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

As Nojima writes, it wasn’t just about a loss of face. Chiang could ill-afford to have the Americans offside and once the US made it clear that they were not happy with the arrangement, it was conducted in the shadows. Still, it was made just visible enough to provide leverage whenever American assistance wasn’t forthcoming.

Barak Kushner, who has written and spoken extensively on the White Group and the KMT’s complicated ties with Japan, sees the relationship as a marriage of convenience.

“Both [the KMT and Japan] essentially had become pariahs in their own region and their sole means of salvation was ironically in some measure to link up with each other,” Kushner says.

Although the alliance was informed by pragmatism on both sides, Kushner believes that there were other motivations at play.

“Perhaps the idea of pan-Asianism, which certainly was rife in higher KMT circles, many of whom studied in Japan prewar, still remained,” he says.

At the same time, Kushner says that the KMT had to look to all quarters for support. “Many would ask what other choice they had when US support looked desperate and Taiwan was considered a backwater.”

The White Group’s initial 17-man team was smuggled into Taiwan via Hong Kong in 1949. Participants were given Chinese noms de guerre, with the group named after its leader, Tomita Naosuke, who assumed the moniker Pai Hung-liang (白鴻亮). A former major general, Taiwan’s “Mr. White” was well known to Chiang having assisted KMT forces in the final throes of the civil war.

military legacy

Although the group’s remit was largely advisory, it is credited with introducing reserve officer exams and close combat techniques. Overall, at least 10,000 soldiers were trained under the group’s guidance.

At the behest of the US Military Assistance Advisory Group, the White Group was officially disbanded in 1959, though limited operations continued for years after. Tomita was persuaded to remain in Taiwan and was eventually made an honorary Republic of China general, the only foreigner to achieve this distinction.

Tomita continued to live at the house on Wenquan Road until his death in 1979 during a visit to Japan. At his request, his ashes were divided between his homeland and Taiwan. The latter portion of his remains can be found at Haiming Temple (海明寺) in Shulin District (樹林) in New Taipei City where they were placed by Chiang’s adoptive son Chiang Wei-kuo (蔣緯國).

The house at Wenquan Road is currently undergoing renovation. A spokesperson for the Beitou District Office confirmed that the property is now privately owned and unlikely to be open to the public any time soon.

However, early last year, a Japanese tour group, which included relatives of White Group officers, visited the location to mark the 35th anniversary of Tomita’s death. Tomita’s son expressed his pleasure that the historical record had finally been set straight.

raging against the japanese

Some people see things differently. In September last year, former Premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) addressed a seminar marking the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender. As reported in this newspaper, the aim of the event was to “debunk the lies fabricated by the Japanese bandits’ slaves who overstayed in Taiwan (滯臺倭奴) and who have distorted the real history.”

It was just the latest in a long line of anti-Japanese tirades by the 95-year-old Hau. A couple of months later, former vice president Lien Chan (連戰) was at it, branding Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je’s (柯文哲) family “traitors” for adopting Japanese names when Japan ruled over Taiwan.

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