Does Taiwan owe its democracy to Japan?

Jerome Keating argues his case for it in the essay below. While I think I’m inclined to agree (I admit, I’d have to do more research before voting for or against it), I’m neither endorsing it nor disagreeing with it, but putting it out as an interesting perspective. Agree or not, it’s sure interesting. If you think the theory is brilliant or inane, let me know.

Democracy: Japan’s Unexpected Legacy to Taiwan
Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Hello Kitty, rock stars, comic books, fashion trends, you name it, and Taiwanese youth are entranced with things Japanese. Lost in all this glitter, however, is the much more valuable and often overlooked legacy from the past, democracy.

Democracy in Taiwan? Most point to the Kaohsiung Incident (1979) as the pivotal point in Taiwan’s democratic movement and rightly so. At that time, those outside the party (the tangwai) protested for their rights of democratic expression and participation against the one party governmental monopoly of the Kuomintang (KMT). They were arrested, tried in kangaroo courts and jailed for their efforts but the doors of democracy were being forced open. The free democratic elections of 1996 would still be a long way off, but the outside world was finally beginning to realize the reality of the struggle in Taiwan.

Taiwan’s roots in democracy, however, go back much further, back beyond the start of Martial Law in 1949 and even beyond the infamous 2-28 Incident in 1947. The pursuit of democracy, free expression and representative participation had already been present in Taiwan in the late 19th century.

In a broad sense one might make the case that Taiwan had always been a haven for those fleeing oppressive regimes whether from the Mainland or elsewhere. For centuries as this island fell under the flags of numerous countries, Taiwan took in all types, including pirates, entrepreneurs, and drifters as well as industrious people seeking a new start and a chance for a better life. The sense of Taiwanese consciousness and democracy, however, would come from the Japanese era.

Indirectly this Taiwanese consciousness began when the people slowly realized that the only ones who would really care for them would have to be themselves. When the Manchu Qing Empire lost its 1894-5 war with Japan, the people of Taiwan woke to learn from outside sources that they had been cast off like a stepchild along with the Pescadores (Penghu) and the Liaotung Peninsula to appease the victorious Japanese. Incensed they decided that if others would not help them, they would have to seek their own destiny.

Up until that time the Hoklo, Hakka, and aborigines had fought for land among themselves and the Qing masters had maintained power over the western half of the island by playing one group against the other. This new outside threat made them see that they must fight together.

The Republic of Taiwan was formed in 1895 with its own flag, stamps and laws. To be sure there were mixed motivations and mixed ambitions of all those involved. The fat cat leaders who felt their bread was buttered by playing up to the Qing government fled to China at the first signs of the Japanese. The common people, however, who had a greater attachment to their land kept up the fight against the far more experienced and far better equipped Japanese army.

Naturally the Japanese won, and surprisingly they still gave any citizens who wished, two years to decide on whether to stay in Japan’s new colony or to return to China. Interestingly enough, few takers (less than 1 % of the population) chose to go back to China.

At this point it is important to step back and see the clear democratic movement that had already been developing in Japan. Under the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912), Japan had begun in its own unified effort at westernization.

The Japanese had chosen to follow the German and Austrian model of Parliament where the Monarch (Emperor for the Japanese) maintained great power. They had two parties and a cabinet system of government in the 1880’s. By February 11, 1889 they had drawn up a Constitution (the Emperor’s gift to the people). The First Diet with a House of Peers and House of Representatives was elected and convened in 1890. The democratic experiment was well on its way some time before Taiwan became a part of the Japanese Empire.

With the acquisition of Taiwan in 1895, Japan sought to also have a model colony to showcase to the west. Ten years later by 1905, Taiwan had become Japan’s most valuable colony. Unlike under the Qing Dynasty where improvements were always “too little, too late” and each reform governor would leave before anything lasting or substantial was accomplished, the Japanese had come to stay. They developed the island industrially; they built up a solid infrastructure and brought in vastly needed health reforms.

