DICTATOR VS. PEOPLE
53. Paradise Lost: Massacre at Formosa
WHEN I returned from Manchuria, I found the Kuomintang had declared semi-open
warfare on its own people. Nationwide demonstrations against the civil
war, against American intervention and against dictatorship had been met
by direct and bloody suppression. Thousands of students, businessmen and
intellectuals had been beaten, thousands of others imprisoned and still
others shot down, bayoneted and murdered. Most of these actions were performed
in the name of suppressing bandits, catching spies or uncovering Communist
agents. Both the numbers and the prominence of the victims prevented these
charges from gaining any wide acceptance, and in order to quiet the anguished
howls of criticism that rose from all quarters, the Chinese government
was sometimes forced to admit that many of the victims were not Communists,
but merely youths who had been led astray by false and foreign doctrines.
During 1947 and 1948, on the island of Formosa, an experiment in this "regeneration" of the people by the government of Chiang Kai-shek was carried out on a laboratory scale - beyond the reaches of the Russians, beyond the grasp of the Chinese Communists and even beyond the civil war and therefore very convincing. During February 1947, Chiang's soldiers had killed hundreds of unarmed Formosans, but these events had passed almost unnoticed in the outside world until John W. Powell, the courageous American editor of the China Weekly Review visited the island and gave a factual account of what he saw and heard. Although Powell was reviled by the Kuomintang press for "exaggerating" a minor affair, I found things even worse than Powell had described.
To appreciate the nature of the tragic events on Formosa, it is necessary to understand something about the setting in which they occurred. This long oval island, which is about the size of Holland and lies a hundred miles off the coast of China, must be regarded as one of the most attractive places in the Orient. Within its narrow confines there is contained a wealth of scenery that is almost as varied as that offered by the entire United States. Two-thirds of the island is mountainous, with seventy-seven peaks reaching nearly to ten thousand feet. Some of these mountains have a savage and enchanted look, plunging almost perpendicularly from heights of seven thousand feet directly into the Pacific which runs around the island in a belt of pale green water. In the rainy season, torrents come roaring down from the mountains and are important sources of hydroelectric power. Tropical forests cover the lower slopes of the hills, forming jungles that are difficult to penetrate. The lowlands are intensively cultivated and the whole countryside is a vast green and yellow garden of paddy fields, peasant hamlets, well-worn paths and meandering creeks. Necklacing the island are numerous sandy beaches which offer ideal spots for sun-bathing and swimming. The climate is warm and equable; a sea breeze, which sometimes sharpens into a hurricane, keeps the island fresh and cool even on the hottest days.
The people on Formosa grow more food than they can use, and rice, fruits and fish are everywhere in abundance. To complete the picture of this natural paradise, there are flowers of many colors which decorate the hill slopes, the paddy fields and also the heads of the pretty Formosan-Chinese women.
Formosa has had a violent history. The Chinese made the first recorded expedition to the island in A.D. 605. Later, when the Manchus conquered China, Ming dynasty expatriates found refuge here and drove the aboriginal tribesmen into the hills. For a time, Formosa became a great pirate lair and buccaneers from headquarters on the island made raids up and down the China coast and also feasted off the hundreds of Western-world ships that were wrecked on her treacherous rocks. Castaways were generally killed. The Dutch and the Portuguese occupied parts of the island at various times and finally in 1895, the decrepit Manchus signed Formosa over to the Japanese. It took the Japanese seven years to pacify the island, but when they had done so they improved the living conditions of the people by developing communications, improving public health, expanding commodity distribution and instituting agricultural planning. They eliminated banditry, developed railways, made the roads safe for travel and gave the Formosans a Spartan kind of justice, but not much social or political freedom.
Because of this last fact, because they considered themselves Chinese, because they did not realize they were culturally more advanced than the people of their own motherland and because they had heard of the Atlantic Charter, democracy and the New Life Movement of Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the arrival of Chinese troops in the autumn of 1945 created a great stir of enthusiasm among the islanders, and they trooped to the railway stations and the docks in holiday clothes to welcome their "liberators."
Chiang's soldiers took goods from the market stalls without paying
for them, robbed civilians on the streets at night and killed villagers
so that their robberies would not be discovered. Thus, villages and towns,
which had never known any thieves under Japanese rule, were forced to
organize their own local protective associations.
