policy of aggression" and he had deliberately rejected President Chiang Kaishek's offer to send 33,000 Nationalist troops to assist South Korea because "it would be a little inconsistent to spend American money to protect an island while its natural defenders were somewhere else."


They did eventually get their wish: 

The People's Republic of China's (PRC) intervention in the Korean War struck the U.S. Eighth Army and X Corps a heavy blow in November 1950, and the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] began to question President Truman's military neutralization of Formosa. On November 20, 1950, the JCS sent the Department of Defense a memorandum, to which acting Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett concurred....

The JCS then emphasized "the strategic importance of Formosa" and suggested that "it would be desirable to have port facilities and airfield on Formosa available to the United States," if a full-scale war should develop against Communist China and the Soviet Union. The new Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall, who was not as supportive of the KMT as his predecessor Louis Johnson, argued that Taiwan was "of no particular strategic importance" in U.S. hands, but it "would be of disastrous importance if it were held by an enemy."  In December 1950, Truman indicated to British Prime Minister Clement Attlee that Chiang Kai-shek intended to get the United States involved militarily on the Chinese mainland. Under pressure from the U.S. Senate, Truman stated the United States would not allow Formosa to fall into Communist hands. 

By January 1951, Taiwan had received military hardware worth US $29 million....Later that same month, the State Department instructed the U.S. embassy in Taipei to exchange notes with the ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which led to a Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement (MDAA) between the two governments.  The MDAA was designed to legitimize the use of incoming U.S. military aid to Formosa for the island's internal security and self-defense.


The Korean War was so central to the continued existence of Taiwan that its end was considered a potential problem by the ROC:

If the Korean War was the salvation of the ROC, an armistice in Korea could naturally complicate the U.S.-Taiwan security relationship. On March 19, 1953, ROC Ambassador Wellington Koo explored the question of a U.S.- ROC mutual security pact, but received a cold response from Secretary of State Dulles. 4n In June 1953, Chiang Kai-shek wrote at least two letters to President Eisenhower probing the possibility of U.S.-initiated Asian multilateral mutual security pacts. 45 Although Eisenhower believed that a mutual security arrangement must come from the Asian nations themselves, by August 1953 the United States had concluded mutual defense treaties with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand. 

The ROC government took the initiative and handed a draft U.S.-ROC mutual security pact to U.S. Ambassador Rankin on December 18, 1953. 


And if it wasn't clear that US aid to Taiwan at that time was aimed at helping the Nationalists defend an island they honestly could not hold on their own: 

On October 7, 1954, President Eisenhower revealed to Dulles that he had decided to conclude a security treaty with the ROC provided that Generalissimo Chiang was prepared to assume a defensive posture on Taiwan....

In January 1955 when the Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the ROC was pending ratification by the U.S. Congress, PRC forces attacked some small offshore positions, including the I-chiang and Tachen islands. At a NSC meeting on January 20, Dulles suggested the United States grant logistical support to the ROC to evaluate the Ta-chen islands and that President Eisenhower be authorized by Congress to use forces in the Taiwan Strait if necessary. On January 29, Congress voted favorably on the so-called Formosa Resolution authorizing Eisenhower to "employ the Armed Forces of the United States for protecting the security of Formosa, the Pescadores and related positions and territories of that area." The Formosa Resolution implicitly granted protection to Quemoy and Matsu.  


I reiterate: without US help, the Communists would have taken Taiwan -- and sooner rather than later -- an interest the CCP only cultivated in the first place because the ROC claimed it and then retreated there. Chiang Kai-shek was desperate and despondent.

He is not the hero of staving off the Communists that you think he is. He is not the hero of anything unless you think mass murder is great. 

This is also the situation which led to Taiwan's status being undetermined rather than agreed-upon as a part of China, a topic that also deserves its own post. It's worth remembering that even then-foreign minister to the ROC George Kung-chao Yeh knew that. The KMT later playing at Taiwan's status being clear in an attempt to close the door to independence is an absolute joke at odds with their own history.

In these and the following years, US aid to Taiwan spiked dramatically. Jacoby (U.S. Aid to Taiwan) first says military assistance between 1952 and 1965 reached a total of US$2.5 billion, but his later chart says $368 million. Though I'm not sure where the first number comes from, the exact number is less important than the fact that it was a lot. From Lin (the article, not the Accidental State author):

 

Without U.S. economic assistance in the early 1950s, Taiwan's economy might possibly have collapsed. In 1950 alone, retail prices in Taiwan rose 58 percent, from mid-1949 to 1951 wholesale prices rose 400 percent, and by early 1951, ROC-held gold and foreign exchange reserves were nearly exhausted....Approximately 80 percent of the national budget went to the military, so the island's economy could be sustained only with external assistance. An NSC report pointed out that "had it not been for increased MSA [Mutual Security Agency] aid during the fiscal years 1951 and 1952, a serious inflationary situation would have developed which might have well led to complete economic collapse.”


All of this aid was not meant just to bolster Taiwan's defense capability, but also to make the island more self-sufficient, a goal which was eventually reached.

Also -- oops, it looks like I just made an argument that US strategic interests, not brilliant economic planning on the part of the KMT, is what kickstarted the Taiwan Miracle. 

Let's not forget, however, that 1952-1965 more or less correlated with the White Terror years. So...thanks, America. But also yikes, America! 

I'm not trying to convince you here that the US is Taiwan's good friend. It's not -- yet again, a topic for an entirely different post. What I am trying to convince you of is simple: 

Like them, hate them or grudgingly tolerate them as the devil we can make a deal with because they're not the ones pointing missiles at us, the US had more to do with repelling a PRC takeover of this country than Chiang Kai-shek and his merry band of murderers ever did. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Chiang Kai-shek did not save Taiwan from the CCP: Part 1 - the origins of CCP interest in Taiwan

IMG_3458

I took this photo years ago and it seemed appropriate to finally use it here.


I had thought I'd written about this before, but couldn't find an appropriate post. So, because it seems like I address this opinion frequently and I'm sick of repeating myself, it's time to write it all out here so I can link it next time someone comes out with a wacky historical interpretation of what actually happened after the Chinese Civil War. 

Also, Dictatorship Day is tomorrow (that's 10/10 for those of you who are still sleeping), so this feels like a good time to write such a post. 

