Category Archives: Taiwan

An American providing help to opponents of the Kuomintang White Terror

51BJWSvPg1L._SY445_QL70_.jpeg

 

Milo L. Thornberry, who recently died in Bend, Oregon at the age of 80, was a remarkable man, and one who wrote a remarkable memoir, Fireproof Moth: A Missionary in Taiwan’s White Terror (2011), focused on the time (1966-71) he spent in Taiwan, two decades into the White Terror by what the US touted as “free China.” Posted to Taiwan by the United Methodist church, he quickly realized that Taiwan was neither “free” nor China, though a minority ferried from its disastrous misrule and failed war against the Chinese communists ruled Taiwan in ways similar to the Boer minority in South Africa. Not at all coincidentally, the apartheid regime in South Africa continued to recognize the so-called “Republic of China” after most countries acceded to the reality that China (and Taiwan and Tibet) were ruled by the communists from Beijing.

Thornberry was instructed to avoid “politics,” (“We don’t talk about such things. We are guests in this country, and guests don’t offend their hosts by getting involved in politics”), but he was quick to realize that acquiescing to the Chinese dictatorship (the Kuomintang [KMT] of the so-called “generalissimo” Chiang Kaishek [1887-1975], who had been converted to nominal Methodist Christianity by his wife, who was raised Methodist, Soong Mei-ling [1898-2003]) was no less “political” than opposing it. He quoted Elie Wiesel for one of his chapter epigrams: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Another guide, via Reinhold Neibhur, was Richard Briffault, who wrote in Rational Evolution: “No resistance to power is possible while the sanctioning lies, which justify the power, are accepted as valid. While the first and chief line of defense is unbroken, there can be no revolt. Before any injustice, any abuse, or oppression can be resisted, the lie upon which it is founded must be unmasked, must be clearly recognized for what it is.” (This is the epigram heading another chapter.)

Thornberry and some other Americans collated some material on the ongoing White Terror (and widespread corruption) of the KMT and distributed it to newcomers not totally gone on backing anything any regime professing anti-communism did.

A few months after arrival in Taiwan (with his wife Judith), Thornberry was introduced to the leading voice for Taiwanese independence, Dr. Peng Mingmin (born in 1923), who had been convicted of sedition for advocating democracy in “free China” in 1964 and had been imprisoned for 14 months before international pressure convinced President Chiang to place Peng under house arrest with tight surveillance. Peng’s former students, coauthors of the pamphlet advocating democracy, Hsieh Tsongmin and Wei Tingchao continued to be tortured in prison. (Thornberry would meet them later.)

Thornberry and Peng met most every week. After Peng was threatened with being disappeared/killed, the Thornberrys and some missionary friends (mostly not Methodists; it was Presbyterians who refused to stop using the majority language (Hoklo) for the Beijing language (Mandarin) mandated by the KMT government) decided Peng had to leave.

Taste-Freedom.jpeg

The central part of the book details how they managed to get Peng on a plane to Hong Kong (3 January 1970), from where he proceeded to Stockholm, where he was granted asylum, and later on to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he had a job offer. Both the Chinese Nationalists (the KMT) and the Chinese communists suspected that the US government had arranged the escape. Peng would not endanger those who had helped him by telling how his escape had been arranged, but stated unequivocally that no government had been involved (until Sweden gave him asylum).

In 1972, when Richard Nixon went to China, Zhou Enlai, Henry Kissinger, and Nixon discussed the mystery (to all three of them) of Peng’s departure from house arrest in Taipei. Decades later, the transcript of that discussion was released, and provided considerable amusement to Thornberry (and, presumably, to Peng). Hsieh and Wei who had been kept out of the loop were imprisoned and tortured a lot more.

The Thornberrys, with the assent and cooperation of the US State department officials in Taipei, were deported in March of 1971. For decades, they did not know why the KMT deported them then. Their role in spiriting the most prominent dissident on Taiwan out remained unknown to the KMT.

Milo Thornberry had been wrestling with moral questions about violence for some time (and some space in his memoir). He never engaged in any, though involvement in a bomb-making plot is what the KMT told the US representatives was the reason to expelling the Thornberrys.

Their passports were revoked and it was decades before they learned what had happened. This makes for a second thriller plot within the story of the Thornberrys in Taiwan, one with twists that surprise not only them, but Peng Mingmin.

Only with the pressure from three US senators (from both parties) was he allowed to leave the country three decades after being expelled from the ROC.

