Following the case of Dapu (大埔) in Miaoli County’s Jhunan (竹南) Township, the government announced that land expropriation in Siangsihliao (相思寮), Erlin (二林) Township, Changhua County, had been completed legally. That means the government can send in excavators at any time, whereupon they will tear down houses, dig up crops and chase ageing farmers off their land.
The government’s forcible land expropriation came like a bolt of lightning. The elderly farmers of Siangsihliao now find themselves at a loss, not knowing what will become of them. The elderly farmers have gone to Taipei several times to petition authorities — the Cabinet, the legislature and the president — saying that they don’t want to be kicked off their land. They said the government was worse than robbers, because robbers would at least leave them with land on which to grow food.
As it happens, something very similar happened in the same place back in 1947. Following the end of World War II, Taiwan experienced a wave of farmers’ protests against factories owned by Taiwan Sugar Corp. This corporation, which was founded in 1946 by combining four major Japanese-managed sugar companies, had its headquarters in Shanghai and was subordinate to the National Resources Commission. Protests took place at just about every sugar plantation in Taiwan. The reason for the farmers’ anger was that the corporation wanted to forcibly take back farmland it rented out to them, leaving tenant farmers with no land to till. The fiercest clashes took place at the Dapaisha (大排沙) Farm on land belonging to the Sihu (溪湖) sugar factory. This land, which at that time lay in the Beidou (北斗) area of Changhua County, is the same place that has now been allocated for building the Central Taiwan Science Park’s stage four expansion.
At the time, the Youth Liberty Weekly (青年自由報) quoted a farmer attending a congress as saying: “Now that a constitutional government has been proclaimed, of course anything that doesn’t comply with the Constitution should be done away with, but factories keep violating farmers’ interests in illegal ways. It really makes us angry ... Could the factories really be acting legally? We very much doubt it.”
Other farmers complained that they had been locked up and tortured by the factory management, saying: “We hear the sugar factories are now being run by the state. How could the state treat us like this? How could sugar factories that represent the state treat us in this way?”
Sixty-three years later, the elderly men and women of Siangsihliao, with tears in their eyes, say: “The government is worse than bandits. The government looks grand, but it doesn’t care about us. It’s harming us instead. What fools we were to ever believe in it! We ordinary folk have sweated away from youth to old age just to get a place to live. Now these arrogant so-and-sos just want to get us out of there. Who can we old folk turn to?”
Looking at the situation after the war and the one we see today, the anger felt by the farmers of Erlin seems remarkably similar.
Controversy also surrounds a proposed development on the coast by Kuokuang Petrochemical Technology Co. Many observers say that government policy has reverted to that of 30 years ago, when development was put ahead of any other consideration.
However, when we look at the many instances of land expropriation — in Siangsihliao, Dapu, Erchongpu (二重埔) and other places — it would be more accurate to say that we have regressed not just 30 years, but 60.
Hsu Shih-jung is a professor in the Department of Land Economics at National Chengchi University.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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