So, what am I on about? Every few weeks, either wild-caught or while I'm talking about one of my favorite subjects (what an absolute sack of wankers the KMT is), someone seems to pop into one of my feeds with a comment along the lines of "yes but without Chiang Kai-shek/the KMT/the ROC army Taiwan would be a part of Communist China now".

These include comments by good people -- it's not personal. I've been wrong about history too. It's okay. But we need to deal with it.

This needs to be tackled in a few parts, in fact. First, I think it's important to clarify what exactly the KMT and CCP each thought of Taiwan in the years leading up to the Taiwan conflict. Only then do I think we'll have a good basis for discussing the degree to which Chiang and the KMT are not responsible for keeping Taiwan CCP free.

So first, let me make the case that Chiang Kai-shek is to blame for the CCP's interest in Taiwan in the first place. 

You read that right. It's all his (and the KMT's) fault that this is a problem to begin with.

I don't have many links for you because my biggest source is one of my favorite books, 
Accidental State by Hsiao-ting Lin, but I will link where I can. 

In 1924, Sun Yat-sen did include Taiwan in his Three Principles of the People, and it's likely Chiang got the idea to include Taiwan in the territories claimed by the Nationalists at the summit in Cairo in 1943 from this, according to Lin. Here's the thing though: Sun also included all sorts of places that no reasonable person believes "China" should control, including parts of Korea, Burma, Vietnam, Nepal, Bhutan etc. It also is not clear from Sun's other writing that when visiting Taiwan (he visited twice, I believe) he considered it to be anything other than Japanese territory.

What does matter is this: it was not clear until right before the meeting at Cairo that Taiwan would be included in Nationalist territorial claims the way, say, Manchuria certainly would be, as Taiwan had been ceded legally under the Treaty of Shimonoseki whereas the Nationalists had never accepted Japan's conquest of Manchuria. Before that, the ROC, its officials and Chiang himself had more or less treated Taiwan as a part of Japan, including opening a consular office in Taipei "under the jurisdiction of its legation in Tokyo". Chiang even spoke to Japanese politicians about how ending colonial rule in Taiwan and Korea could help bolster relations between China and Japan! To say the least, before 1941, Nationalist views of Taiwan and clear ideas about what Taiwan should be were, to use Lin's words, "murky", "cautious", uncertain" and "undetermined". 

The change in rhetoric to seriously consider claiming Taiwan happened after Pearl Harbor, when the ROC more or less saw an opportunity and decided to grab it. It was around that time that a definition of what constituted "lost" territories to be recovered was created by Chiang, and the top concerns regarding what should be included and what shouldn't were more geo-strategic than ideological.

In fact, according to Lin, the decision to include Taiwan as a claimed territory wasn't even finalized until after Chiang had received the invitation to Cairo! Until then it had been a matter of debate and exactly which "lost" territories ought to be "recovered" was very much a matter of debate.

George Kerr also notes in Formosa Betrayed that Allied attempts to gain intelligence on Taiwan from their Chinese allies showed how little interest the Nationalists actually had in Taiwan, as most of it was lazily thrown together at best, or outright fabricated at worst (to be fair, Lin finds Kerr's accounts to be generally exaggerated). 

The inclusion of Taiwan didn't start gaining truly serious ROC domestic or international traction until the Allies signed onto it at Cairo, and even then, to quote Kerr, the only reason the West was willing to prop up Chiang's claims was to help him save face as the self-proclaimed greatest leader and bringer of "democracy" to Asia (again, to be fair, no-one else in Asia at that time could reasonably claim the title of supreme democratic reformer, either). They knew perfectly well that his regime would require massive support from the West.

(It's worth taking a brief side-note here to point out that the result of Cairo was a declaration, not a treaty. The actual series of treaties that followed the Japanese surrender do not clarify to whom Taiwan was ceded nor what its status is.)

At the same time, the Communists seemed to hold a very different view of Taiwan. Mao's rhetoric on the topic somewhat implied that Taiwan had the right to some, if not total, sovereignty, and the CCP listed "Taiwanese" among the "minority nationalities" that had "equal rights" in "Soviet China", but were considered to be a distinct group or race from Chinese with their own homeland. 

I'm going to quote from the link above at length, because unlike Accidental State and Formosa Betrayed, two books you absolutely should spend your money on, this is a journal article and not everyone will have access. I've emphasized important points:

This position of the Sixth Congress was reiterated in the same year by the Fifth National Congress of the Chinese Communist Youth League, which in its regulations noted that the "minority na- tionalities" in China included "Mongols, Koreans, Taiwanese, Annamese, etc.," and urged that local organs form national minority committes.5 Two years later in Kiangsi, the "Draft Constitution of the China Soviet Republic," adopted by the First All-China Soviet Congress (November 7, 1931), extended constitutional rights to these same minority nationalities.6 According to Item 4 of this document, all races, that is the "Han, Manchu, Mongol, Mohammedan, Tibetan, Miao, Li and also the Taiwanese, Koreans, and Annamese who reside in China, are equal under the laws of Soviet China [emphasis added]." Taiwanese were seen not as Han but as a different "nationality" and even "race," who like the Koreans and the Annamese, but unlike the other minorities, came from a homeland separate from China.8 This view is strengthened by the fact that the CCP never referred to the Taiwanese as "brethren" (dixiong), or "the offspring of the Yellow Emperor," or "compatriots" (tongbao), who would de facto belong to the Han after they return to China. Indeed, a 1928 Central Committee Notice, while calling for the recovery from Japan of sovereignty over Shantung and Manchuria, failed to mention a similar goal for Taiwan in its seventeen "general goals of the present mass movement."9 Since the ideological perspectives of the early Chinese Communist elite were heavily influenced by an anti-Japanese (as well as an anti-Western) nationalism born out of the May Fourth Movement, this exclusion of Taiwan from recoverable sovereign territory of China is revealing.

 



(Yes, that is one long paragraph.)

It gets better, though: 


Mao Tse-tung's earliest comments on the Taiwanese came in his January 1934 "Report of the China Soviet Republic Central Executive Committee and the People's Committee to the Second All-China Soviet Congress." Commenting on various provisions in the 1931 Constitution, he said: Item 15 of the Draft Constitution of Soviet China has the following statement: 

To every nationality in China who is persecuted because of revolutionary acts and to the revolutionary warriors of the whole world, the Chinese Soviet Government grants the right of their being protected in Soviet areas, and assists them in renewing their struggle until a total victory of the revolutionary movement for their nationality and nation has been achieved. In the Soviet areas, many revolutionary comrades from Korea, Taiwan, and Annam are residing. In the First All-China Soviet Congress, representatives of Korea had attended. In the present Congress, there are a few representatives from Korea, Taiwan, and Annam. This proves that this Declaration of the Soviet is a correct one.’