When taking over a factory, Chinese gendarmes asked three questions:
"How much cash on hand?" "Any motorcar?" "Any
house?" Formosan staff members were dismissed and replaced by Kuomintang
hangers-on. Though the island had almost as many trained technicians as
the whole of China put together, most all of these men were indiscriniinately
thrown out of their jobs and forced to become cooks, clerks or menial
servants for party ward heelers. The head of a pharmaceutical factory,
for example, was fired and replaced by an errand boy from a Shanghai drugstore
who was a relative of a Chinese official. Technicians from the fisheries
were dismissed and took up jobs as houseboys and orderlies. The manager
of the Taipeh Gas Company had to become a clerk in a foreign firm. Under
these conditions, plus the lack of any real Chinese capital, plus the
effects of American air raids, Formosan industry was deprived of its life
blood and collapsed like a stuck pig.
Chiang's bureaucrats, adopting mainland practices, soon put most businesses from tea to fertilizer under government monopoly, drove the Formosans out of trade and obtained a free hand for private grafting.
Under the attacks of these carpetbaggers, every branch of Formosan
life began to collapse. When the American Army first arrived on Formosa,
the local dollar was valued at ten American cents and remained stable
for six months. Instead of allowing Formosan money to remain on a sound
basis, however, the Chinese hooked it up to their own printing press currency
with the result that the Formosan dollar declined to a tenth of a US cent.
In the words of an American official on the island, this was a "Crime
against the people of Formosa," deliberately made with the intention
of fleecing the islanders and also done with the intention of creating
a fluctuating exchange behind which all sorts of illegal manipulations
would be carried out.
This exploitation had profound effects on the living conditions of
the people. Under the Japanese, the laboring classes had been able to
eat fish, eggs and some meat on an average wage of a hundred yen a month.
By 1947, workers were receiving an equivalent of only twenty-five yen.
Ninety percent of their pay went for food; they could buy no clothing
and soon they began to go barefoot like the peasants. Nor were the middle
classes any better off. Unable to live on their salaries, they first sold
their furniture, then, as their savings disappeared, some of them sent
their daughters into whorehouses and their sons to peddle cigarettes on
the streets. Under the Japanese, these children had gone to school. The
Chinese said: "That was compulsory education; now you are free."
Free to become beggars, the Formosans answered.
Under these conditions, it is not surprising that a cholera epidemic
broke out in 1946. The epidemic was particularly severe in southern Formosa
and the death rate soon rose to 8o per cent of all cases. UNRRA dispatched
all of its nurses and doctors to the threatened area, with the intention
of putting the isolation hospitals in decent shape and cleaning up foul
conditions. At this time there were only one Chinese doctor and five nurses
in the cholera hospitals. In a near-by provincial hospital, however, there
were fourteen Chinese doctors and thirty nurses to look after only fifteen
patients. All of these refused to go into the cholera hospitals. Conditions
became so bad that patients were found dead in furnace rooms and in woodsheds
behind the hospitals.
One UNRRA doctor, with tears of rage, turned on the official and dedared: "You are rich and important, but I pray to God that you yourself get cholera."
When I was in Formosa, UNRRA claimed there were one thousand lepers loose on the island. Formerly they had been in a government leper colony, subsidized by the Japanese, but with the arrival of Chiang Kai-shek's government, no one was prepared to pay their expenses and they had been shipped home. As if all this were not enough, doctors' licenses were being sold for three hundred thousand yen apiece.
Along with the decline in the living conditions and the health of the
Formosans, a paralell decline occurred in education and morals. When the
Chinese entered the island, they began a determined campaign to stamp
out the use of the Japanese language. The common people were extraordinarily
eager to learn mandarin Chinese as they were told they thereby could become
true Chinese citizens. However, they soon began to feel they were nothing
but a colonial population, and no matter how hard they studied, they would
never become true nationals of China.
Worse still, language was used as a means of suppression and control. Kuomintang teachers asked mainland girl students to spy on Formosan-Chinese girls and report all those who were speaking Japanese among themselves. Originally, the island girls had been willing enough to learn Chinese, but the prohibition aroused a spirit of rebellion in them and they began to speak Japanese and Formosan dialects to show their disapproval of the Chinese.
Under the Japanese, cheating in an examination had been considered a terrible offense and anyone caught in such an act was immediately dismissed from school. But when a Chinese boy in a Formosan middle school was caught cheating and when the whole student body voted to dismiss him, the boy's father who was an influential Kuomintang official not only succeeded in getting his son reinstated, but in making the principal apologize. Seeing the new rules of society, Formosan students soon began to cheat on a widespread scale themselves.
Bribery of teachers by students, common in China, had been almost unknown till the advent of Chiang's pedants. By 1947, however, students before every exam were bringing money wrapped up in red paper on which were inscribed suitable characters wishing the teacher success. Students who did not bring such bribes had to be super scholars in order to receive even passing grades.
Chiang Kai-shek's officials not only brought corruption, chicanery
and cholera in their suitcases to Formosa, they also brought with them
Chinese feudal practices that had long since vanished from the island.