When the Meiji Emperor died, Japan had moved into its Taisho period (1912—1926) and the sickly Crown Prince Yoshihito ascended the throne. The emperor’s health prevented active involvement making this a time of greater parliamentary development and democratic ideals. Progressive educational reform, experiments in socialism, and a wide range of liberal ideas became frequent topics of discussion at the universities and schools.

By 1915 armed opposition in the colony of Taiwan had ceased and the people began to see that they had a better chance by working within the “harsh but fair” system of the Japanese. Taiwan’s more gifted youth now had a chance to receive advanced education in Japanese universities. There they were exposed to the free discussion of new and varied ideas that ranged from Marxism to a return to the samurai spirit to democracy.

The Taisho period of democracy was known for its tolerance of diversity. The number of future leaders of Taiwan and even of China that were exposed to such discussions in Japan are impressive. Taiwan’s first two 1996 presidential contenders (Peng Ming-min and Lee Teng-hui) cut their teeth respectively in pre and post World War II Japan. Peng in his Taste of Freedom makes special mention of how he found himself treated more as an equal in Japan than in the colony of Taiwan.

By 1921, a lot was happening in Taiwan also. The special powers granted to the colonial administrators were taken back and Taiwan fell under the rule of the Diet. The people of Taiwan immediately petitioned for the right to participate in democracy and elect their own representatives to that Diet.

The magazine Taiwanese Youth promoting Taiwanese consciousness and awareness would be published in Japan. While officially banned in Taiwan, it and the ideas discussed at the universities were filtering back to the colony. In 1925 the people witnessed that universal suffrage was granted to all males in Japan, to commoners as well as to the wealthy and property owners. This raised the question, why not here in Taiwan.

Don’t be mistaken, Japan’s attitude toward Taiwan was that of colonial masters. The Japanese like the British, French, and other colonial powers saw a threat in too much colonial participation. Taiwan’s representation in the Diet did not come easy. Petitions were repeatedly rejected (over 15 times); some petitioners were briefly jailed as troublemakers and others were harassed. The courts and laws, however, protected them and those jailed were soon set free. At the same time, the newly formed Taiwan Cultural Association (1921) would offer programs throughout Taiwan educating the people on culture and rights.

Democracy in Japan would not survive the economic troubles and military power struggles of the 1930’s. The samurai militarists would gain control and Japan would enter and lose World War II. The roots of democracy, however, had gone deep enough so that after the war it was possible for Japan to quickly reestablish a functioning democracy again in less than ten years. This time the power of the Emperor as well as that of the militarists would be removed from the equation.

For the Taiwanese the fruit of their efforts came too late. Finally in 1945 prior to the end of World War II, the people achieved representation in the Diet. No sooner would they gain but they would lose. After the war, Taiwan would be put under the KMT the rulers of the Republic of China. It was back to square one, except that these “rescuing” invaders would prove to be far more brutal than the Japanese. Taiwan would have to struggle again.

During this period in China, Sun Yat-sen’s efforts for democracy had born fruit in 1911, but they were quickly lost when Yuan Shih-kai seized power. After his death in 1916, the warlord period followed. Then two one party state Leninist organizations, the KMT under Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would vie for power. At first the KMT gained the upper hand. Given lists of CCP party membership in Shanghai and elsewhere, the KMT subsequently massacred all CCP members they could get their hands on. World War II intervened here and afterwards it was the CCP that was seen as less corrupt by the people and the KMT were driven to Taiwan in 1949.

Some have falsely tried to justify the KMT’s stranglehold of martial law (until 1987) by saying that the Taiwanese were not ready for democracy. The opposite could not be truer. Taiwan was more than ready for democracy in 1945; it was the oppressive, one party Leninist KMT that was not.

The KMT would use the excuse of 2-28 to systematically kill off many of the Taiwanese intelligentsia who had been schooled in hard knocks democracy under the Japanese. Again like in Shanghai the KMT gained lists of names. They carefully noted any leaders who came forth to express the people’s grievances. Those involved were either killed or imprisoned and tortured in the following period of white terror. By the time the Kaohsiung Incident took place in 1979, the people knew well that democracy always has a price.