Mao not only reaffirmed the Chinese Communist position that Taiwanese residing outside Taiwan and in China were a "minority nationality," but also implied CCP recognition and support of an independent Taiwan national liberation movement, which would be united in a joint effort with the Chinese movement, but with a different purpose, i.e., the establishment of an independent state similar to other Japanese colonies, such as Korea. 

A year later, Mao and P'eng Teh-huai manifestly dissociated Taiwan's political movement from China by incorporating it into the anti-imperialist revolution led by the Japanese Communist Party. According to the "Resolution on the Current Political Situation and the Party's Responsibility," passed at a meeting of the CCP Central Political Bureau on 25 December, 1935, and signed by P'eng and Mao: 

Under the powerful leadership of the Japanese Communist Party, the Japanese workers and peasants and the oppressed nationalities (Korea, Taiwan) are preparing great efforts in struggling to defeat Japanese Imperialism and to establish a Soviet Japan. This is to unite the Chinese revolution and Japanese revolution on the basis of the common targets of "defeating Japanese imperialism." The Japanese revolutionary people are a powerful helper of the Chinese revolutionary people." 


Here Taiwanese were not considered an integral part of the "Chinese revolutionary people," but were treated as a people whose natural political role was to fight alongside the "Japanese workers and peasants" in establishing a Soviet Japan. Whether Mao and P'eng expected the Taiwanese (and Koreans) formally to join a newly-created Soviet Japan is unclear from this resolution. But nowhere in this or other documents examined by the authors did CCP leaders suggest that the Taiwanese should fight to return to their "motherland" and join Soviet China - a point they would not make until after 1943.


That's my underline, so let me reiterate:

...a point they would not make until after 1943.

What changed between when these statements were made and 1943?

Oh yeah! All that stuff the Nationalists did, under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, to change China's perspective on Taiwan toward claiming it as an integral territory and 'lost' province. 

It is not unreasonable to assert that the CCP changed its stance on Taiwan because the Nationalists had done so first

Guess what - it gets even better. Please enjoy:

As to explicit CCP support for an independent state on Taiwan, the most notable documentary evidence is Mao's personal statement made to Edgar Snow on July 16, 1936. Responding to Snow's question, "Is it the immediate task of the Chinese people to regain all the territories lost to Japanese imperialism, or only to drive Japan from North China, and all Chinese territory above the Great Wall?," Mao answered: 

It is the immediate task of China to regain all our lost territories, not merely to defend our sovereignty below the Great Wall. This means that Manchuria must be regained. We do not, however, include Korea, formerly a Chinese colony, but when we have re-established the independence of the lost territories of China, and if the Koreans wish to break away from the chains of Japanese imperialism, we will extend them our enthusiastic help in their struggle for independence. The same thing applies for Formosa. As for Inner Mongolia, which is populated by both Chinese and Mongolians, we will struggle to drive Japan from there and help Inner Mongolia to establish an autonomous State. 

The support for independence of Korea and Taiwan, both of which were formerly linked to China, is clearly stated.


There is some solid analysis in this otherwise older source about why the CCP policy was able to shift, and an interesting discussion of what constitutes "Chineseness" in the eyes of the CCP -- at least, the best possible analysis of it in 1979.

The authors also go on to provide more source material for Lin's analysis of the shifting Nationalist position on Taiwan pre-1943, pointing out that Taiwan was of minor importance before Cairo, belying the massive importance placed on it by the Nationalists after the conference. They go on to posit that Chiang's original goal was quite possibly very similar to the CCP's: to "liberate" Korea and Taiwan so as to create buffer states between China and Japan! 

Because I believe in free access to academic work, here's another quote:

What is important here is that Chiang, like Sun, was more concerned with "restoring" (hufifu) the independence and freedom of Taiwan and Korea so as to create buffer states against Japan, while China would assume traditional protection, but not necessarily sovereignty, over Taiwan and Korea. Moreover, throughout Chiang's pre-1942 collected works and speeches nowhere does he make a claim to “recover" (shoufu, guangfu or shouhut) Taiwan. The island was mentioned occasionally, along with Korea, but only in the sense that both nations were enslaved by the Japanese. No mention of the Taiwanese appeared in such strong nationalist tracts as "Prepare For Victory," nor in his message on "Resistance in the Enemy's Rear."


Although the ability of the CCP to shift so easily to a "Taiwan is an inseparable part of China" stance is of interest, the reason why they chose to do so at all is of more interest to me. Again, it all points back to Cairo, and we have Chiang Kai-shek and his minions to thank for that.

Hsiao and Sullivan (the heroes of this heavily-quoted article) reached the same (hedged) conclusion in 1979:

This tentatively suggests that the Chinese Communist position on the Taiwan question became most politically expedient after the 1943 Cairo Declaration when, still out of power, and in a subordinate position vis-a-vis the KMT, the CCP dropped its support for Taiwan's independent status and embraced Chiang Kai-shek's then very recent policy of full political reintegration of Taiwan into the Chinese polity.


!!!

I emphasized that in three different ways to draw your attention to it. It's analysis, not fact, but I happen to think it's right on the money. 

In other words, Chiang didn't "save" Taiwan from the Communists. He led them right into claiming Taiwan as a territory. If Chiang and the Nationalists had never fed that fire, it's entirely possible (though far from assured, to be fair yet again) that the CCP would have never become as interested in Taiwan as an integral part of China as they did. They might have had designs on it, after all they got involved in conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, but note that Korea and Vietnam don't suffer from the lack of diplomatic recognition or the same territorial claims by China (or at least, in Vietnam's case, not to the same extent) that Taiwan does.

And yet, there are still people who believe that Chiang deserves some sort of credit for keeping the Communists away from Taiwan. I would ask -- why? He's responsible for their claims on Taiwan in the first place!