IT was a US Department of State official who commented in 1971 that ““there is no shortage of American graduate students, missionaries… with both ardent views on Taiwanese Independence and a willingness to conduct themselves as if they were fireproof moths,” inadvertently supplying the title to Thornberry’s memoir. The sarcastic statement was not true, but there were some daring Americans who were sympathetic to the oppressed majority population on Taiwan. Fireproof Moth recounts the very real-life adventures of one small bandwho were outraged by the collusion of their country (the USA) with KMT torture, murder, and corruption.

hqdefault.jpg

BTW, corruption was useful in Peng’s escape. Those charged with monitoring his movements continued to submit reports of movements he could not have made and to collect reimbursement for weeks after he had left, further confusing the not-so-“secret police” headed by Chiang’s son and successor Chiang Chingkuo. There is some mordant humor along with justifiable horror at the conduct of KMT torture.

In addition to detailing the evolution of Thornberry’s thoughts about what his moral obligations as a Methodist minister and as an Amercan were in a state where both his church and his government were colluding with torture (as elsewhere, some of the torturers received training from US institutions, as well as official US refusal to acknowledge torture and corruption by an anti-communist regime), Fireproof Moth is a first-rate thriller.

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

I have also written about two recent  fictional accounts of the KMT White Terror, Green Island and The 2-28 Legacy, as well as  about American witnessed to the launching of the White Terror in 1947 here and US promotion of KMT dictatorship here.

Taiwan was a colony of Japan from the  1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki until 1945 and the Peace Treaty between the Allies and Japan, signed in San Francisco on 8 September 1951, included Japan renouncing sovereignty without assigning any particular recipient of what neither the KMT nor the CCP had considered part of China before WWII. The Q’ing Dynasty negotiators were quite happy to be rid of any responsibility (in the view of other nations) of the pirate- and cannibal-ridden island that had never entirely been governed by any Chinese dynasty (until the US Navy transported KMT military forces in 1945).

 

More thrills based in a Taipei night market

9781616957339.jpeg

Incensed (2016, Taiwanese-American Ed Lin’s second novel Ghost Month was the first) centered on Taiwanese UCLA dropout Jing-Nan (has many aspects that are mysterious to the owner of a Night Market sausage and skewered-entrails stand. Jing-Nan’s proprietor persona, the tout “Johnny,” is less shy than the orphaned Taiwanese 25-year-old Jing-Nan, and uses his fluency in English to draw American tourists to his stand.

It is an especially family-focused time of year (the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival), and Jinh-Nan is called upon by his Taichung gangster uncle, Big Eye, to watch over Big Eye’s rebellious 16-year-old daughter, Mei-ling. Big Eye wants her to finish high school. Jing-Nan wants to be a singer (though both her father and her older cousin don’t think she has any talent).

There is an Indonesian she has broken up with and whom her father abhors on principle (xenophobic principles) and wants to ensure is distanced from his daughter. There is the Taipei primo capo (to borrow an Italian Mafia term) from whom Big Eye has won a lot of money gambling. There are Big Eye’s fierce and fiercely loyal bodyguards, and a similar formidable pair of employees Hing-Nan has inherited along with the market business. One of them, Dwayne, is Ami (one of the aboriginal Polynesian peoples) and the book illustrates inter-ethnic animosities (aboriginal peoples against Chinese who arrived from the 17th through the 20th century, Holo-speakers (Taiwanese), Hakka, the predatory defeated Kuomintang who fled defeat on the mainland after WWII, and the swarms of tourists from the PRC) as well as explaining (with a light touch) the multitude of gods and goddesses Taiwanese attempt to get to aid, or at least not to obstruct their endeavors. Not just temples and the night market, but other parts of Taipei geography are also revealed, with a major lynchpin of the plot occurring on the relatively new (since 2007) Maokong string of gondolas above Taipei.

Although there are two murders, the novel is not at all a whodunit. There are many surprises for Jing-Nan, who is alarmed at the responsibility for a wild 16-year-old forced on him by a ruthless gangster. There is a lot of humor, not least about celebrity. Jing-Nan is a minor celebrity for having deflected a bullet with his main cooking pot (back in Ghost Month). And the novel begins with a droll account of a contest to eat especially rank stinking tofu between a Japanese and a Taiwanese who alternate winning contests wolfing down food. They put their minor celebrity to work at a rally in the night market for a protest rally involving Jing-Nan’s activist girlfriend Nancy (politicized since Ghost Month).

EdLin.jpg

I think the book is just a bit too long. There are too many punk-rock (and post-punk) references for me (especially the Joy Division obsession), but I enjoyed the voice of the young somewhat Americanized Taiwanese narrator and the atmosphere of scrambling to succeed in Taipei.

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

Gripping thriller/romance based in Taipei Night Market

ghost_month

Ghost Month (2014), the first of the (to-date two; the second is Incensed) Taipei Night Market mysteries by Ed Lin, is a somewhat chaotic mix of opinions about various facets of Tawan’s culture and history with a thriller plot. The latter involves government(s) collusion with Chinese gangs, covert technology transfer to the PRC and the murder of Julia Huang. Julia grew up with the narrator, Jing-nan. Both of their parents had stands in a Taipei night market. She was a better student than he, but he was good enough to get into UCLA (while she went to NYU).

