Wed, Aug 23, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Letter: Land was never public

By Patrick Cowsill

There seems to be a pattern in how Taiwan's history is dealt with.

If you're a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) crackpot, you distort it by minimizing Japanese influence after 50 years of colonization and ignoring the role of Taiwan's various Aboriginal groups. Then you pretend that all white people are American and that they only showed up here 50 years ago to help Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) do bad things to the locals. It's not advisable to talk about the Dutch, unless it is to accuse them of wiping out the deer or something along those lines.

If you're a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) nutcase, Taiwan simply has no history, and that's "her biggest sadness." In recent reports we are treated to more of the same in the on-going KMT/DPP asset squabble.

According to your article ("KMT to release its asset report," Aug. 21, page 1), DPP legislative whip Yeh Yi-ching (葉宜津) said: "Given that these party assets are stolen, the KMT should return the remaining assets to the country and people and return the money for assets it has sold to third parties."

Yeh has a point if it comes to general greed and corruption within the KMT. But still, what's this guy talking about? It's not like the assets have ever belonged to "the country and people."

The chronology of land ownership in Taiwan is as follows. For thousands of years, Aborigines from various tribes had free reign. From 1624 to 1661, part of Taiwan was also held by the Dutch Crown. In the early part of the 18th century, the Qing Dynasty decreed that all land be held under private ownership. They did this to prevent officials and military officers from gaining a monopoly over it.

From here a complicated system developed where original homesteaders and Aborigines did not engage directly in farming but rather collected rents from tenants. Those from China willing to take a chance would first make their way across the Strait. After obtaining land rights, they would then return to ancestral homes in China to round up interested parties as tenants for their new properties.

Over the years, a landlord class developed, with tenants paying a part of their harvest as rent to a proprietor who ran these properties for these deed-holders, who were in most cases absentee. Tenants in turn rented out parcels of their already leased acres, becoming landlords on a smaller scale.

By the time the Japanese arrived, the country was controlled in this way with a few very wealthy families on top. These families organized their own militias to protect their interests from mandarins as well as the Taiwanese or, in other words, "the country and the people."

In 1895, the Japanese began to gather up some of this land for public works. Prior to this time and for most of the last 400 years, Taiwan has never belonged to the "people" but rather just "some people."

Yeh is right to call for the KMT to clean itself up, but it is irresponsible of her to misrepresent history, even if it does make for dramatic political speeches. She also sounds like a socialist with words like "returning the assets to the country and the people," and that's a bad fit for Taiwan.

Patrick Cowsill

Taipei

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