At this point we veer into speculative history: if the Nationalists had never decided to claim Taiwan, would they have occupied Taiwan at the behest of the Allies in 1945, for convenience's sake? I don't know, as occupying Taiwan as a proxy of the Allies is not the same as occupying it as a claimed territory, but it seems at least somewhat less likely. In any case, it is less likely to have become the location of their retreat upon losing the civil war a few years later. This means that perhaps (?) the Nationalists might have been wiped out completely -- not a bad outcome, in my estimation, though the CCP disappearing would be even better.

If the KMT had not retreated to Taiwan, would the CCP have ever set its sights on the island? Possibly. There would have been so-called "justification" for it in Sun's writing, and they certainly were (and are) expansionist.

But their own writings indicate that it might not have rolled out that way, and Taiwan would have gained its independence in the same era as many other former colonies across Asia: Korea, most of Southeast Asia, India and more. 

Some of those former colonies have struggled (the Philippines, Myanmar, India, Indonesia), in part due to local issues and in part thanks to everything that was stolen from them or forced upon them by their colonizers. Others (Korea, Singapore) eventually succeeded -- if we take democracy and freedom as important markers of success, Korea even more than Singapore. As a relatively prosperous colony under the Japanese with much of its infrastructure already built (and built well), how might Taiwan have fared? We'll never know, but it's not a given that it would have been worse than under KMT rule. 

Importantly, if this is how it had played out, there might not have been any question now of whether Taiwan was a 'part of China', any more than that question is being asked of those other countries. All the missiles, all the threats, all the fighter jets -- none of it would be dangled over our heads by an angry CCP. 

All because they slobbered after the Nationalists and that led their sights right to Taiwan.

Blame the CCP, yes, but also...blame the KMT. They literally created this mess. They literally wrote the paper on how to screw Taiwan.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Typical American: a book that isn't about Taiwan, or is it?


Untitled
This wasn't meant to be my next book review. It was supposed to be Social Movements Under Ma Ying-jeou, but I finished that the day before flying out for Lunar New Year, and didn't bring it with me. Being highly academic, it's the sort of book you need to refer to as you write about it, so that'll have to wait until I return to Taiwan. 

Instead, let me tell you about a book that's not about Taiwan at all, except that I think it sorta kinda is. I brought only fiction on this trip, including a book I'd picked up secondhand years ago, but never read: Gish Jen's Typical American. Having already read its sequel, Mona in the Promised Land, some years ago, as well as several of her other works and knew her to be an engaging author, so it was a solid beach read choice. 

(Contains spoilers - for a book written in 1991, so you can just deal.)

Typical American begins in 1947 in a small town outside Shanghai, and ends in upstate New York not far from where I grew up. The son and daughter of a scholar and former government official are sent to the US under very different circumstances (because, of course, sons are so often treated better than daughters). Theresa, the cleverer of the two, accompanies the daughter of wealthy Shanghai friends, whereas Ralph is sent to graduate school for engineering. Then the Chinese Civil War takes a turn for the worse, their parents disappear, Ralph marries Theresa's companion, Helen. They meet wealthy yet ultimately deceptive Grover Ding and staid, old fashioned Old Chao. They live together, then apart, then together again. 

Taiwan isn't mentioned once (though the Nationalists are; of course the Nationalists and Taiwan are not the same things). But, in a way, it was. 

I don't know if this was Jen's intent, and it was written too long ago - 1991 - for me to feel anything but awkward about asking her. But I can't help but see an allegory well beyond "family from China finds its way in post-War America and has its own experience with the American Dream". But reading some of the language used, which could not have been unintentionally chosen, I have to wonder. 

Think of Old Chao as, well, the well-worn traditions of "ancient China" (his name basically means "Old Dynasty", or is at least a sort of homonym of it, as I don't know what the character would have been.) Now see Grover as everything corrupting about US influence (in terms of culture and family life, but also, perhaps, in terms of international relations). Theresa, a woman born "outside of her time", represents the Republic of China and the hopes leaders had for the Republican era in China. Helen is everything dainty and refined - but also resourceful and plucky - about early twentieth-century urban China (Jen all but says so explicitly on this point). I'm not sure what that makes Ralph, or Old Chao's wife Janis. But I have to say, Ralph's Chinese name - Yi-feng or "strive for the peak" - can not only represent struggling to attain the American Dream but also echoes a lot of language choices of Communist China. 

Okay, so what? Well, Ralph, Helen and Theresa live together at first somewhat peacefully. They are friendly with Old Chao, then Grover Ding throws a wrench in their lives. Theresa moves out angrily - Jen even calls it "exile". When she moves back in with Ralph and Helen - a "reunification", and calls it the hope of all Chinese people (though she doesn't entirely use those  words, "reunification" is straight from the text. This cannot be a coincidence.) At several points in the text, ideas like "once a Chang, always a Chang" and the custom of Chinese families to live together in sprawling compounds are referenced, as how difficult it is for families to splinter and then reunite. That things change and cannot go back to anything like they used to be after a "reunification" (both sides change) also whizzes by readers who lack contextual knowledge. In between, various characters get involved with, then extricated from, then re-involved with Old Chao and Grover. Ralph abuses Helen, Old Chao seemed associated with Ralph but turns out to be most closely tied to Theresa. Ralph either proclaims the house they live in is "his" - he's the "father" (you know, like Confucius) - but at one point realizes it is actually Theresa's (don't ask why; read the book). 

Do you not see it?

Maybe I'm insane, but I see it. 

I don't like it. 

Don't get me wrong, I loved the book. Read straight as a coming-to-America tale and how cultures collide when immigrants chase a foreign dream, it is engaging, thoughtful and mesmerisingly written. The prose draws you in and is elegant both in sound and how it falls on the page. Structures - houses, restaurants - serve as visual symbols for the state of the family. Old books in Chinese make an appearance, as does the game of 'bridge', a loveseat (you know, where love sits) and more. And, for fans of Chinese idioms, the moon makes several appearances in the narrative. You know, in America. A foreign moon. The moon is sometimes big and round as the idiom suggests, sometimes a sliver of a nail.

But...that other narrative, the one I might have just spun out of my own Taiwan-evangelism. 