They had agreed not to have any contact until they graduated, at which point they would wed. Because Jing-nan’s father was dying, he returned to Tapei and his mother was killed in a traffic accident on the way to pick him up from the airport. After which his father died and he inherited gambling debts from his grandfather, so had to run the night market stand. Fortunately, he also inherited a staff of two very competent cooks, the burly Ami (one of the fourteen recognized aboriginal groups on Taiwan), Dwayne, and the son of a mainlander, Frankie. Jing-nan is a benshengren (Han who went from Fujien to Taiwan before it was ceded to Japan in 1895), so the stand provides a sample of interethnic antagonism with a descendant each of the original Austronesian inhabitants, of the early “settlers” (who, like American ones pushed aside the aboriginal inhabitants), and of the Chinese who fled the loss of the civil war to the communists and took over what the Japanese had developed (jobs, housing, infrastructure).

Jing-nan has renamed the shop selling skewers of sausage and internal organs of pigs “Unknown Pleasures” in honor of his favorite album by his favorite post-punk band, Joy Division. Its lead singer, Ian Curtis, committed suicide in 1979, something like a decade before Jing-nan was born.

Jing-nan is shocked to learn that Julia (1) has been murdered and (2) was working as a scantily clad seller of betel nuts at a roadside stand on an exit to Hsinchu City (35 miles south of Taipei’s international airport in Taoyuan). He did not know that she had returned to Taiwan and finds it difficult to believe that she could have been employed as a near-prostitute (or a more than near one).

After visiting Julia’s parents (and being warned off trying to find out what had happened to her by seeming gangsters), Jing-nan contacts two of their schoolmates who had also gone to NYU, Peggy (from a very affluent mainlander family of entrepreneurs) and a doughy boy everyone called “Cookie Monster.”

At a music emporium called Bauhaus, he meets a young woman three years his junior who idolized him when they were in high school, Nancy. (Peggy also had a major crush on him, though he was very visibly focused on Julia.) Thus, most of the major characters other than the Unknown Pleasure employees went to school together

Jing-nan has also inherited the illegally constructed shack in which his grandfather and father died. It is near the major tourist attraction temple in Taipei, Longshan, one that also has heavy traffic, especially during Ghost Month (the seventh lunar month) from Taiwanese, with altars to multiple gods, the goddess Mazho, and the bodhisattva Guan Yin. Julia and Jing-nan scoffed at the profusion of Taiwanese deities and their worshippers, but he ends up going there on instructions beyond the grave from her (she visits him in dreams).

hsing-tian-kong-offerings

(offerings at a Taipei temple (Hsian Tian Kong)

longshan-worshipper

(worsipper in Longshan Temple)

In addition to two major romances and the longings of the two other Taiwanese who went to NYU, where they had little contact with Julia, and a dogged murder investigation opposed by police and the dominant (Black Sea) gang, Jing-nan opines at length about punk and post-punk Anglophone bands (I only recall one mention of a Taiwanese singer and no mention of any Taiwanese or Japanese bands), Taiwanese religious syncretism (placating gods and deities to be on the safe side even if one is not convinced they exist), love/sex, and official corruption (both police and building inspectors and permit-issuers), and the complicated history of expropriations).

I find Jing-nan convincing, albeit very in the noir tradition of a non-professional investigator who is clueless about how gangs and government collude, and there is plenty of plot with developments I did not foresee. There is lots of specificity about Taiwan geography and traffic, weather and pollution (the latter has improved considerably since the completion of the subway system). Other than not caring about his “musical” favorites, I thought there were too many dreams in the book. And I thought the characterizations were strong, varied, and interesting.

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

The US role in carrying the Kuomintang to Taiwan and helping it to manufacture the image of a Leninist dictatorship there as “Free China”

Accidental-State-329x500.jpg

Harvard University Press seems to have joined with the acutely anti-communist Hoover Institution (which is located in the middle of the Stanford University campus) to exculpate the Kuomintang government and army that was swept from mainland China after stockpiling weapons intended to fight against the Japanese invaders for use against the communists, whom Chiang Kai-Shek’s army had pressed north following his first white terror (in Shanghai in 1927). The story of Chiang’s evasion of US pressure (in the personal of military liaison Gen. Joe Stillwell) to fight Japan was brilliantly told by Barbara Tuchman in her Pulitzer Prize-winning 1971 Stillwell and the American Experience of China, 1911-45.

