To know more about the Kaohsiung Incident, we must first learn about the so-called tang wai ("outside the party," 黨外) democratic movement which began to take shape in the early 1970s. To learn about the tang wai democratic movement, an explanation of the relationship between Taiwan's democratic movement and elections is required.
We know that in normal democratic countries, elections stimulate policies. However, the system of so-called "local autonomy" introduced by the KMT after it took over Taiwan was in reality a "semi-autonomous" system; the local government had no money, manpower, police power, or power to educate, among other things.
Moreover, before 1969, there was no re-election of the legislative representatives by the Taiwanese people at the central government level because of the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion (動員戡亂時期臨時條款) in force at the time. It was not until after 1969, after amendments to the temporary provisions, that elections for a small number of the seats were permitted.
ILLUSTRATION MOUNTAIN PEOPLE
Therefore, with a political backdrop such as this, although there were elections in Taiwan, they did not serve the purpose of stimulating policy proposals. Parliamentary politics was insignificant. However, elections did serve to educate the general public.
Living under martial law and the White Terror for a prolonged period of time, the people were not free to assemble or organize themselves. But, at election times, campaign activities offered members of the opposition or dissident camp a forum to speak about democratic movement from within the "system." So Taiwan's democratic movement virtually moved forward along with election campaigns.
`tang wai' forms
After numerous elections in the 1970s, some activists in the democratic movement began to congregate under the tang wai banner, forming a political group in the private sector. Near the end of 1978, an election for newly added seats in the central-government-level legislatures was called off after the US declared official recognition of China and severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. When the election was called off, tang wai candidates sought to forge an alliance under the leadership of senior democracy activist Yu Deng-fa (余登發).
The KMT government arrested Yu and his son on charges of "intentionally failing to report communists," inciting a series of protests. During the first half of 1979, serious tensions emerged between the ruling and opposition camps. Against this backdrop, two important magazines of the tang wai movement were launched that year. The Pa-Shi-Nien-Dai magazine (八十年代, meaning "The 1980s") was launched in June, while two months later the Mei-Li-Tao (美麗島, meaning "Formosa") magazine was also launched, with Huang Hsin-chieh (黃信介) as the publisher, Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) the president, and Huang Tein-fu (黃天福) and Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) the vice presidents.
A committee ran the Mei-Li-Tao magazine, but in reality it had the fundamental elements of a political party that included tang wai activists from all parts of the island. The magazine established branch offices in all major cities. Each time a new branch office was established, it began to host grassroots meetings. A series of meetings hosted by the magazine began to attract the displeasure and attention of the KMT regime.
Dec. 10, the day hailed as International Human Rights Day in all democratic and free countries, but a painful day for Taiwan, finally arrived. On that evening, the Mei-Li-Tao staff members organized a commemorative ceremony for International Human Rights Day by an intersection in the Hsinhsing District of Kaohsiung, attracting tens of thousands of individuals. As the crowd got ready to march to the intersection to listen to the speeches there, some decided to light torches on their own.
Based on this, the police concluded that it was a "protest with torches" that required prior government approval. Therefore, they sent in tanks and proceeded to "put down the riot" by first surrounding the intersection. People cornered by the riot squad began to panic, and the situation escalated into a major confrontation between them and the riot police. As a result of the confrontation, around 100 military and regular police officers were injured.
On the morning of Dec. 13, the Garrison Command launched a crackdown, arresting the major participants in the Mei-Li-Tao magazine as suspects in a "civil rebellion." Chang Chun-hung (張俊宏), Yao Chia-wen (姚嘉文), Chen Chu (陳菊), Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), Lin I-hsiung (林義雄), Wang Tuo (王拓), Yang Ching-chu (楊青矗), Chou Ping-te (周平德), Chi Wan-sheng (紀萬生), Chen Chung-hsin (陳忠信), Wei Tin-chao (魏廷朝), Chang Fu-Chung (張富忠), Chiu Yi-pin (邱奕彬), Su Chiu-cheng (蘇秋鎮) and Shih Ming-te (施明德) went on the run.
