Sun, May 15, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Taiwan in Time: The precursor to total control

This week marks the anniversary of the declaration of martial law in Taiwan, which lasted 38 years and became a tool for the government to remain in power to control the populace

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

The Taiwan Shin Sheng Daily News prints Chen Cheng’s declaration of martial law in its entirety on May 19, 1949.

Courtesy of Google

Taiwan in Time: May 16 to May 22

On April 20, 1949, negotiations broke down between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party, as the People’s Liberation Army continued its offensive, capturing the Nationalist capital of Nanjing three days later and then continuing to push southward.

Chen Cheng (陳誠), who had been sent to govern Taiwan five months before the offensive, was worried that Communists would try to sneak their way into Taiwan amid the mass Nationalist retreat across the Taiwan Strait, writes historian Chen Shih-chang (陳世昌) in his book, Taiwanese History, 70 Years After the War (戰後70年台灣史).

On May 19, Chen Cheng declared martial law, to take effect at midnight the next day.

Chen Shih-chang writes in his memoir that martial law provisions made it easier for him to enact laws to restrict people entering and exiting Taiwan — the main purpose being to weed out possible communists. He was likely also responding to unrest within Taiwan, such as the student protests against police brutality that led to the April 6 Incident when military and police personnel stormed National Taiwan Normal University dorms and arrested about 200 students.

Some dispute the legality of this move, claiming that Chen Cheng had no right to declare martial law as, according to Article 39 of the Republic of China constitution, only the president had the power to do so and it had to be subsequently approved by the Legislative Yuan. Chen Cheng, however, claims in his memoir that he was acting under direct orders from the central government.

No matter what Chen Cheng’s intentions were, or whether it was legal or not, his declaration would remain in place for the next 38 years and 56 days — one of the longest duration of martial law in the modern era.

The real ramifications were that after the KMT’s full retreat to Taiwan, they would use it to keep Taiwan in a constant state of emergency and, combined with other laws, they exercised authoritarian control over the government and people.

It was the second time martial law had been declared in Taiwan. The first one was issued in 1947 by governor-general Chen Yi (陳儀) the day the 228 Incident broke out, and curfews were imposed in Taipei and Keelung. Chen lifted it the next day, only to declare it again on March 8 as the situation worsened and government troops clashed with civilians. Meanwhile, the commander in Hsinchu made his own declaration on March 4.

This period was short-lived. On May 16, Wei Dao-ming (魏道明) arrived to replace Chen Yi, and one of his first acts was to lift martial law and stop the government’s qingxiang (清鄉, the countrywide arresting or killing of civilians suspected to have ties to the uprising).

KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) declared martial law in December 1948 as the civil war worsened — but this issuance excluded non-war zones such as Tibet (which the KMT had no control over anyway), Qinghai and Taiwan.

Chen Cheng’s initial declaration closed all ports except for Keelung, Kaohsiung and Makung, established curfews for civilians and businesses, forbade merchants from raising prices or stocking up on goods for personal use and prohibited public gatherings, strikes, protests, bearing arms and “spreading rumors.” All citizens were required to have identification on them at all times, or face arrest.

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