Hoover Institution Chiang apologists Tse-Han Lai, Wou Wei, and Ramon Myers published an extraordinarily tendentious account of the KMT/ROC army and secret police descending on Taiwan with lists of community leaders in hands and guns blazing even as they disembarked in Keelung Harbor in A Tragic Beginning: The Taiwan Uprising of February 28, 1947, published by Stanford University Press in 1991.* Lai et al. attempted to exculpate Chiang and Chen Yi, Chief Executive and Garrison Commander of Taiwan Province, from responsibility for the slaughter, massively to underestimate the number of Taiwanese murdered by the regime the US had foisted on them (Japan has simply walked away from its colony of half a century, and the US Navy ferried ROC soldiers to Taiwan; the US conducted a plebiscite in which the people of Okinawa chose their government (Japan), but there has never been such a consultation of the people governed on Taiwan), and pretends that the systematic slaughter was a tragedy rather than a planned culling of intellectuals (etc.) who might oppose the massive KMT looting of infrastructure the Japanese had built up on Taiwan and the blatant corruption on Taiwan presided over by Chen Yi.

In 2011, Harvard’s Bellknap Press published a massive apologia for Chiang Kai-Shek written by Jay Taylor (1931-), Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China.

In 2016 Harvard University Press published Accidental State: Chiang Kai-Shek, the United States, and the Making of Taiwan, by Hoover Institution curator Hsia-Ting Lin, another extended apologia for Chiang Kai-Shek’s military incompetence in losing the civil war on the Chinese mainland (and then Hainan) as he warded off competitors for US aid —which had stopped flowing before North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950. While being careful to avoid any military action to retake China, Chiang and his American advocates (“the China Lobby,” many of whom had been Christian missionaries in China; Chiang had nominally converted) presented their refuge as “Free China.” The dictatorship, ruling under martial law for nearly forty years, pretended to be a government of all of China, so that the few people it actually governed (on Taiwan) were allotted only a small share of the representatives of the “Chinese people” (Lin does not seem to have noticed that the ROC pretense considered there to be three provinces on Taiwan rather than one). Lin does not demur from the Potemkin legislature or its election, writing,

“To legitimize the Republic of China as the central government of all China, the Taipei-based Nationalist government needed elected representatives for all China. In 1947 more than one thousand mainlanders in Nanking were elected by the Chinese people [sic.] as members of the National Assembly, Legislative Yuan, and Control Yuan. After coming to Taiwan, these representative were permitted to hold their seats until the next election could be held on the mainland [i.e., never; as Lin documents, Chiang Kai-Shek had no serious plans or any serious intent to retake the mainland], thus legitimizing [!] the Republic of China’s control of the island.”

Although the ROC only ruled Taiwan and a few other islands, the claim to be the rightful government of China (a fantasy the US maintained until 1979) ensured it not being responsible to the people it governed. The consent of the governed seems as irrelevant to Chiang’s apologist(s) as it was to him. And only slightly more important to most American government officials making East Asia/West Pacific policy, though some of them did not think the ROC had sound claims to rule Taiwan (let alone China!). Far from being an “accidental state,” the ROC was a conscious confection that denied those governed by the ROC (under martial law) from self-government.

Lin repeatedly props up Chiang’s actions and reactions as “understandable” (in its adverb form). Taiwanese seeking to be governed by the US under a UN mandate preparing for independence rather than de facto Chinese colonialism (following half a century of Japanese colonialism, which was harsh but followed its laws and built up infrastructure, including an educated workforce). He chronicles dissensus both within the KMT and within its paymaster, most frequently between the US State Department and the military, particularly General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in Japan until relieved of his command in April of 1951 in attempting to lead a war against the People’s Republic of China, that is a Third World War.

Chiang wanted a Third World War, which he hoped would include defeat of the PRC Red Army that had quickly and thoroughly defeated the ROC Army, but also did not want his troops to fight, either to retake Hainan or to open a second front for the PRC on the Asian mainland. As he had throughout the time of US engagement in fighting the Japanese, Chiang made sounds about fighting the communists. He declined actually to do either, instead concentrating on KMT infighting and suppressing dissidents in his satrapy pretending to be China. (Lin does quote Douglas MacArthur before the Korean War as judging that Chiang knew nothing of the art of war, the arts of palace intrigue and public doubletalk on the other hand, Chiang was even more accomplished than MacArthur.)

Lin barely mentions the long-running White Terror (aimed more at potential critics of Chiang than at communist sympathizers), putting that in scare quotes the only time he mentions it. That, the downplaying of Taiwanese killed by ROC occupiers, and classifying the mass murder as a “tragedy” rather than the result of conscious policy places Lin very much in the Lai and Taylor tradition of Chiang/KMT apologists. He exceeds them in blaming the observer George Kerr (Formosa Betrayed) for negligence “in the events surrounding the February 28 incident of 1947,” making me wonder which Taiwanese Kerr was responsible for slaughtering.

And Lin does not consider the extent to which the land reform (1) was aimed at breaking any power of Taiwanese elite, (2) targeted some small-holders, and (3) was not universally popular in Taiwan.