On the same day, the Garrison Command prosecutor sealed off the Mei-Li-Tao magazine headquarters and branch offices. On Dec. 14, the Garrison Command obtained approval from the Legislative Yuan to arrest Huang Hsin-chieh (黃信介). Thereafter, the Garrison Command arrested dozens of suspects.
After going into hiding for more than a month, Shih Ming-te was arrested on Jan. 8. Individuals who had assisted him and offered him refuge while he was on the run, including Taiwan Presbyterian Church pastor Kao Chun-ming (高俊明), Lin Wen-Chen (林文珍), Chang Wen-Ying (張溫鷹) and Shih Jui-yuan (施瑞雲), were also arrested.
On Feb. 20, 1980, the investigation into the Kaohsiung Incident was completed by the military prosecutor. Eight of the suspects -- Huang Hsin-chieh, Shih Ming-te, Lin I-hsiung, Yao Chia-wen, Chen Chu, Annette Lu, Chang Chun-hung and Lin Hung-yi (林弘宜) -- were prosecuted on charges of "civil rebellion."
Even more shocking was that on the morning of Feb. 28, a most despicable and cold-blooded murder took place in Lin I-hsiung's household. An unknown number of people broke into the Lin residence and murdered Lin's mother and two twin daughters, Lin Liang-chun (林亮均) and Lin Ting-chun (林亭均). Another daughter, Lin Huan-chun (林奐均), was seriously wounded. The murder shocked people within and outside of Taiwan, causing the entire tang wai campaign to suffer even more grief.
On April 18, the Military Court under the Garrison Command sentenced Shih Ming-te to life in prison, Huang Hsin-chieh to 14 years and Yao Chia-wen, Chang Chun-hung, Lin I-hsiung, Annette Lu, Chen Chu and Lin Hung-yi to 12 years each.
The Kaohsiung Incident resulted in the overnight collapse of the tang wai political group, which had emerged only after more than a decade of hard work. However, the islandwide crackdown and arrests shook and awakened many people who had previously had no interest in politics. In particular, the ensuing high-profile military trial (beginning on March 18, 1980, and lasting nine days) further stimulated the general public's enthusiasm for political issues. Because the case attracted much international attention (US Senator Edward Kennedy even issued a statement commenting on the case, which was recorded in the records of US Congress), major international news media sent people to Taiwan to cover the news.
To demonstrate its openness, the ruling regime, unlike before, did not impose too many restrictions on the news coverage of the military trial. Therefore, all major newspapers had extensive reports on the process of the trial. The defenses of every single defendant in the court were disclosed by the newspapers, triggering much reflection by the general public about political issues in Taiwan. Since the focus of the trial was not on confrontation with the military and police, but on issues of "rebellion" and "supports for Taiwan independence," the answers of each defendant included his or her views about political issues in Taiwan, fully revealing their concern for the future of the country.
Through the news coverage of this military trial, the people of Taiwan began to brainstorm, and underwent a "political lesson" that left a lasting impression. As a result, in the election for legislative representatives at the central government level during the following year, tang wai candidates were able to recover from previous defeats and enter a new phase of integration.
lawyers join in
While the Kaohsiung Incident had caused the instant collapse of the Mei-Li-Tao political group, the ensuing large-scale military and criminal trials had served as a forum for a group of defense attorneys. As a result of taking over the defense of the defendants in the case, this group of well-learned attorneys emerged from behind the scenes and began to take part in the tang wai movement, becoming major players in the dissident movement after the Kaohsiung Incident. Frank Hsieh (
Near the end of the 1980s, the election that had been put on hold finally went ahead. The family members of many of those prisoners serving sentences resulting from the Kaohsiung Incident ran in the election. Yao Chia-wen's wife Chou Ching-yu (
The election of the Kaohsiung Incident prisoners' family members and their defense attorneys encouraged more family members and defense attorneys to take part in the political movement. With this new blood, the quality of the dissident movement was further upgraded. Perhaps this was something that never crossed the mind of the ruling regime when it relied on coercive power to crack down on the Kaohsiung Incident and tang wai movement.
