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.
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.