On a far less consequential level, I am sure that Lin make more mistakes in identification than two US legislators I noticed: the fervid ROC-backer (the prototypical former Christian missionary in China) Walter Judd was a US representative (from Minneapolis), not a US Senator, and the word order in the name Washington State US Representative and then US Senator is obviously “Warren Magnuson,” not “Magnuson Warren.”

Overly credulous of Chiang Kai-Shek’s diary and preoccupied by political maneuvering in both (ROC and US) governments to pay any attention to the views of the people living on Taiwan, Lin has done considerable archival research and manages to illuminate the fault line and conflicts within both governments (with the UK foreign office frequently very suspcious of Chiang and determined to avert a war across the Taiwan straits.)

*Keelung Hong and I criticized the KMT apologia at length in a review reprinted in our book Looking Through Taiwan, published by the University of Nebraska Press. Also see “Some American Witnesses of the KMT’s 1947 Reign of Terror on Taiwan, and the recent novels Green Island and 228 Legacy.

(There is also some material on maneuvering by Japan not to cede the colony it acquired China’s claims to (China had never pacified the interior of the island) to any state or international entity. Japan just renounced its claim to sovereignty of Taiwan in the 28 April 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty.)

 

The book’s cover photo shows Chiang Kai-Shek shaking hands with US General William Chase, chief of the US Military Assistance Advisory  Group  in Taipei.

 

©2016, Stephen O.Murray

Some American Witnesses of the KMT’s 1947 Reign of Terror on Taiwan

In the summer of 1986 a group that included Yang Chonchung, Keelung Hong (Ang Geeliong), and I went to Grass Valley in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in eastern California to talk to Ed Paine, who had been a lieutenant in the U.S. Army at the end of World War II and was assigned to the Relief and Rehabilitation Unit of the United Nations. Like George Kerr, author of Formosa Betrayed, Ed Paine was frustrated that instead of reconstructing what had been damaged by U.S. bombing, KMT officials were lining their pockets and shipping off to China anything of value that could be moved (including railroad rolling stock, and most of the rice and sugar produced on Taiwan). From direct contact with officials put in charge of Taiwan by the Allies (and transported to Taiwan by the U.S. military), he learned that before losing the mainland, Chiang’s underlings considered Taiwanese as “enemy aliens” to exploit, not “Chinese brothers.” Resident in Daiba (Taipei) in March of 1947, he was a horrified observer of the bloody arrival of KMT troops to eliminate any dissent or possible dissent on the vassal island.

For Paine, even after more than 40 years, the horrible sight of corpses floating in a blood-red Keelung River remained the unforgettable part of KMT reassertion of domination. He had heard gunfire the night (March 10th) Chiang Kaishek’s troops landed in Keelung, but had not realized the scale of indiscriminate slaughter that began then.

In the following weeks, he learned of the more carefully planned murders of educated Taiwanese. He reported what he observed to Washington at the time. After returning to the United States, he wrote letters to Congress and various news agencies seeking to raise concern about what he had seen. He showed us various letters, some of which were published, and the noncommittal bureaucratic responses he received.

For a time he and George H. Kerr worked on a book manuscript. Although they had received an advance from a publisher, Kerr stopped work on the book without giving Paine any satisfying explanation, and only much later (1965) published Formosa Betrayed. That book is very critical of Chiang and his subordinates. It would have had a greater impact, however, closer to the time of the events (and closer to the time when it appears to have been written). I wrote to Kerr asking about the sequence of writing and publication of Formosa Betrayed, but in two letters Kerr avoided the direct (and repeated) question of why a book about his observations did not appear much earlier. (My guess is that the virulent attack on American experts for “losing China” in part for reporting the unpopularity of Chiang Kaishek had traumatized and/or deterred him, but this is a surmise for which I have no evidence.)

Ed Paine also told us that he had recommended a young Taiwanese with whom he had worked to translate for (Captain) Vern J. Sneider when Sneider came to Daiba. Sneider’s first novel, Teahouse of the August Moon, is a bemused account of the education of a U.S. Army of Occupation officer by Okinawan villagers. It was a best-seller, the basis for a hit Broadway play, a Hallmark Hall of Fame television production, and a movie (in which Marlon Brando played the Okinawan employee of Glen Ford; it was released on video in 1990).

vernsnyder.jpg

The book Sneider wrote about Taiwan, A Pail of Oysters, published in 1953, also contains some amused accounts of an American’s incomprehension of Pacific Islanders’ ways of doing things that is similar to the central comedies of inter-cultural misunderstandings in Teahouse of the August Moon and in The King from Ashtabula, his later novel about a Micronesian student in Missouri who suddenly is recalled (by another U.S. Army occupation) to be king of an American-administered island.