Concubinage, which had been almost unknown under the Japanese, was reintroduced
into the island. Under Japanese rule, Formosan girls would have been ashamed
to be second or third wives, but now, because they could not make a living,
many of them thought it the best arrangement.
| As if by a slow wasting poison, the
Formosans themselves were corrupted to the level of their Chinese rulers.
Concubinage and prostitution spread everywhere. Morality fell to a new low.
Noting this tendency, saddened Formosans remarked among themselves: "In
a few years we will be the same as the mainland pigs."
With every desire not to bring a subjective note into a discussion
of the practices of dictatorship, the writer cannot help remarking that
what Chiang Kai-shek's regime did to the Formosan people was nothing but
a crime against humanity. Under the Japanese, there had never been a rice
shortage, never a food shortage, never an epidemic, never an inflation,
never any children who did not attend school, never any beggars on the
street. There were hospitals for all, public welfare clinics and public
dentists. Now there were none of these things. Despite their suppression
of freedom, the Japanese had a public conscience. When they collected
taxes, they put the money back into the island again and developed the
economy. The Chinese, however, just collected and put nothing back.
Fountain pens, electric lights, telephones that wouldn't work - all these were called Chinese. Even the aboriginal tribesmen in the hills said a mountain path that had fallen into disrepair was a Three People Principles Path.
The Formosans tried to reform Chiang's officials by pleading with them. That did not work. So they resorted to sarcasm. On the walls they put up posters showing a dog (Japs) fleeing from the island and a pig (Chinese) coming in. "The dog can protect the people," said the poster, "but the pig can only eat and sleep." These posters produced little effect on the Chinese bureaucrats, but did serve to give Formosans an idea they were fighting back.
| Since they had not taken any part in
political affairs for fifty-one years under the Japanese, the Formosans
did not know quite how to combat the skilled Chinese politicians. At first,
they just met in small groups, talked about Chinese practices and discussed
what they ought to do. Everyone was hypnotized by the fact that they had
no arms. They decided their only weapon was the pen, so they established
newspapers and magazines, published articles about democracy and self-government
and then began an open criticism of corruption, graft and despotism in the
government. Later, most of those who attacked the government were either
arrested or killed on the charge that they were "Communist ruffians."
Few Formosans had originally thought to take any active measures against the Chiang regime, but only to reform the officials. They soon believed this was impossible. Still, they would have done nothing had not conditions become desperate. In September 1946, due to the export of rice from the island, prices went up with alarming speed. Rice lines formed in all the cities. Formosans became thinner every day. As they got poorer, the anger of the Formosans began to rise. Soon the idea spread that they could fight the Kuomintang in April and May 1947 by holding back the rice harvest and rousing the whole island to struggle. In this way they hoped to force Chiang Kai-shek's officials to reform. Proponents of this idea were not prepared to fight earlier. Events, however, moved too swiftly, and what might have been a planned revolt broke out spontaneously, headlessly and with disastrous consequences.
| The incident that set
off the Formosan revolt was in itself quite inconsequential, but it was
the straw that broke the patience of the ordinary island people. One of
the biggest complaints of the Forniosans against the Chinese had been the
trade monopolies by which the Chinese cornered all business in the islands.
Police of the monopoly bureau, under the excuse of stopping the illegal
sale of cigarettes, began attacking child peddlers and robbing them of their
cigarettes. On the night of February 27, an old woman peddler in the capital
at Taipeh refused to give up her cigarettes and was shot by a policeman.
That night a thousand Formosans marched on the police bureau and demanded
satisfaction. They got none.
The next day five thousand people, accompanied by Western businessmen
who agreed to act as witnesses, marched on the monopoly bureau to make
a protest against the shooting. While delegates went into the government
building the crowd remained standing outside the door. Soldiers, stationed
on the roofs, opened fire and in the first volley wounded eight Formosans.
Frightened, but at the same time enraged, the crowd scattered and began
to look for Chinese. They halted all cars, stopped all well-dressed Chinese,
took their money from them and publicly burned it. At this moment, the
crowd had no thought for the future, but simply thought to destroy the
wealth which they considered Chinese officials had taken from them.
Now fully aroused, the people in Taipeh soon took control of the whole city except for a few strategically located government buildings. Chen Yi, the governor, frightened by developments, broadcast a speech promising to punish those guilty for the shootings and promising to meet the demands of the people for reform. With this the city calmed down, students and businessmen formed patrols in the streets and kept order. From then on, until the arrival of Chiang Kai-shek's troops, there was absolute peace in the city.
