Sun, Aug 28, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Defending the homeland to the death

The Battle of Baguashan was the most significant resistance against the Japanese takeover of Taiwan in 1895, resulting in the deaths of several key figures

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

Baguashan today is a scenic area and tourist attraction with a giant Buddha, leaving no trace of the epic battle 121 years ago.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Aug. 29 to Sept. 4

After landing in Taiwan and encountering much local resistance, the Japanese army reached the northern banks of the Dadu River (大肚溪), on what is today’s border between Taichung and Changhua County, on Aug. 25, 1895. They did not cross the river immediately, as the enemy had regrouped on the south banks in the city of Changhua and on the nearby battery on Baguashan (八卦山).

After a few days of scouting and minor skirmishes, the Japanese army of about 15,000 men split into two wings, with the left wing crossing the river in the dark on Aug. 27. They attacked the battery in the morning, and thus began the Battle of Baguashan (八卦山之役), the largest clash between the two sides.

On May 25, 1895, about a month after the Qing Empire ceded Taiwan to Japan, Qing officials and the Taiwanese elite established the Republic of Formosa (台灣民主國) in a bid to resist the transfer of Taiwan to Japan.

In the June 19 edition of Taiwan in Time, we examined the legacy of the resistance leaders who ran away upon defeat: republic president Tang Ching-sung (唐景崧), who fled to China after Keelung was captured, and vice president Chiu Feng-chia (丘逢甲), who did the same after the fall of Taipei. And finally Liu Yong-fu (劉永福), who jumped ship two days before the Japanese entered his stronghold of Tainan.

This week, we will remember those who stayed and fought to the death. After Chiu’s departure, Liu assumed leadership of the resistance. But his Black Flag Army remained stationed in Tainan, and someone needed to step up and stop the Japanese from moving south from Taipei.

HAKKA MILITIAS

Wu Tang-hsing (吳湯興), a Hakka from Miaoli, took on the task as he organized a militia comprised of fellow Hakka from the area and swore to defend their homeland to the death. Wu was later joined by Chiang Shao-tzu (姜紹祖) and Hsu Hsiang (徐驤), also Hakka who had recruited their own armies.

All three were scholars who had passed the imperial examinations, and it is said that Chiang was no more than 20 years old. The trio earned many monikers, and Chen Wen-teh (陳文德) refers to them in his book, Showdown at Bagua Mountain (決戰八卦山) as the “Three Hakka Musketeers (客家三劍客).”

Chen writes that this was not a formal army, and “the leaders’ command was not absolute,” as the units “often acted individually during battle, rarely being able to focus all their efforts on resisting the Japanese … Even though they did cause the Japanese a lot of trouble, their actual accomplishments were limited.”

This army first clashed with the Japanese in northern Hsinchu. Wu personally led the resistance, driving away the enemy twice. But soon, the Japanese regrouped and decided to charge at full force, capturing Hsinchu a week later despite the Hakka army’s guerrilla tactics.

Chiang was captured in an attempt to retake Hsinchu, and he reportedly committed suicide by ingesting opium. As the Hakka militia retreated to Miaoli, they were joined by Wu Peng-nian (吳彭年) of the Black Flag Army. Wu Peng-nian was not a native of Taiwan, having arrived as Liu’s top aide, but Chen writes that he had decided to defend Taiwan at all cost.

THE DECISIVE BATTLE

After much fierce fighting, the Japanese captured Taichung, and the resistance regrouped in Changhua with between 3,000 and 5,000 troops, comprised of surviving members of the Hakka militia, Black Flag Army and remaining Qing troops.

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