A Pail of Oysters is much less light-hearted than those more popular works of Sneider’s fiction. It describes not just the foibles of confused Americans out of their depths across the Pacific, but accounts of KMT terror, including the shooting of Li Liu, the character based on the interpreter Ed Paine recommended to Vern Sneider.

The book opens with a KMT patrol seizing oysters gathered by Taiwanese coast dwellers (on the coast of Changhua). The first chapter also appeared as a story in a 1950 Antioch Review and was reprinted in the 1956 collection of Sneider’s mostly-set-in-Korea short stories, A Long Way from Home. Sneider makes very vivid the terror in which Taiwanese lived during the late 1940s and beyond, under the oppression of KMT bandit-troops. He also makes clear the common Taiwanese views that what land reform was really about was breaking up any Taiwanese power bases.

taiwan-map.gif

Even with a white American charcter, journalist Ralph Barton, Hollywood did not evidence the same interest in A Pail of Oysters as in his other books. Although well-reviewed, it was not a popular success. Even more than Formosa Betrayed, copies of A Pail of Oysters disappeared from most libraries, probably on instructions issued to the student spies paid by the KMT to monitor Taiwanese on U.S. college campuses.

Informed estimates of the extent of killings of Taiwanese continue to mount (from ten thousand to 150,000). Despite the attempt of a Hoover Institute book to downplay both the number of fatalities and the responsibility of the “Republic of China” government, since the lifting of martial law, scholars in Taiwan have finally been able to discuss the extent of the horror since the end of martial law. A Pail of Oysters continues to provide a vivid contemporary picture of the terror in which adult Taiwanese lived in the late 1940s. It has just appeared as an e-book with a very useful introduction by Jonathan Benda that includes discussion of CIA and USIA attempts to smear Sneider as communist for showing how the Chinese (KMT) acted in the colony of Taiwan they took over from Japan, which was only possible with US logistical support. (A sample is available at https://archive.org/stream/strategytacticso0105unit#page/98/mode/2up)

+

In addition to Kerr’s Formosa Betrayed, see New Zealander Allan James Shackleton’s eyewitness account in  Formosa Calling It was written in 1948 but not published until 2009.  And there is a new novel, Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan, l hinging on the White Terror with a female protagonist who moves to the US without being able to escape the damage inflicted by the KMT to many Taiwanese families.

©2016, Keelung Hong and Stephen O. Murray; an earlier version of this posting was included in our book (published by the University of Nebraska Press), Looking Through Taiwan. That book also includes a reprint of “A Case Study of Pseudo-Objectivity: The Hoover Institution Analysis of 1947 Resistance and Repression in Taiwan.”)

Three generations of Taiwanese-American Angelenas shaped by the Chinese White Terror on Taiwan

228 Legacy.jpg

“Scaring people into saying nothing in public that could be construed as critical of the armed forces…is more than the production of silence. It is silencing, which is quite different. For now the not said acquires a significance and a specific confusion befogs the spaces of the public sphere, which is where the action is…The point about silencing and the fear behind silencing is not to erase memory. Far from it. The point is to drive the memory deep within the fastness of the individual so as to create more fear and uncertainty in which dream and reality commingle”

— Michael Taussig, The Nervous System,  1992, p. 27)

228 Legacy is an ambitious first novel by Jennifer J. Chow, who, according to the book’s author blurb is” a Chinese-American, married into the Taiwanese culture. The 228 Legacy was inspired by the family stories she heard after viewing photos of a two-million-person human chain commemorating 2-28 [1947]. ” I think that it is the first American novel dealing with the Kuomintang (KMT) white terror since the 1953 A Pail of Oysters 1953 by Vern Sneider (better known as the author of The Teahouse of the August Moon).

Sneider’s too-little-known novel is set entirely in Taiwan, drawing on the experiences of his Taiwanese interpreter. In response to protests challenging KMT (mis)rule that began on 28 February 1947 (hence the label “2-28”) Chiang Kaishek sent troops sent to quell the “rebellion.” The slaughter and targeting of the Taiwanese elite (trained during 50 years of rule by Japan) began when troops landed in the port of Keelung in the early hours of 9 March 1947. Thus, I find it unlikely that the husband of the grandmother (Silk) was disappeared on 2/28. And, given that Chow acknowledges the standard account of the KMT white terror and US acquiescence to it, George Kerr’s Formosa Betrayed, she should know the chronology.

Silk recalls her husband, a technician, going off, never to return, to a meeting or rally 2/28/1947. They did not know that Silk was pregnant. Chow’s narrative does not mention how she got out of Taiwan and to LA, where she has worked in a vineyard into 1980. (Silk recalls that she was accepted into the US as a “displaced person.” Even if that is an official category from the late-1940s, the question of how she got from Taiwan to San Francisco is still begged in the book.)