On March 1, the Taipeh City Assembly formed a committee to deal with the incident. Everyone soon agreed that there was no use stopping just at the incident, but that demands must be pressed to satisfy all their other grievances. Therefore, after a public meeting in the town hail, the committee sent to Governor Chen Yi a list of demands which included appeals for self-government, true democracy and true liberty as guaranteed by the constitution which Chiang Kai-shek had ratified when George Marshall was in China. The governor sent this communication back with the statement that it was not legally and properly phrased and would have to be written over again. It became apparent that the governor was stalling for time. That could only mean troops from the mainland.
Formosans realized they were too weak to stand up against armed divisions. They went to the American consulate and asked if the United States could not in some way arbitrate the incident. They also requested that Ambassador Stuart in Nanking try to prevail on Chiang Kai-shek not to send troops into an island that was peaceful. The Formosans were told in effect that this was too small an incident to concern the United States.
In the meantime, the Formosans had taken over nearly the whole island. Branch political associations had taken over police stations and all government buildings and offices in the provinces and town assemblies had begun to function. There were few disturbances. It was one of the most peaceful rebellions in history. Technically speaking, it was not a rebellion, for the Formosans were not trying to overthrow their rulers, but reform them.
Meanwhile, Governor Chen Yi, a wise old Fukien warlord, skilled in the ways of politics, played with the inexperienced Formosans as if they were little children. Because one of the main demands of the Formosans was for adequate representation in the government, Chen Yi asked the people to send him a list of the mayors, town assemblymen and officials they wanted to govern them. Not knowing any better, the Formosans complied and thereby furnished Chen Yi with a black list for subsequent arrests and executions.
On March 8, Chiang's troops arrived in Keelung and that night entered
the capital of Taipeh. They immediately dragged many Formosan youths into
the street and shot them. Soldiers threw stones through windows, climbed
inside and ransacked houses before the eyes of the terrified occupants.
They went into the house of a woman primary school teacher, raped her,
shot her father, who was a school principal, and her brother.
Judge Wu Fan-chin, who had sentenced a corrupt Chinese policeman to
a jail sentence, was taken from his home, thrown under a bridge and killed.
The same thing happened to an official of the tobacco bureau and eight
other Formosans who were likewise thrown under the bridge, where their
noses were slit, their faces scarred and they were castrated.
The Formosan massacres shocked the Chinese people, and for a brief moment even the rest of the world.
They were, however, soon forgotten in the press of other events, and the Chiang Kai-shek government, instead of bowing its head in shame, was able to utter the most sanctimonious statements about the mass murders its soldiers had committed.
Said Chiang Kai-shek: "The trouble was all instigated by Formosan Communists who had been drafted by the Japanese to fight in the south seas."
Said a publicity handout about Governor Chen Yi: "He was a champion of democratic administration . . . He recruited honest and experienced aides from the mainland, and those who came did so at great personal loss. Because he was too liberal, the Formosans lost control of themselves."
When Chiang's bureaucrats started on the road of demagoguism, they
stopped at nothing. In their lexicons, robbery and murder were synonyms
for liberalism. The authorities began a New Cultural Movement. Party hyenas,
brought over from the mainland to clean up after the tiger Chen Yi, eulogized
the government, requested submission to authority and acquiescence to
official arrogance. Those who criticized corruption were denounced as
traitors, self-seekers, Communists or separatists. Such was the new culture
invented by the old feudalism!
Just to make sure that the people were kept on the qui vive, the gendarmes every once in a while held a public execution. Thus in Takao, long after the rebellion and its suppression, two brothers, aged twenty-five and thirty-five, were shot in the main square near the railway station in front of their families who were made to watch the executions. Formosans say twenty thousand people were wounded, killed or disappeared on the island after March 1947. Probably this is an exaggeration. Foreign businessmen and diplomats put the number at five thousand.
The figures can't be checked. But the fact remains that there was a
terrible slaughter of an unarmed people. Ninety-nine per cent of these
killings were unnecessary. Why then did they occur? There is only one
answer. The Chiang Kai-shek government used terror as a definite weapon
in their rule.
When I asked the Formosans why they didn't organize guerrilla warfare
in their impenetrable mountains, they shook their heads. "No arms.
It is impossible." These people no longer believed in themselves.
In these words one may hear the inner despair of a people overcome
by a great tragedy. The events on the island of Formosa, however, were
not only tragic, but revolutionary, in significance. For on this small
island, seemingly isolated from the rest of the world, there was performed
a kind of laboratory experiment, almost as though under a microscope,
which tested and laid bare the inner processes of Chinese history.
The events on Formosa also held a lesson for the rest of the world.
On this small island, it was proven with brutal finality - if any proof
were needed - that there is no longer any place to hide. Gone, like Formosa,
are the other island paradises celebrated by Gauguin, London and Melville.
The old havens have been taken over by the generals, the admirals, the
politicians and the gangsters.