One cannot deny that the KMT has made positive contributions to Taiwan and one cannot tar all the KMT with the same brush. Not all accepted the Leninist justification for their control but their silence whether intentional or not gave it sanction. The failure still of any admission and action as to how much of KMT party assets really belong to the people of Taiwan is an example of such continued silence. So also is the continued silence on all who were singled out to be killed or silenced in 2-28 and the white terror. The ghosts of the past do not disappear simply because one is silent.

For many in the KMT, it is a bitter pill to swallow to have to admit that they were not the ones that brought democracy to Taiwan. It is a bitter pill for the Leninists among them to admit that while giving lip service to democracy, in practice for over 40 years they did the opposite and would have to learn the meaning of democracy from the Taiwanese who in turn had learned it from the Japanese.

There are many in the KMT and spin-off People’s First Party (PFP) and New Party (NP) who will go to their graves choking on this pill. This is evident by the fact that these parties have yet to offer concrete positive programs and demonstrate a consciousness of the people of Taiwan. They continue to see things only in terms of one party rule, winner take, all and complain about the loss of their mainland “entitlement,” doubly lost because of what had happened to them in 1949 on the mainland.

Across the Strait the victorious other oppressive Leninist one party government still rules. The people there have no democratic experience or history to draw on like in Taiwan. Sun Yat-sen’s brief republic of 1911 is still used in propaganda to justify the ruling power’s position and image. The people suffer (albeit in ignorance) a lack of suffrage, a free press and information and therefore free choice. The People’s Republic of China is a regime that has no sympathy, toleration or appreciation for Taiwan’s long road to democracy.

And as for Japan, well Taiwan owes it a lot more than Hello Kitty.

The Discussion: 22 Comments

I think it’s undeniable that 50 years of Japanese rule has left an imprint on Taiwan – but it’s stretching things a bit far to say that they gave Taiwan it’s understanding of democracy. You might as well say that the US gave Taiwan democracy (after all, it did put pressure on the KMT). I suspect that a large proportion of the people who advocated democracy under Japanese rule didn’t survive the KMT purges after handover – so any progress towards democracy was lost there.

A lot of the credit for democracy does go to the Taiwanese people who managed to put enough pressure on the KMT to force change. However, it must be noted that the KMT was never in a particularly strong position on Taiwan: as an (almost) government in exile, which was dependent on US support for its continued existence, there was only so much pressure it could withstand (compare the reaction of the KMT to the Kaoshiong incident with the CCP’s reaction to Tiananmen).

Also, democracy is something that takes a while to develop – I think Taiwan has seen incredibly quick development to get from a 1-party dictatorship to a fully functioning multi-party (with no party overly dominant) democracy. However, there’s still quite a way to go … you can’t really call Taiwan’s democracy anything but “immature” at the moment 🙂

If I was a suspicious person, I would suggest that the claim that democracy is Japan’s gift to Taiwan is deliberately intended to wind up certain people who think anything Japan does is bad ….

January 3, 2005 @ 10:35 pm | Comment

David, I am a suspicious person, and I suspect you’re right … I can already hear the outraged spluttering. I remember the apoplexy from the Koreans when a Japanese cabinet minister dared to comment once, that Japan had done a lot of good things for the peninsula while they ruled it. Now are the Chinese exactly happy to be reminded that the reason the NorthEast was their industrial heartland was because the Japanese built much of the industry there during their period of occupation. It was one of the reasons they were so sensitive about letting North Korea get conquered … they couldn’t afford to have the Americans sitting right across the border from all their Japanese-built industry.

What’s that I hear … more spluttering?

January 4, 2005 @ 1:00 am | Comment

i read this essay carefully but i am not convinced by the author that taiwan’s roots of democracy was from japan.

from the essay, it’s not difficult to draw the conclusion that japan’s occupation of taiwan, for the first time, make people in taiwan to think how to control their own fate. with this, i think it’s appropriate to say that the root of TI was from japanese occupation, to some extents.