That the four narrations are not set in the recent past did not dawn on me until Silk and her daughter Lisa and grand-daughter Abbey visit Taiwan while Chiang Kaishek’s son Chiang Chingkuo was ruling (he lifted martial law after 40 years in 1987 and died 13 January 1988).  Near the end, the 1980 US presidential election is mentioned (Lisa votes for Reagan). There are no other period details, and Silk being 55 when her grand-daughter begins sixth grade (and Lisa 32) seems possible but pushing it (for no good reason!), while Abbey seems older than a plausible fifth-grader. (Abbey’s father is a nonentity, not recalled as Silk does her disappeared husband.)

Silk remains terrified, not wanting her daughter or grand-daughter to risk being educated (since the KMT targeted the educated on Taiwan during the White Terror). Abbey is vying with Ara Aroyan, the son of a prominent pediatric dentist, to be valedictorian of their grade school (is there really such a thing? With ranks updated publicly on a regular basis?). For a time, she gains admittance into the grade school’s in-crowd (which seems much more like middle school/junior high) and attends a party at Ara’s, at which his uncle drugs and molests some girls. Abbey escapes and tells the police about a classmate tied up and screaming. The Aroyans cover up the predation, and Abbey is ostracized for slandering Ara’s beloved (not in the sexual sense) uncle. (I find it difficult to believe that even a local newspaper would headline “AROYAN FAMILY DEFAMED,” btw.)

Lisa has difficulty holding onto a job (even before the Reagan recession). She is hired by a Chinese-American, Jack, whose beloved wife recently died. Jack worked as a janitor in the school Abbey attends and lived in an upscale nursing home from which Lisa was laid off. He becomes something of a father figure for Lisa, who never knew her biological father. But Jack makes the mistake of assimilating Taiwanese to “fellow Chinese” that enrages Silk. (I have seen Taiwanese bristle at the equation, particularly Taiwanese who grew up discriminated against by Chinese, whose governance was similar to that of white South Africans, but Silk’s reaction seems unrealistically extreme to me.)

Jack is the fourth POV (not narrator, the book is entirely in the third person) and further clogs the narrative(s) by sponsoring a homeless person, temporarily housing him in the nursing home with him and getting him the janitorial job that has been kept open for Jack’s return.

All four protagonists do some good deeds, including Silk taking Lisa and Abbey to visit Taipei (where she grew up and met her husband) and Kaohsiung (where she was living in 1947 when she lost her husband).

With some flashbacks for Silk, the novel moves linearly, alternating chapters reporting what Silk, Lisa, Abbey, and Jack do and think. It’s a lot easier reading than the most famous novel alternating four narrators, The Sound and the Fury. Chow’s characters are sympathetic and the insecurities of the three generations of women are credibly a legacy of the White Terror (which Taiwanese lump into the category “2-28”). The simultaneous (and unrelated) finding peace of all three generations strains belief some, however.

The many acknowledgments do not include any to an editor. Some of the dialogue seems clunky to me (e.g., “I thought I’d have to wrestle with deep sorrow when I came back, but it’s been the opposite experience” that I can’t imagine anyone actually saying), and an editor might have balked at the newspaper headline I already mentioned, diction such as  “Abbey imbibes the ambience of downtown Fairview… Downtown Fairview possess an urban, gritty feel,” or “At first glance, the tall swan-like woman with undulating hazel hair and grey eyes seems very different from her,” and proofreading might have caught a missing preposition in “I didn’t want return to Monroe.” Still, I thought the book engaging and worthwhile.

(BTW, Chow studied gerontology at Cornell, worked as a geriatric social worker, and writes a blog (http://www.jenniferjchow.com) that is mostly foodie—much more so than 228 Legacy, though Lisa takes a job at a coffee shop that leads to starting a support group for women taking care both of older and younger family members that turns into a paying gig.)

+++

With Keelung Hong (both reprinted as chapters in Looking Through Taiwan, published by the University of Nebraska Press), I have written about “Some American Witnesses of the KMT’s 1947 Reign of Terror on Taiwan” and  “A Case Study of Pseudo-Objectivity: The Hoover Institution Analysis of 1947 Resistance and Repression in Taiwan.”

In addition to Kerr’s Formosa Betrayed, see New Zealander Allan James Shackleton’s eyewitness account in  Formosa Calling. Though focused on later KMT murder of a Taiwanese-American professor considered a “dissident,” see the movie that borrowed Kerr’s title: “Formosa Betrayed.” And there is a new novel, Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan, l hinging on the White Terror with a female protagonist who moves to the US without being able to escape the damage inflicted by the KMT to many Taiwanese families.