That one? It glorifies the Nationalists (I assume Jen is aware of their treatment of Taiwan - the theft of Taiwan's wealth, the White Terror, the oppressive and murderous military dictatorship that differed from Mao's mostly in scale). If you read the symbolic elements as I did, it treats the US's severing of recognition of the ROC as a tragedy, not unlike being attacked by a dog and hit by a car. (It was a tragedy, but for reasons nobody realizes; the way Chiang Kai-shek screwed Taiwan out of United Nations membership, the way US foreign policy at the time made sense, but in the decades following did not adequately address Taiwan's democratization and more open recognition of its own unique cultural identity). 

It assumes that there are two sides in this conflict only: the Nationalists and the Communists - that Taiwan as a unique place that had a unique population long before Chiang started crowing about "retrocession" let alone before his government took the island, or he himself set foot on it - simply doesn't exist, or matter. That there is no unique Taiwanese cultural, historical and political identity distinct from China's. 

That "reunification" can not happen - because the two sides that would supposedly 'reunify' had never actually been together (Qing imperialism should not count.) It assumes that Chineseness will mean that, while there might be conflict and a future very different from the past, that these differences have some hope of being bridged. After all, they're all part of one sprawling household, aren't they?

Except they're not. For that take on things to work, both sides have to agree that they are more alike than different, that there is some ineffable "Chineseness" that ought to bind them. 

Forget what politicians have to say to avert a war. Those are words stated at first under a dictatorship, at the tail end of Martial Law, by a government the Taiwanese people had never asked for. Now, they are words not denied under threat, nothing more, though that slowly seems to be changing. Finally.

Do not think that the people of Taiwan believe this. They haven't, for awhile. If you are going to reify 'one Chinese family' as a cultural structure, then everyone in the family has to agree they are in it, and want for that family to be 'reunited'. 

But they don't. They haven't, for who knows how long (pre-democratization public opinion polls are suspect at best; remember what kind of education everyone got. It's very difficult indeed to grow beyond what one has been told all their lives. It's a miracle and a credit to Taiwan that they have done so as quickly as they have.)

In this sense I have to hope that Jen did not intend Typical American to be read this way; that I'm adding all of this in because I'm just nuts. After all, the story is not that different from Jen's parents', just as Mona in the Promised Land is clearly heavily influenced by her own formative years. It could be as simple as that. But Jen produces smart, layered work - so it's possible. If she did, it might represent a nostalgic view from a Chinese perspective, but it belies a lack of understanding of Taiwan. 

If true, this isn't terribly surprising, and isn't Jen's fault. She's not from Taiwan; she was born in the US to Chinese parents. I have not heard that she has spent any meaningful amount of time here. Why would she have insight into the Taiwanese collective psyche? What's more, Typical American was written just before Taiwan's first true - though tentative - steps towards democratization. Nobody without a connection to Taiwan was talking about Taiwanese identity then. So, it's hardly surprising that she focused on history more immediately familiar. 

So where does this land me? Hoping that a book is less deep, not more? Enjoying it for what is immediately clear on the surface, and hoping there are no weeds or sharp rocks lurking below on which my feet and her story might become entangled or scraped?

I guess it does. 



Tuesday, January 29, 2019

For the former colonizers of Taiwan, equality feels like oppression: my latest for Ketagalan Media

Because apparently Lao Ren Cha is all about the sensational (but true) stories today, let's all take a look back at last week's insanity (again)!

This time, I look at retired entertainer Lisa Cheng slapping current Minister of Culture Cheng Li-chiun in the face at a Lunar New Year banquet, over what she called Minister Cheng's desire to "eradicate" Chiang Kai-shek, "discredit" his "contributions" to Taiwan and "demolish" Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Note my liberal use of scare quotes. None of what she says about Minister Cheng is true, yet she slapped her anyway.

Why? Because she's lashing out at the perception that the group she identifies with, who were once the dominant/default/ruling social class in Taiwan (by force, no Taiwanese invited them to swoosh in like they owned the place), is being oppressed (lol) when, in fact, society is simply moving towards greater equality. She's retreating to identity politics and letting her insecurity and fragility get the better of her.

Anyway, I talk about all this and more in my latest for Ketagalan Media.

Let's hope this week is less of a dumpster dive for news, seeing as last week was basically a crazy parade of people acting badly. Oh man. But at least it produced a little worthwhile commentary for this tired, nihilist blogger?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Speaking in Brutal Tongues

IMG_7024


A short post for a gray Sunday morning.

Yesterday, I visited the Jingmei Human Rights Museum (景美人權文化園區), which is a short taxi ride from MRT Dapinglin (大坪林) station (not Jingmei station, which is across the river near the Taipei/New Taipei border). The museum is a former detention center used to house political prisoners in the later part of the Martial Law era, along with the correctional facilities on Green Island. The original center was located in Taipei, but it was torn down and the Sheraton stands on that site today.

Alongside stories that make your skin crawl and your blood boil - that prisoners might well be executed with no trial whatsoever, that many still don't know why they were accused, how some were kept in prison long after it was known they had not committed the crimes they had been accused of (to "save face" for the officers), how they were housed thirty people to a 9 square meter cell and drink toilet water if there was no tap (and there often wasn't), and how only in recent years are some family members receiving goodbye letters, was a story that made me sit down and stare blankly into space for a time.

When inmates were allowed visitors - family only, no friends - they could meet for ten minutes at a time, and were only allowed to speak Mandarin.

Mandarin was not - and for many still is not - a native language of Taiwan. The KMT dictated that it was the official language of the ROC government they forced on Taiwan, and would become the lingua franca. This impacted education, government affairs (if you addressed the government - not that that ever did much good - it had to be in Mandarin), jobs (certain jobs were only open to Mandarin speakers, that is, members of the new regime and the diaspora that came with them) and more. At the Taiwanese who were already here when the KMT invaded - yes, invaded - generally spoke Hoklo and perhaps Japanese, Hakka, or indigenous languages. The native population of Taiwan was essentially forced to learn the language of the foreign power that came to rule them, and those who did not were punished either socially or overtly (anything from your neighbors suspecting you, to losing access to jobs and education, to actual fines and potentially arrest).

The purpose was, of course, not only for the KMT to force their language on locals (many members of the diaspora spoke Chinese languages that were not Mandarin). It was to remake Taiwan as a 'province of China', to erase its history and culture through erasing their languages. To stamp out 'Taiwaneseness', in all its varied linguistic uniqueness.


As you can imagine, some of the inmates themselves might not have spoken Mandarin well (perhaps some not at all), and it would have been fairly common that their family members didn't speak it, either.

What do you do when you are only allowed to speak a language you don't know when visiting a loved one you might not have seen in years?

"You can only look at each other, and speak through tears," said the tour guide.

A former victim imprisoned for a crime he hadn't committed joined us on the tour, and told his story as well: it included just such a scene, and he and his mother were not even allowed to hug. I won't narrate the entire tale here - that's his story to tell, not mine. (If you read Mandarin, you can buy his book here).

Whether such a cruel, inhumane policy was perpetrated out of a sense of 'practicality' - as a friend pointed out, the regime likely lacked the imagination to have Hoklo, Hakka and indigenous eavesdroppers ensuring their surveillance of prisoners was complete, or if they had thought of that, might not have trusted anyone to relay the truth. These are people who murdered without trial, who kept people they knew were innocent in prison to protect themselves - they placed their faith in no-one but their own (and often, not even then - many who came to Taiwan with the KMT ended up in prison as suspected Communists, as well).

Or it could have been simply because they were evil and cruel. Some of the former guards who are known to have tortured White Terror victims are alive today, living normal lives, facing no legal repercussions, seemingly at peace with themselves and their actions (though who knows).

I suspect it was a combination of both.

Fast forward to 2018: foreigners come to Taiwan to study Mandarin (though I haven't been particularly impressed with teaching methods here). I learned it so I could live here as normally as possible. It's seen as a practical language to know, something you might study out of interest, but is also internationally useful.

This history, however, and hearing it put so plainly, has made feel slightly ill about continuing to speak it in Taiwan. I'm not speaking a native language of Taiwan, not really - I'm speaking a colonial language. I don't feel good about that at all. I'd always felt a little unsettled about it, in fact, but that story pulled all of that nebulous uneasiness into sharp focus.

How can I speak Mandarin as though it is normal in a country where it was once used to keep parents from speaking to their children?

I'm aware of how odd that sounds - it is a lingua franca. Most Taiwanese, even those who are fully aware of this history, likely were impacted by the White Terror (or have families who were) and are otherwise horrified at the truth of this history, speak it - often without a second thought. Who am I,

Stripped of its dark history in Taiwan, Mandarin is merely a language. A beautiful language, even. One steeped in history that is otherwise no crueler than any history (though all history is cruel). And yet, it was used to brutalize Taiwanese - even now, those who do not or prefer not to speak it face discrimination and stereotyping, either as 'crazy political types' or as 'uneducated hicks', both deeply unfair labels that perpetuate a colonial system that dictates who gets to be born on top, and who has to fight their way up from the bottom.

Mandarin is only a native language and lingua franca in Taiwan because of this linguistic brutality. Foreign students only come here to learn it for this reason, as well. That most Taiwanese speak it natively speaks to the success of the KMT's cruelty. That not everyone does, and many who do still prefer native Taiwanese languages shows the strength of the Taiwanese spirit, and the KMT's ultimate failure as a cruel, petty, corrupt, dictatorial and foreign regime.

I can respect the idea that Taiwan has begun - and will likely to continue - to use Mandarin appropriatively rather than accepting it merely as the language of those who would continue to be overlords if they had their way. To take Mandarin and use it for their own purposes, to their own ends (this paper is about English being used in this way, but the main ideas are for Mandarin as well).

But - we're not there yet. There is still an imperialist element to Mandarin in Taiwan that makes me deeply uncomfortable. That structure still hasn't quite been broken down.


I know, especially as a resident of Taipei, that I can't just say "screw it!", refuse to use Mandarin unless absolutely necessary, and start learning Hoklo in earnest - preferring only to use that or English. Many former victims and Taiwanese deeply affected by this history do so, and I admire that, but I'm not Taiwanese.

I want to be a part, if only a very small part, of a better Taiwan, to contribute to building a truly free, decolonialized nation. But again, I am not Taiwanese. There are people who would think I was just putting on a show, and while I don't believe that, it would be hard to make the case that they are wrong.


And yet, the main reasons for not giving up Mandarin - that I would be giving up on something so 'practical', and that I'd be labeled another 'crazy political type' (perhaps more so because I'm not even from here, and this history is not my history), feel like giving the colonial ROC regime yet another brutal victory.

For now, I suppose I will keep speaking Mandarin; I kind of have to. In any case, is Hoklo not the language of oppression for Hakka and indigenous people? And yet, I don't see any sort of real world in which I can walk around Taipei speaking only Amis and a.) not look like an idiotic - if not crazy - white lady; and b.) actually communicate with the vast majority of people. As a language learner and foreign resident, where do I draw that line?

I don't feel good about it at all, however, and perhaps the first step is, without giving up Mandarin per se, to start seriously learning Hoklo. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Paint the town red!

unnamed-5
I don't have access to the actual photo so I made my own with this Wikimedia Commons photo.
Feels nice, let me tell you. You should make one too! 


Another day, another lob of red paint thrown at a Chiang Kai-shek statue - this time the Big Kahuna, the huge bronze atrocity that graces Dead Dictator Memorial Hall in downtown Taipei (link in Chinese).

A bunch of people are going to post this with some (maybe self-righteous - it's hard to avoid sounding that way) screed about how they "support the goals" of the people who did this "but not the actions" because they "turn off" the other side, are "uncivilized", or make it "impossible to engage in dialogue" with those who disagree, or who might think such actions inappropriate.

And yeah, that's not entirely wrong, but you know what? I don't care. So let me pre-emptively say:

If you are "turned off" from dialogue with those who have a political belief you are not naturally inclined to follow because of some red paint, but not put off by actual blood Chiang Kai-shek spilled, I just don't think you can be reasoned with, nor should people waste their time trying. If his being a brutal, murderous dictator doesn't bother you more than an act of civil protest pointing out that history - civil protest in which no one was injured - I don't see how dialogue is possible.

Let alone "respectful" dialogue, as though one should feel the need to be "respectful" when talking about support for a mass-murdering dictator. 

This is in stark contrast to a woman in China who disappeared after throwing ink on an image of dictator Xi Jin-ping. These paint-throwers will probably face charges, but they won't disappear. They won't be executed. They won't be tortured. And other acts of civil disobedience might well go unpunished, as it is now something of a core tenet of Taiwanese democracy. The reason why Taiwan is more tolerant of this sort of protest? Well, because of the past pro-democracy protest actions of the sort of people who would throw red paint at a statue of a dictator to begin with. You have their ideological predecessors to thank for the fact that you have the right to speak out at all in Taiwan. Remember that next time someone is afraid a little red paint will "offend" people.

There are those who will also say "if we can act like this, the other side can deface statues too" - sure, they can. They did, to Yoichi Hatta's statue in southern Taiwan. But honestly, these actions don't happen in a vacuum: they are justified (or not) by historical facts. Those who would deface Chiang have recorded history on their side. Those who would deface Hatta do not, and their actions make them look like idiots. There is no moral equivalency between the two actions.

In fact, this isn't a matter of "opinion" - we have the facts. We know what he did. It's been public for some time, and new facts come to light all the time. There's no shading this - it's not "you see a 6 and I see a 9" - the records are there and there's no glossing over what he did. Those people are still dead, or their livelihoods (or mental health, in some cases) destroyed. We know he was a dictator because that word has a meaning, and he embodied it through actions that provably happened. That money is still in KMT coffers, we already know how most of it got there, and we can now finally count it.

This is all true whether or not you like, or would engage in, or "approve" of, this kind of civil disobedience. It's true whether or not you think civil disobedience is an important component of healthy democracy (it is, and if you don't think so, I think you're wrong, but at least one can have an opinion on that. It's an idea, not a fact.) Your "feelings" about some red paint don't really matter.

That's not an "opinion". That's not a "side". That's not "well we just see this issue differently". That's not "let's have a dialogue". It happened, we know it happened, and if you still think "dialogue" is necessary because you don't want to face facts, and you might be too "offended" by some paint (again - but not murder?) to engage in that "dialogue", or you want "respect" for the "perspective" that maybe Chiang was not a dictator or mass murderer because you don't think words mean things or past actions can be proven, then all I have for you is a big fat

 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 


...and a big ol' ball of red paint.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

My latest for Ketagalan Media: the KMT is a virus and the ROC is a compromised system

That's not the actual title, of course, and it covers more ground than that.

I'm just happy that the fine folks at Ketagalan let me publish this behemoth, include a swear word and call the KMT a "virus".

Be warned, it really is long. But it's well-organized and I'd like to think thoughtful as well.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

I'm in The News Lens, punching you with history

My response to two opinion pieces on what to do about Chiang Kai-shek statues (and his memorial hall) appeared in The News Lens International Edition today - you can read it here.

A few key points:


His legacy ought to be studied and analyzed, if only to remember the horrors and agonies of the history of this island nation, and to educate ourselves on the importance of avoiding a backslide into totalitarianism. I do not believe anyone has suggested that he be deleted from history textbooks, nor would it be wise to do so.


This gets to the heart of why I wrote the response to begin with - the first article used the word "delete" in the title but never actually suggested he be erased from history, merely that his presence in statue form does not belong does not belong anywhere in the country, except perhaps at Cihu. I have no issue with a place like that existing, in the same way that one may visit other sites around the world that cause us to reflect on the tragedies of history. However, many people who defend Chiang's likenesses remaining intact equate removing the statues with 'deleting' him entirely from history. It must be clear that this is a straw man argument: no reasonable person would say we should forget Chiang existed, any more than we should forget that any other dictator existed.

Let's remember, as a friend pointed out, that one can appropriately remember and study history without keeping statues everywhere. The nations of the former USSR are quite able to learn about and understand what led to their 20th century circumstances without statues of Lenin still hanging about everywhere.

I also took issue with Adam Hatch (the original writer's) three key reasons for why the statues and memorial hall should remain. In short, he pointed to "economic development", "defense against the People's Republic" and "land reform", saying that all of these things make Chiang's legacy more complex than many would have you believe, and he tried to point out without apologizing for Chiang's crimes that, as a result, Chiang did some good in Taiwan too.

Why would I have an issue with this? Well...even if these points were historically accurate (spoiler: they are not), they do not adequately make a case for continuing to let Chiang's horrid face pop up around the country:


In short, there is no political, military or economic argument for continuing to allow Chiang statues to dot the Taiwanese landscape. Even if the economic and anti-Communist defenses were accurate, they would still not begin to contend with the pain his actions caused in Taiwan.


However, that's not why I wrote in.

One thing that really, really bothers me is the use of historical arguments to make one's case that are not actually historically accurate. I can tolerate it to some extent on the Internet because that place is full of crazies who don't know what they're talking about, but Hatch is a graduate student in the field. I don't want to be too mean, but I have to say, a grad student in this subject ought to know better. I'm a graduate student (or I will be soon) in an entirely different field, and simply because I care about Taiwan and read a lot, I knew his points were wrong. So where did he get these ideas? Who is teaching the postgrads at NCCU? What is up with the revisionist history? I do not believe that Hatch is attempting to push an agenda, and I do not mean to attack him personally, but whoever is teaching this version of history sure is.

What's more, these three arguments keep popping up in discussions of Taiwan affairs and their related history - this isn't the first time I've heard the "but economic development, land reform, and he kept the Commies away!" triad of arguments.

Frankly, I'm sick of it. It's time to beat these inaccurate arguments down - punch them with the fists of history.

A quick summary of why all three points are wrong - not wrong in my opinion, but factually wrong:

Regarding "Chiang Beat The Commies":



The change in Western attitudes to Taiwan came with the outbreak of the Korean War. The U.S. decided that Taiwan was an essential bulwark against the spread of Communism (and of China's navy into the Pacific). It was this change in Taiwan's strategic importance and the subsequent mutual defense agreements signed between the United States and the Republic of China, not any action of Chiang’s, which ensured that Taiwan did not fall to the People's Republic. Not only would this have likely happened without Chiang in power, it might have happened sooner under a leader more appealing to the United States, or with Taiwan hypothetically having gained independence as a former colonial territory of Japan.


Of course, we can't know what would have happened if the ROC had never come here, and Taiwan had been dealt with by the Allies as all former colonies of Japan had been, but the hypothetical seems reasonable given how things played out elsewhere.

In any case, Taiwan not falling to the PRC had nothing to do with Chiang himself.

