Sun, Jun 19, 2016 - Page 12 News List

As the last resistance fell

Despite fleeing to China, Liu Yung-fu, leader of the Republic of Formosa resistance against the Japanese, has been portrayed as a hero

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Flag of the short-lived Republic of Formosa.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Here’s how the story goes: In late June of 1895, Liu Yung-fu (劉永福) swore a blood oath with Tainan’s elite, vowing to defend Taiwan against the advancing Japanese troops to the death and to continue fighting as long as there was one bit of territory left.

He then assumed command of the one-month-old Republic of Formosa (台灣民主國),which carried on for four more months until Qing Dynasty China ceded Taiwan and Penghu to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. But the Japanese met unexpected local resistance as they closed in on Tainan. Liu then abandoned ship and fled to China on Oct. 19, two days before the enemy even arrived.

So much for the oath, if it even took place at all.

It is generally agreed that Liu, who was originally operating in today’s Kaohsiung, assumed leadership of the Republic of Formosa after the Japanese captured its capital of Taipei a few weeks earlier. By then, president Tang Ching-sung (唐景崧) and vice president Chiu Feng-jia (丘逢甲) had both fled to China. But historians seem to be in dispute about what exactly happened.

Some say that the elite officially swore Liu in as president and extended the life of the republic, while others say that the republic met its end when Taipei fell and Liu simply assumed command of the remaining resistance while refusing to be president.

And there are also those who say that Liu, facing a lack of resources, was not even particularly enthusiastic in continuing what seemed to be a lost cause — especially after a failed attempt at securing arms and supplies from China.

Academia Historica director and historian Wu Mi-cha (吳密察) writes in the study Liu Yung-fu in the Yiwei Battle (乙未之役中的劉永福) that it was the effort of civilian militias in Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli as well as troops in central Taiwan organized by a local official that Liu was able to hold out until October. Wu adds that Liu Yung-fu was even reluctant to send reinforcement troops northward.

Historian Tsai Cheng-hao (蔡承豪) writes in A Tainan Pastor Becomes a Messenger of Peace (台南牧師成為和平使者) that Liu’s army remained mostly idle in the south, and that he barely assisted in the efforts up north. Tsai writes that he was banking on foreign or Chinese aid, which never came.

After winning the decisive Battle of Baguashan (八卦山戰役) in Changhua, the Japanese regrouped and planned their invasion of Tainan. Instead of taking on the enemy, Liu made several attempts to sue for peace, but to no avail before fleeing.

Nevertheless, he was hailed as a national hero due to the prevailing anti-Japanese sentiment in China and in Taiwan after Japan’s defeat in 1945.


Liu had earlier risen to fame in China as the leader of the legendary Black Flag Army that resisted the French in Vietnam during the Sino-French war of 1884. He was deployed to Taiwan by the Qing in 1894 during the First Sino-Japanese war. The Qing lost that war, which resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki on April 17, 1895.

On May 25 that year, the Qing officials and the Taiwanese elite established the Republic of Formosa (台灣民主國), with former provincial governor Tang Ching-sung as president. The capital was at Taipei, with a flag featuring a yellow tiger against a blue background.

Several sources, including historian Chen Yi-hung (陳怡宏), say that part of the motivation was that by disassociating from the Qing Empire and claiming that Taiwan was merely defending its own territory, it would be in a better position to request foreign aid.

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