January 4, 2005 @ 1:04 am | Comment

i respect the author for he trys to be objective in his essay, but i am very unconfortable with the way he presents his views by selecting pieces of materials from the history, and makes them suit his view points.

if i write an essay titled “does taiwan owe its democracy to US” or even “does taiwan owe its democracy to mainland china”, i believe there are plenty of materials there you can pick up and use them to support your arguements.

japanese revisionists use such tricks a lot. from the individual case and materials they present in front of you, you will be convinced that they are right, but with the whole picture, their argument is so pale.

it’s just like pointing to a brick and saying : look, there is a crack in the brick, and the whole building is dangerous. if you debate wheather there is a crack in that brick, you fall into their trap.

January 4, 2005 @ 1:19 am | Comment

nice blog!!! 🙂

January 4, 2005 @ 4:33 am | Comment

As someone who loves Japan, I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with Bingfeng. Keating is certainly data mining, choosing his points selectively.

If pushed hard to say positive things, I would go as far as to say the Japanese occupation of Taiwan contributed to some of the positive events of later years, but Keating goes much farther: too far in my opinion.

My eyebrows went up when I started reading about Taisho Japan as characterized by “parliamentary development and democratic ideals. Progressive educational reform”…and “known for its tolerance of diversity.”

In 1925, the Maintenance of the Public Order Act was oassed, which allowed the police to arrest – and, more often than not, to torture and execute – any citizen who sought political changes in the status quo. In 1928, there was a nationwide arrest of about one-thousand labor-movement activists. That all the arrests were made simultaneously at three in the morning demonstrates the full implementation of a national network of intelligence control.

I’m already writing too long a comment, so I’ll just point out that there are lots of other things going on in this period and if you’d asked me to write about Taisho Japan I would have posited that it was an incubation period in which was born an epistemological schema that made it possible for Japan to become a totalitarian state. Certainly nothing near the way Keating characterizes it.

Another thing in Japanese history that he slants is the establishment of the new political system. The model was European in origin, but given very different characteristics: the European model saw the nation-state as projected from a state of nature, but the Japanese model saw the nation-state as projected from the emperor, who spent a lot of effort in the Meiji period taking over the old mythology and positioning himself as the archetype of the Japanese people. This aspect was weakened in Taisho Japan (which had its own problems) but reasserted itself in the 1930s. The point is that I see many of the roots of Japanese totalitarianism where Keating sees only the roots of democracy. The roots of democracy are certainly there as well, but as Bingfeng implies, we shouldn’t be too selective in how we present history. And I might add that even a demostration of correlation doesn’t imply causality: Keating has only correlated events and declared causality from nothing.

January 4, 2005 @ 5:18 am | Comment

For many in the KMT, it is a bitter pill to swallow to have to admit that they were not the ones that brought democracy to Taiwan.

What a bunch of hooey. Yeah, the current leaders of DPP did a lot of work in the pre-dangwai days to push for democratic reforms, but when it comes down to it, Taiwan only became democratic because Jiang Jingguo let it.

David is right about this being a ridiculously revisionist take in order to wind up the pro-China reunificationists. On a similar topic, have you noticed how Lee Teng-hui’s recent trip to Japan seemingly got no coverage in the mainland’s media? I remember about a week ago seeing Lee Teng-Hui arriving at some temple in Kyoto and having hundreds of schoolchildren greet him by waving both Japanese flags and Taiwanese independence flags (the green and white flag). I remember checking the CCTV’s website and not seeing any mention of it. It’s like those images would have been too explosive for the mainland audience.

January 4, 2005 @ 6:43 am | Comment

Taiwan is and always has been part of one China. There is only one, not two. Do not confuse the wallpaper with the house.

January 4, 2005 @ 10:34 am | Comment

Boo essentially summed up everything I wanted to say about this article. Its decent reading for those who agree with it, but anyone viewing it with a critical eye and more detailed knowledge of the Japan/Taiwan colonial relationship can read between the lines and see some pretty glaring omissions by Keating. As for him attempting to be objective, I would have to say that he failed miserably. While the hypothesis itself is certainly probable, his choice of words directed against the pan-blue camp reveals that he is almost certainly a pro-green Taidu supporter. This is definetly more op-ed than history.