On the other hand, the Kaohsiung Incident also stimulated self-examination by members of cultural circles, cultivating many new artists and writers. For example, the writer "Pi-chu" (碧竹), who was once absorbed in romantic literature, evolved into the writer "Lin Shuang-pu" (林雙不) of native Taiwan literature. The evolution came about due to the shock of the Kaohsiung Incident and the murder of Lin I-hsiung's family. Soong Tse-lai (宋澤萊) also became even more active in promoting native literature and human-rights literature after the Kaohsiung Incident. The direction of cultural circles in Taiwan became even more oriented toward recognizing native cultures and human rights.
On Sept. 28, 1986, the tang wai activists ignored the government ban on organizing political parties and organized the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The following year, martial law was lifted.
The Kaohsiung Incident taught the ruling dictator a lesson -- that is political questions cannot be resolved mathematically. 10 - 5 = 5 is a mathematic equation. However, arresting five dissidents out of 10 won't necessarily leave five. Many more dissidents will rise to take their places.
Looking back at the appeals of the Mei-Li-Tao and earlier campaigns -- such as lifting martial law, total re-election of the legislature, respect for human rights, opening up the organization of political parties, lifting newspaper censorship, freedom to travel abroad, freedom of speech and judicial independence -- they were mere fundamental elements of a democratic country. However, those who made these demands were labeled as "conspirators," "ambitious elements," having "ulterior motives," "disturbing peace," "causing civil unrest," "deceiving the public," and "friends of the communists." Now most of these appeals have been accepted. Were those who made these democratic demands in the past "conspirators" and "friends of the communists" or prophets?
It is OK for a person to be a slow learner. However, if slow learners use dirty tricks to obstruct and put down those proposing insightful views, then only to later join the demands, they will find themselves with a very embarrassing place in history. Often irreparable injuries are inflicted as well. Such examples can be frequently seen in history. Empress Tze-hsi's (慈禧太后) crackdown on the Kang-Liang reforms campaign (康梁變法) during the Ching dynasty serves as a good example. After efforts to reform were launched, the conservative forces led by Tze-hsi started the Wu-Hsu coup (戊戌政變), killing the six major instigators of the reforms.
But two years later, because the extreme right Yi-ho boxers group (義合團) had incited an invasion of Beijing by the joint forces of eight Western allies, Tze-hsi had to flee Beijing. She was forced to first issue an imperial decree proclaiming her own crimes, and then launch reforms, which were substantially similar with those launched by individuals persecuted by her before.
The embarrassing role played by Tze-hsi reminds me of People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜). Both before and after the Kaohsiung Incident, the role played by Soong was the oppressor of democracy. Yet he now is a self-proclaimed reformer, and behaves as if he is a democratic activist. The difference between him and Tze-hsi is that at least the latter knew better than to issue an imperial decree to proclaim her own sins. Yet Soong has yet to make any apology or self-examination about his conduct in oppressing the democratic movement. In fact, he continues to shove all the responsibilities onto others.
History should serve as a wake-up call. The demands rejected by the then-ruling regime in the Kaohsiung Incident era have now been mostly accepted. No one can deny that this is a fact. Had they known how things would turn out, would they have behaved any differently? Today, many progressive demands are being made -- such as joining the UN under the name of Taiwan and establishing a new and independent country -- continue to be opposed by the KMT, the New Party, the PFP and many so-called mainstream media. The establishment of a new country in Taiwan is an inevitable path. Instead of following the crowd after it becomes a trend, one might as well stop stepping in its way. Help out, so as to avoid being embarrassed in history.
Lee Shiao-feng (李筱峰) is a professor at Shih Hsin University.
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