Sun, Apr 05, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Into the mist: the secret history of KMT-Japanese collaboration

Following the defeat in the Chinese civil war, Chiang Kai-shek needed military advisers to train Taiwanese soldiers in modern warfare. So he reached out to some Japanese officers — much to the chagrin of the US

By James Baron  /  Contributing Reporter

Japanese journalist Nojima Tsuyoshi pictured with his recently-published book about the White Group.

Photo: yang yuan-ting, Taipei Times

Above Hell’s Valley in Taipei’s Beitou District (北投區), there’s a clearing where, when the steam dissipates, you can watch tourists circling the volcanic cavity, selfie-sticks waggling like cockroach antennae.

Beitou invites pathetic fallacy. The name derives from the Ketagalan for “witch,” the area evoking a bubbling cauldron. Prospecting for sulfur in 1696, Qing Dynasty official Yu Yonghe (郁永河) described “a big pot in which we are walking on the lid.” Two centuries later, George McKay noted the “hiss and roar.” But these growls hide whispers.

Opposite the hole in the foliage, for example, a distinctive building with a facade of blue wooden slats has long held its peace. Until recently, the story behind this location was suffocated by an obfuscation that even the dense sulfur clouds couldn’t match.

clandestine operation

For 30 years, 144 Wenquan Road (溫泉路) was the headquarters of the White Group (白團), a clandestine team of Japanese military advisers to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government. Now, thanks to the probing of a Japanese journalist, this startling episode of modern Taiwanese history has been laid bare.

For the KMT, the White Group ranks among the dirtiest of rags in an already overflowing basket of soiled laundry, and given the virulently anti-Japanese bent that some of the program’s graduates later assumed, their reticence to see the truth revealed is understandable.

In January, Nojima Tsuyoshi, editor of the Chinese-language digital version of the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun, published Last Empire Soldiers: Chiang Kai-shek and the White Group (最後的帝國軍人:蔣介石與白團), an account of the team’s time in Taiwan.

Covert Japanese assistance to the KMT in Taiwan began in 1949 when Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), whose forces had just fled China after losing the civil war, enlisted the services of Lieutenant General Nemoto Hiroshi to repel the communist advance on the outlying island of Kinmen.

Hiroshi’s tactics, which included allowing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces to land so they could be ambushed and nixing a KMT proposal to burn down villages where PLA soldiers had holed up, undoubtedly saved the KMT’s bacon. With the smoke barely cleared, KMT General Hu Lien (胡璉) swanned in to claim the victory. He was nowhere near Kinmen during the action.

While General Keh King-en (葛先才), the leader of an advance party to Taiwan, was publicly berating the nipponized Formosans for being a “degraded people,” Chiang was taking a much more pragmatic tack. In forming the White Group, he sought out top Japanese talent, offering benefits and hefty remuneration.

During the Japanese colonial era, a posting to Taiwan was considered an unenviable drag, but with postwar public sentiment in Japan now against senior military figures and employment hard to come by, Nojima says the White Group personnel looked on their Taiwan adventure as an opportunity.

the japanophile

The Generalissimo had a soft spot for the Japanese. Over the years, this had earned him the scorn and suspicion of party hardliners. Chiang spent six years in Japan, served in the Imperial Japanese Army from 1909 to 1911 and spoke the language. Well aware that Japanese military know-how was a cut above what the KMT officer class had to offer, he was keen to make use of skilled ex-officers. Of course, he wasn’t about to advertise the fact.

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