I hate to pick at articles bit by bit, but I just can’t resist this time. The author begins a summation Taiwan’s history by using one of the time-tested rhetorical arguements of the Taidu crowd, that of stressing Taiwan’s pluralistic past (read non-Chinese). Unfortunately for all the flags that have flown over only two have made any lasting impact that continues into the modern day. While the Portugese and Dutch both held sway over Taiwan for a brief period of time, the only reminder of such exists in a few memorials scattered about that depict the Dutch surrender to Koxinga. Keating doesn’t even bother attempting any sort of neutrality by ommitting entirely any reference to China entirely. If you will note the reference to “Manchu Qing Empire” to describe pre-revolutionary China as well as the use of sub-ethnic identifiers of Hakka and Hoklo instead of Chinese settlers. Keating’s description of the events leading up to the formation of the 1895 Republic of Taiwan are even more disingenuous. He vaguely makes references to “mixed motivations” as he calls them so he can avoid actually stating that the principal plan was orchestrated by the last Qing governor and Chinese elites to keep the island out of the hands of the Japanese. Keating again uses some terribly obvious rhetorical tricks in his description of the struggle against the Japanese. He frames the notion that only 1% of people living on Taiwan at the time chose to return to China as surprising and indicative of a proto-national Taiwanese consciousness. He is however wrong on both counts. Taiwan at the time was not exactly the most prosperous of Chinese provinces and most of its people more than likely did not have the resources to resettle. Also even after an occupation, most people do not choose to relocate and start their lives all over again somewhere else. The 1% figure Keating calls surprising should be more accurately described as perfectly normal.

Boo has already done an excellent job in dissecting Keating’s superficial treatment of the Taisho era in Japanese history but I would also like to point out the vague treatment over colonial education on Taiwan. Patricia Tsurumi from the University of Hawaii i believe has written an excellent account of the colonial education system and its slow dislocation over the former traditional Chinese orthodoxy. While Keating refers to it as “harsh but fair”, he fails to mention that it was anything but. The initial response by the Taiwanese to the Japanese colonial education system was one of resistance, as educated Chinese elites shunned Japanese education and focused primarily on private schools teaching the “classics”. (The very same educated Chinese elites who remained on Taiwan that Keating earlier referred to as the non-common man fat cats who fled back to China) However over time, with the new colonial administration in place, the traditional “gentlemen’s” education fostered by the Confucian system proved inadequate in maintaining the privileged positions in society of these Chinese elites. This was the moment when Japanese education gained more traction when the children of wealthy families found technical education far more useful in maintaining their economic and social standing than what a tradition confucian education would have brought. What Keating calls fair was in fact anything but since at the moment of its inception, the colonial education system was more designed to provide rudimentary education for the mass of Taiwan’s populace and higher education for Japanese settlers. Native Taiwan elites faced a stiff quota system which limited how many students could enroll in schools of higher education, particularly those who could travel to Japan. Keating ironically cites Lee Teng Hui as a product of such a system but Lee was the exception rather than the rule. His family had a history of collaboration with the Japanese colonial administration(his father being a colonel in the Japanese colonial police I believe) and thus was granted certain privileges. As for administrative positions on Taiwan for those with higher educations, Japanese, even those with less ability were always accepted ahead of Chinese/Taiwanese. Keating darkly also fails to mention that the cessation of hostilities in 1915 was hallmarked by a large scale insurrection that was on the scale of 228 which left thousands dead.

As for the rest of the article, it isn’t even history or discussion, but simple partisan hackery.

In response to our resident China-negativist Filthy No. 9. I should point out that much of the industrial infrastructure left by the Japanese was uprooted by the Soviets during their brief stay there, industry built with Chinese labour and Chinese resources by the way. Anyways, as much as you believe that modern Chinese should be falling over in gratitude towards Japan for their ad hoc war effort industralization of the northeast area, the region now is more or less an unproductive industrial rust belt. Much of this can be attributed to the inefficient nature of a command style Soviet modeled economy, but then again heavy manufacturing has already seen its heyday as similar unproductive rustbelts in the U.S. and Europe exist as well.

January 4, 2005 @ 2:40 pm | Comment

A rather irksome fact of history is that the aftereffects of occupation/colonization do often include some residual benefit. Hong Kong’s economy, modernity and relatively free society are a result of colonization and it would seem that Taiwan’s development, cultural freedom and even perhaps their democracy, such as it is, was not “home grown.” One of Beijing’s brightest lights said recently that when the ANC asserted control over South Africa (a country with which he is implicitly familiar) after eons of despicable apartheid, it inherited an infrastructure that it could not have built itself. Obnoxious, but indisputable.

January 4, 2005 @ 4:51 pm | Comment

Thanks for the wisdom, Ellen (even though it won’t be warmly received by everyone).

January 4, 2005 @ 4:55 pm | Comment

Oh come off it Jing. Your response to my points are nonsensical. A) would there have been a comparable industrial zone in that area if that Japanese hadn’t been there? No. B) After the Soviets removed materials from the region … what happened later? Go back to your history books. C) Brief stay? Major Japanese involvement in the industrial development of the region began in roughly 1906 with their acquisition of the South Manchurian Railway and Liaodong Peninsula from the Russians. Their period of direct rule lasted from 1931-1945, and their strategic plan called for Manchuria to be part of their industrial zone, along with Korea and the Japanese mainland. There was nothing “ad hoc” about it. As much as you’d like to, you can’t just write this off. D) You think that because the area is a rustbelt today, that somehow says anything about the importance of the region to China in past decades? If you want to follow that logic, we might as well dismiss the English shipbuilding industry as totally unimportant to that country? After all, the shipyards don’t contribute much today. Right? E) Falling over with gratitude? No … , and nor does it mean that you have to forget all the evil things they did in the region … but giving credit where credit is due? Yes, I think you should. Have you, or any other Chinese person you know, ever acknowledged the importance of Japan’s contribution to the region? No, I didn’t think so.

January 4, 2005 @ 6:50 pm | Comment

Ellen: I definitely agree with you that Japan did a lot to develop Taiwan. However, that is very different (and more vague) than saying the roots of democracy were planted then.

I think there’s a lot more firm evidence to show that Taiwan’s industrialisation during the KMT era was strongly helped by the Japanese influence … but democracy? I’m less convinced.

January 4, 2005 @ 7:02 pm | Comment

P.S. One other fact to ‘show’ that democracy in Taiwan is a result of the KMT-era: one of the main complaints about the DPP is that they are busy inheriting all the corruption of their KMT counterparts. Proof undeniable that democracy in Taiwan is of KMT origin 🙂 🙂

January 4, 2005 @ 7:05 pm | Comment

no doubt that evil also breeds good.

but politics is not math – if you killed 10 persons and saved 20, you are still a good guy. NO!

if that becomes the norm, Hitler should be thanked by germans and stalin also a hero for russians.

while you guys are talking about the industrial facilities built by japanese in northeastern china, there were people dying because of japanese chemical weapons in that region, TWO dead last year, and a dozen SUFFERING even now.

January 4, 2005 @ 8:04 pm | Comment

Its all arithmetic to the Americans until someone murders your grandfather. I could make a fairly tangible case that the september 11th attacks were beneficial to America because it awoke them to the dangers of global terrorism and fundamentalist jihadies. Obviously Bin Laden was doing a good thing for Americans by alerting them then, why they can’t seem to understand that I don’t really know.

Sarcasm aside, I have never denied the impact and importance of Japan’s historical presence in NE China circa 1910-1945, what I do object to however is your notion that the Chinese should somehow recognize this as some sort of benevolence. While you may not have explicitly stated such, the implication was made when you linked it to the Korean issue. Japan’s industrialization of “Manchukuo” was plainly not qualifiable, it is neither a good thing nor a bad thing but a historical fact. In a broader sense, im rather irritated at your general attitude towards all things Chinese, do you and the late Conrad of Gweilo Diaries along with Zhang Fei share notes?

January 5, 2005 @ 1:48 am | Comment

i don’t know what you will react if i hint that WWII is actually a good thing by indicating that the WWII stimulated such human inventions like speedway (by Hitler in nazi germany), radar, new planes, new medica, OR, ….

January 5, 2005 @ 2:12 am | Comment

Oh how easy it is to say that everyone else is selective but us.

I thank Bing feng for being gracious and having noted everything I said and giving me the benefit of the doubt even though he disagrees.

First let me say, that all history is selective; there are some indisputable happenings but the causes and interpretations are always open to interpretation.

Second, at any given time in any given country, there are many ideologies, philosophies etc. going on at the same time. Contending with each other; some win out over time, others disappear, and others become dormant.

Having said that, let’s go back and match my selectivity against the selectivity that others make.

First I would say that Richard probably got a few people’s feathers ruffled by using the word “owe” in the title. My title was “Democracy, Japan’s unexpected legacy to Taiwan.” or something like that.

But let’s go on. Boo loves Japan. He sees the Taisho period as the incubation of the totalitarian state that followed. I seem to remember that I said there were many conflicting philosophies etc. from democracy to Marxism to samarai militarists–my word for the totalitarian state that followed and I seem to remember I said that they won out. Now let us go to post WWII Japan, within 12 years Japan has a functioning multi-party democracy and no longer needs martial law, and Japan still (some 60 years later) has trouble convincing the people to have an offensive army despite the growing threat of China’s military arms build up.
Now some may say that MacArthur had a magic wand and automatically transformed Japan into a democracy from the totalitarian state Boo credits it with. I prefer to think that the roots of democracy were also being sunk during the Taisho period and it was not that difficult to revive them. But I am open to hear the selective interpretation on how this democracy sprung from Tojo and company.

Wayne, says Jian Jingguo let Taiwan go to be a democracy; what is the selective read here; he did it because he is a nice guy? he did it because after years of oppression and leading the secret police etc. he had a change of heart? he did it because this was all part of the master plan? or after the assassination attempt he couldn’t understand why the people did not love him? I don’t know, did the United States let Vietnam go?

Jing says I am anti-blue and I admit my writings take the blues to task on many points. But after hearing from many blues how they are responsible for Taiwan’s democracy and doing some comparisons. i.e. that Germany and Japan were able to have functioning two or more party democracies and no longer need martial law in less than 12 years, yet Taiwan took 40 years to get rid of martial law and approximately 50 years to get a democratic multi-party presidential election. I’d like to hear the selective explanation on why Taiwan under the KMT took so much longer. Especially when there were all these China loving Taiwanese here in the first place.

Jing mentions the Portuguese (it was the Spanish not the Portuguese that had their flag over the island.) I will take that just as a mix up of countries since the Portuguese are credited with naming the island. But it does make me wonder if your history books gloss countries together. Yes I did not give the Ming loyalists mention; the Dutch ruled in Taiwan for 38 years; part of that time the Spanish were in the north for 17 years and Koxinga with the Ming loyalists after a 9 month siege forced the Dutch to leave. They then ruled for 21 years.

Let’s look at his selectivity of the 1895 Democratic Republic of Taiwan. He states it was orchestrated by the Qing governor etc.–I don’t deny that; but what he selectively fails to answer is how all those who orchestrated the uprising fled within 10 days. Yet the people kept fighting. The people were already upset that the Qing had given them away to Japan without any notification and now their leaders (my word fat cats) ran after 10 days; my read is that the people began to see that their destinies were linked and that they had to put aside all their petty squabblings Hakka-Hoklo that had followed them from the mainland. And which by the way the Qing always used in playing one against the other in the frequent uprisings and rebellions on Taiwan. Theywere beginning to see outsiders care little for the island.

Jing feels that Lee Teng-hui is an exception. He seems to have selectively omitted Peng Ming-min who I mentioned also cut his teeth in Japan and noticed the difference between what was going on in the colony and in Japan. Lee Teng-hui is the bete noire of Chinese historians and certainly many of the blue camp here see him as a traitor. But let me ask the readers, what are the odds that the two major candidates for the two major parties in the first presidential election (though on opposite sides of the political fence) would both have studied in Japan. If all the people on Taiwan loved China, how did these two unlikely souls get to be selected. (There were two KMT who ran as independents in that election) I would like to hear a little better selective reasoning than, “Lee is an exception.” I will put more in to speak to the others, but this is getting a bit long. I think there is a big communication gap between mainland historians and taiwanese historians.


January 5, 2005 @ 3:14 am | Comment

David, I didn’t give your coments much of an answer so here goes.
You mention that the KMT killed off many of the intelligentia–true, but that does not necessarily mean that if the leaders are lost, the ideas and spirit they had are lost. I have talked to many of my students as well as others who speak of their farmer parents or working class people (ones that I would not consider intelligentia) and how their parents had these contraband books etc. and learned and taught them from said books. Ideas and participation in government had been discussed in Taiwan from the 20’s on. The common people had time to develop thought here. And they can understand who and what is better for them as even Mao seemed well adept at tapping into.

Second, of course, I also did not say democracy was a gift from Japan to Taiwan, nor did I say it was intended; but the roots were there and it became an unexpected legacy. Britain had its own problem with colonials having a different experience when they came to the capital.

To posit that all of a sudden it came with the KMT is again in my mind more of a magic wand theory; like those who feel that all of a sudden it developed in Japan because the Americans came. You have to have preparation. Once the early experience is had, it is like the camel getting his nose in the tent. Once the camel of democracy and free speech gets his nose in, you need all the more repression to drive it out. This is one reason I believe the CCP in China tries its best not to let any free public speech exist. I would like to hear the selective explanation from the China side as to why people like Dr. Jiang Yanyong, at 72 has to be put under house arrest for an attitude adjustment and to relearn his history. That they want Japan to not give a visa to 80 year old Lee Teng-hui.
I hope someone is not going to tell me that there is a conspiracy theory about Lee and the Japanese.

And please don’t anyone tell me I think all KMT are bad, corrupt etc. There is however the matter that there are still many living who would know of the lists of how many intelligentia etc. were targeted and they are silent.

A different question for others, why did Marxism/Communism take root in China but not in Japan? This is not a trick question. I’m curious what others think as to why the Japanese were more efficient in stamping it out than Chiang Kai-shek.


January 5, 2005 @ 7:14 am | Comment

Jerome, thanks for the thoughtful responses. However, I’m still not really convinced 🙂

There seem to be two major issues in relation to democracy in Taiwan:
1) The actions of the Taiwanese people in pushing for more representation
2) The reactions of the KMT government

I would claim that, while the actions of the Taiwanese democracy advocates were instrumental, they were no different to what you’d expect of any reasonably well-educated population which was ruled by an obviously corrupt 1-party system (made up of ‘outsiders’) who claimed democracy while hiding behind martial law.

To me, the thing that really made democracy possible, was that the KMT was not in a position to be able to resist the calls for democracy. As I mentioned before, not only did they not have a strong support base on Taiwan, but they were dependent on foreign (i.e. U.S.) benevolence for their existence. I know there were some pretty ruthless periods in the ‘White Terror’ period – but too much of that and the US would have pulled support from them, and they would have collapsed.

Just my 2 cents …

January 5, 2005 @ 9:07 am | Comment

Asia by Blog

Asia by Blog is a twice weekly feature, usually posted on Monday and Thursday, providing links to Asian blogs and their views on the news in this fascinating region. Previous editions can be found here. For tsunami relief information, please see the Ts…

January 9, 2005 @ 8:03 am | Comment

Taiwan got democracy from Japan?

I don’t know about that, Taiwan may have declared Asian first (and perhaps, shortest-lived republic) but I don’t think democracy rubbed off on them. The Meiji Restoration isn’t exactly a textbook example…

January 12, 2005 @ 4:14 am | Comment

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