 

©2013, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

 

“Green Island” by Shawna Yang Ryan

 

733844.jpg

Less than one percent of Shawna Yang Ryan’s new novel Green Island is set on the volcanic island off the east coast of Taiwan where political prisoners were incarcerated. Its name is a specimen of Kuomintang (KMT) doublespeak.* Until 1949 it was known as “fire-seared island” (Kasho-to in Japanese). Though a major character, Dr. Tsai, the father of the narrator, was held at “Oasis Village” (more KMT doublespeak) for ten years, it seems that he was already broken by torture and the murder of his neighbors before his long prison sentence on the desolate island of the title.

Before the never-named female narrator’s birth, her father went to medical school in Tokyo and was deployed with the Japanese colonial army in Burma, where he nearly died of dysentery. Had that happened, there would be no story, the narrator would not have been conceived or delivered by her father.

It is difficult for me to suspend disbelief about several crucial plot points, beginning with Dr. Tsai leaving his newborn child (and wife and older son and daughter) to attend a meeting airing grievances about KMT misrule. It was speaking there that got his name on the list of people to be rounded up when KMT reinforcements were deployed by Chiang Kai-Shek who had not yet retreated from mainland China to Taiwan.

It is also difficult for me to credit the University of California, Berkeley retaining one of its own graduates, the narrator’s husband Wei. It would have been more plausible for him to have earned his Ph.D. in physics somewhere else, then to be hired by Berkeley. More crucially, it is hard for me to believe that he would (1) risk returning to Taiwan with the ashes of a comrade in the anti-KMT movement’s armed wing in 1982, before the end of martial law on Taiwan (2) with his very pregnant wife, and (3) though blacklisted, would receive a visa.

In contrast with these implausibilities, the torture and killings (estimates range from 10,000 to 50,000) of the White Terror, which began when the KMT army reinforcements landed when the narrator was seven days old, the KMT spying on US campuses, and the murder and intimidation of Americans who had been born on Taiwan is all too plausible, if unknown to most Americans not born on Taiwan. The book brings the pressure to collude with KMT spies deployed in the US vividly to life. In effect, family members in Taiwan were hostages who could and were used to discourage documentation of the ongoing reign of terror and suppression of dissent against the apartheid-like Chinese Nationalist regime. The psychically and physically fragile Dr. Tsai is an example of this. Also the collusion in KMT/ROC cover-up of the torture of US citizens in 1982 (during the Reagan administration) is all too plausible.

A lot of history is stuffed into the novel with the character of the maternal grandfather consisting entirely of reporting on events long before the birth of the narrator. Even with that device, there are switches to omniscient narration of events the generally dominant first-person narrator could not have witnessed. The one historical point I think is misleading is that in the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué of 1972 the US recognized that the PRC (and, for that matter, the KMT) considered Taiwan a province of China without accepting that view. What she quotes on p. 183 was the PRC position, NOT something agreed upon by US and PRC officials. (The second quotation’s “creative ambiguity” of “all Chinese” does not include the Taiwanese majority living on Taiwan. The whole document is online at https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v17/d203) Though Henry Kissinger was quite willing to sell out Taiwan and the ROC, the communiqué was not ratified by the US Congress the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 requires the US to defend Taiwan from any PRC invasion. (I also think she confuses the PRC denial of SARS in 2003 with that of the ROC public health bureaucracy; the PRC coverup is undeniable; see the lengthy analysis at http://www.asianresearch.org/articles/1502.html. PRC blocking of ROC membership or een observer status in the World Health Organization (WHO) was more important than any denial of cases on Taiwan.)

+++

The combination of White Terror on Taiwan and immigrant life in the US for Taiwanese was also the subject of Julie Wu’s 2013 novel The Third Son, (which begins in Japanese Taiwan of 1943) and of Jennifer Chow’s three-generation 2013 novel The 228 Legacy; the White Terror on Taiwan was the focus of A Pail of Oysters by Vern Sneider (better known for The Teahouse of the August Moon) published in 1953. “Formosa Betrayed,” the title of George Kerr’s belated (1965) report of what he witnessed (as US vice-consul) on after 2-28-1947 was used for a 2009 thriller about an FBI agent’s investigation of a KMT-sponsored murder of a Taiwanese professor at a Midwestern US university (that combined the murder in Daly City, CA of journalist Henry Liu and the death while in KMT secret police custody of Carnegie Mellon University professor Chen Wencheng, whose corpse was dumped on the campus of National Taiwan University).

 

  • In a New York Times interview (online at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/23/world/asia/taiwan-shawna-yang-ryan-green-island.html?_r=0), Ms. Ryan, who teaches writing at the Unversity of Hawai’I’s main campus in Honolulu, said that she thinks of “Taiwan as a ’’green island’ as well — verdant and beautiful — but during martial law, it had become a kind of prison itself.” Taiwan was long called “Formosa” in English, based on the Portuguese “ilha Formoa,” “beautiful island.”

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray