Sun, Oct 25, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Gas bombing of the Sediq

The Wushe Incident of 1930 may have been the first time chemical warfare was used in Asia

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A statue to commemorate Mona Rudao, with the inscription: A hero who fought against the Japanese.”

Photo: Chen Fong-li

Taiwan in Time: Oct. 26 to Nov. 1

Awi Hepah thought it was just a Japanese fighter plane carrying out a routine bombing mission against his Aboriginal Sediq people in the mountains of what is today Nantou County (南投). After all, they were at war with the Japanese police and army.

“We smelled something strange,” he recalls in the book Awi Hepah’s Personal Testimony (阿威赫拔的親身證言). “At the same time, everyone felt like vomiting, and our visions blurred. Some couldn’t stand straight and went looking for water. Some started coughing blood, and others were in so much pain that they were pounding their chests. Some were in so much pain that they dropped their guns and hung themselves.”

A few days later, it happened again as the warriors hid in a cave.

“My companions died one after another,” he writes. “Their faces were grotesquely twisted, their skin rotting and giving off a putrid smell.”

Only 14 years old at the time, Hepah was an active participant in the Wushe Incident (霧社事件), where hundreds of Sediq warriors, after years of colonial mistreatment, attacked and killed 134 Japanese (and accidentally two Han Chinese in Japanese clothing) in the morning of Oct. 27, 1930.

Public awareness of the incident has exploded since the 2011 hit movie Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (賽德克巴萊), but a lesser known fact is that this conflict is possibly the first instance of chemical warfare in Asia.

Chemical warfare was used on a large scale during World War I, where a reported 124,000 tons of chemicals were produced, leading to roughly 90,000 deaths. This led to the passing of the Geneva Protocol in 1925, which banned the use of chemical and biological weapons.

However, Japan and the US didn’t ratify the protocol. Most first mentions of chemical weapons being used in Asia point to the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, but there is evidence, as Hepah’s account suggests, that they were also employed during the Wushe conflict.

Biological and chemical weapons expert Eric Croddy writes in his Weapons of Mass Destruction encyclopedia that the Japanese had been experimenting with mustard gas as early as 1928, even establishing a chemical weapons factory in northern Taiwan, which was reportedly still present when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) arrived in 1945.

Let’s revisit the story first.

THE UPRISING

As the Japanese national anthem filled the track field at Wushe’s elementary school the morning of the incident, the people gathered there for an athletic meet had no idea that they were surrounded by hundreds of armed Sediq warriors.

The Japanese were easy to recognize in their native costume, and the warriors charged onto the field, killing all targets they could see.

By that time, the Han Chinese population had already given up armed resistance and turned to nonviolent social and political movements. Aboriginal uprisings became less common into the 1920s, but tensions remained high due to discrimination, forced labor, logging, disrespect of customs and other issues.

The Sediq — classified as Atayal until 2008 — involved in the incident belonged to six tribes within the the Tgadaya subgroup, totaling about 1,200 people. Mona Rudao, who led the uprising, was the chief of one of the tribes.

Most accounts of the incident point to a confrontation between Mona Rudao’s son and a Japanese police officer over the officer’s refusal to accept an offering cup of wine during the son’s wedding ceremony as the final trigger. The officer either struck the cup or the son’s arm with his stick, and a brawl ensued. The tribe’s apology to the officer was not accepted, and rather than wait for official punishment, Mona Rudao channeled years of resentment and called for the surprise attack.

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