And about "Chiang created economic development initiatives that made Taiwan an Asian Tiger", remember that this bit of revisionism asks you to believe that the KMT came to backwater Taiwan, and developed it, but that was not the case:


Before World War II, Taiwan was one of the most prosperous territories in Asia.
World War II certainly did its part to create economic turmoil in Taiwan, but for the most part, the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) inherited a prosperous and well-run economy in 1945. This is not a defense of the Japanese colonial period: colonialism is, generally, indefensible. However, Taiwan's pre-ROC era economic prosperity is simply a fact. What destroyed the Taiwanese economy so much that the KMT eventually decided to "develop" it? The KMT themselves: as Hsiao-ting Lin (林孝庭) notes in “Accidental State”, under Chiang-appointed Chen Yi (陳儀), resources were so badly mismanaged, governance so high-handed and command economy and state monopoly enterprises so unsuited to local conditions that the economy, and the living standards of the Taiwanese, plummeted....
Chiang Kai-shek did not develop initiatives to turn Taiwan from a backwater into an Asian Tiger. He merely, and belatedly, sought to fix what he and his own party had broken to begin with. 

More could be said about this, and is included in the article, but the point is, you are not a hero when you wait a decade or so to fix what you yourself broke. And even if you were, it does not absolve you of other crimes: if you kill tens or hundreds of thousands, it does not matter if you made the trains run on time.

Finally, on "but land reform was really necessary, something Chiang realized led to his failure in China!" - yeah, not really, no:



Land reform is similarly a complicated issue: while breaking up large landholdings of an entrenched property-owning class is quite defensible, much of that land was ceded by Japanese owners leaving the former colony, and although some was redistributed, much of it was taken by the state directly, or given to KMT state-run monopolies. Make no mistake: land reform was enacted to enrich the ruling diaspora, including Chiang himself, just as much as it was meant to redistribute land to everyone else.


So please, make your arguments, mount your defenses, create your cases, but do so with an accurate view of history. Quit it with the "look at all the good Chiang did, too!" remarks. We know them to be inaccurate, because history tells us so. These are not secrets. These are not hidden stories. We know the story of the end of the Chinese Civil War. We know the story of the Taiwan Miracle. We know how land reform was handled. We know these things, so don't try to make a case by getting them wrong. These points keep popping up, and I'm done. Stop it.

Learn your history, and learn it well. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Accidental State: A Review


I read this awhile ago, but feel committed to writing up even brief commentary on every book on Taiwan that I pick up, so figure I should write about this before my reactions to it flutter away and I have to rush around trying to recapture them.

That sounds like a milquetoast beginning, but in fact I actually thoroughly enjoyed this book. I appreciated that it was trying to make a case for a line of thinking on the first years of the ROC on Taiwan rather than read as a straight history, and I appreciate that it built up evidence for that case well. The tight focus is also appreciated, narrowing in on the short span of years between the ROC "taking over" Taiwan from Japan, with a few flashbacks to the Chinese Civil War era, up through the KMT's flight to Taiwan and the early 1950s - ending more or less with the 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty.

Lin's argument is simple: nobody - not the ROC, nor the US, nor the Allies, nor Japan, nor the KMT or Communists, nor the United Nations, nor Chiang himself and certainly not Taiwan or the Taiwanese - had ever intended for the ROC or Taiwan to be what it is today. Everything about the making of modern Taiwan as the last holdout of the ROC (which I happen to view as a colonial regime in Taiwan on life support, but that view is not explored in this book) was an accident - Taiwan as it exists today is, then, an accidental state. What, exactly, it was supposed to be or what it might have been better off being remains an unanswered question. Lin explores how, once it was clear Taiwan would no longer be Japanese, the West more or less wanted to see Taiwan in the secure hands of an ally but where not as committed as one might think to that ally necessarily being the ROC (or Chiang Kai-shek, especially), as well as how the ROC itself never intended for Taiwan to be anything other than a part of China. It also makes it quite clear that a self-rule movement did exist that early on in Taiwan itself.

I did learn quite a bit reading Accidental State - much I already knew, such as the background factors that caused the 228 Massacre to play out as it did, but appreciated the further cementing of that knowledge by the narrative, and many details I had not known were filled in. While Lin does not go so far as to imply that Chiang either wanted or intended for something like 228 to happen, he certainly points out that Chiang did not necessarily think that Chen Yi had done anything wrong. The level of detail was mostly about right, and the writing is engaging and offers some depth without being overly academic. I'd say this alone makes it an important read for Taiwan and International Affairs buffs, if not an essential one for someone who is already familiar with the details of Taiwan's status and history in that era and is able to reverse-engineer Lin's central argument from same.

Of course, I have a few quibbles. Lin spends a lot of time discussing the shrinking of the ROC's territory in China, which was legitimately interesting and quite pertinent (and provided a few details my historical readings had missed, such as the final push to maintain ROC control in Yunnan), but mentions only in passing that Chiang, upon fleeing to Taiwan, decided to yet again assume the presidency (he was not in office for a few years - long story, read the book). He goes into loving detail over military shipments as well. From this book, I learned exactly how many carbines the US sent Nationalist guerillas in 1951, among other weapons and munitions (680 if you were curious, which I wasn't really). And yet the Treaty of San Francisco and Treaty of Taipei are given, together, about half a page - about the same as the space given to the entirety of that 1951 shipment. I had gone in hoping for a deeper understanding of these treaties - as I'm not a specialist and do not currently have an understanding I'm satisfied with - and came out, if anything, more confused than before.

There is quite a bit of detail on other military matters - including more lists of arms provided to the fledgling accidental state - but very little on the ideological differences between Chiang Kai-shek and KC Wu, the political slide and eventual execution of Chen Yi, or the reasons why the US spent so much time prevaricating on Chiang himself (I had known the US had not been as wholeheartedly supportive of him or his role in the ROC as many later believed, but I had not realized the extent of their ambivalence). These would have all been of great interest to me had they been explored in more detail, whereas exact munitions counts for military operations that happened in the immediate post-war era? Not so much. I would also argue these issues are more relevant to the ideological evolution of the ROC on Taiwan than, say, how many guns were sent more than half a century ago.

So, all in all, I enjoyed the book and do recommend it, especially for those with moderate, non-specialist historical knowledge but who are not neophytes to Taiwanese history. Go ahead and skim through the lists of war materiel, you aren't going to miss anything, and for a deeper understanding of some of the issues Lin unfortunately glosses over - which would have made for a stronger book if he had gone into more detail - perhaps read up from other sources.