Sun, Aug 02, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Taiwan in Time: A life devoted to political freedom

The inaugural Taiwan in Time column takes a look at the life of anti-Japanese resistance leader Chiang Wei-shui. The anniversary of his death falls on Wednesday

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

Chiang Wei-shui.

Taipei Times file photo

On Aug. 5, 1931, Chiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水), an outspoken Taiwanese nationalist during the Japanese colonial era, passed away from typhoid after more than two weeks in the hospital. The man would later be considered a pioneer of Taiwanese democracy and one of the most important leaders of nonviolent resistance against Japanese rule.

The day before his untimely death at age 40, Chiang was still devoted to his cause, encouraging his comrades to “liberate our people.”

On Aug. 23, more than 2,000 people showed up at the funeral ceremony hall, despite warnings by the Japanese colonial government and a strong police presence. Next to Chiang’s photograph hung banners with phrases such as “your spirit will not die” and “liberation fighter.” The police examined and censored parts of the funeral speech, but let the ceremony go on. Right before the procession began, rain started to fall. The crowd, now numbering 5,000, followed Chiang’s hearse undeterred to his final resting place on Taipei’s Dazhi Mountain (大直山).


Like many people and events before 1945, Chiang’s name has become mostly forgotten until recent decades. Today, he transcends Taiwan’s political divide, commanding the respect of both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Chiang, who is often dubbed the Sun Yat-sen of Taiwan (台灣的孫中山), was born in Yilan in 1891, four years before the Japanese took over Taiwan. It was during medical school that he became an outspoken nationalist activist. Armed rebellions against colonial rule mostly ceased after 1915, and intellectuals turned to other ways to fight for autonomy and self-determination.

After five years of running his own hospital, Chiang participated in the first petition to the Japanese government for a Taiwanese representative assembly in 1921. Later that year, believing that Taiwanese were suffering from “cultural malnutrition” under Japanese rule, he founded the Taiwan Cultural Association (台灣文化協會) with Lin Hsien-tang (林獻堂), a founder of the Taiwan People’s Party (台灣民眾黨), and others. After convincing the authorities that they wouldn’t participate in political activities, the association held its first meeting with more than 1,000 attendees.

The association aimed to foster a sense of Taiwanese culture and nationalism through seminars, film screenings and other activities. Chiang often criticized the government through the Chinese-language Taiwan Minpao (台灣民報) newspaper, and the Japanese kept a close eye on his activities.

Chiang was arrested and sentenced to four months in jail in 1923, the first of nine subsequent imprisonments.

When the Cultural Association split into left and right wings in 1927, Chiang founded the Taiwan People’s Party after much government interference, the first legal political party ever in Taiwan. The party adopted Sun’s Three Principles of the People (三民主義) as its political philosophy. Chiang later became involved in worker’s and farmer’s rights.

During this time, his party presented to the League of Nations about the Japanese selling opium in Taiwan and shed light on the Wushe Incident (霧社事件) where more than 600 Aborigines were killed in an armed uprising against the Japanese.

In 1931, the government forcefully dissolved the party, and Chiang died soon after. Taiwanese democracy continued in 1934 when Koo Hsien-jung (辜顯榮) became the first Taiwanese to be named to the Japanese House of Peers. Local assemblies were established in 1935, but after Japan invaded China in 1937, all social movements were banned, and with it the beginning of the imperialist assimilation policy.

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