Sun, Apr 02, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Never compromise

Author Yang Kui is known as much for his writing as his activism, which landed him in jail a dozen times under both Japanese and Chinese Nationalist Party rule

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Old copies of Yang Kui’s novels and photos of him in old age are displayed by his son in 2003.

Photo: Lin Meng-ting, Taipei Times

April 3 to April 9

On April 6, 1949, poet Lin Heng-tai (林亨泰) saw his friend Yang Kui (楊逵) and Yang’s wife Yeh Tao (葉陶) tied up by authorities at Taichung’s train station.

“I’ll never forget the scene … Yang kept his body upright and his head held high. His eyes stared angrily at the sky, and he could still move his arms enough to keep smoking his cigarette. He took puff after puff until they dragged him into the carriage bound for Taipei.”

This was the final time the writer and activist would be arrested. His crime was sedition for writing the Peace Manifesto (和平宣言), which was part of his attempt to reconcile differences between Taiwanese and the new arrivals from China through cultural activities. Published in a Shanghai newspaper, Yang urged people to accept Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rule, but also called for the government to allow freedom of speech, self governance, multiple political parties and to stop political arrests and release all political prisoners.

Unfortunately, martial law was declared about a month after Yang’s arrest, and he received a military trial that sent him to Green Island for 12 years. It was his longest sentence, despite being arrested 10 times previously for his activism during Japanese rule, when he spent a total of 45 days behind bars.


When Yang was nine years old, the Tapani Incident took place near his hometown of Sinhua (新化) in Tainan. After the failed anti-Japanese rebellion, Japanese troops entered the area and arrested more than 1,000 people. Yang remembers seeing Japanese soldiers drag cannons past his street, and later heard stories about mass killings of villagers during the incident.

“The stories I heard burned a deep mark in my young heart,” he says in his biography. “They also left a terrifying image that could not be erased. It has followed me for my entire life — and that’s why I insisted on peaceful activism.”

“But the funny thing is,” he continues, “my opposition to violence led to my penning of the Peace Manifesto, which needlessly landed me in jail for 12 years. Life cannot be more ironic than that!”

In 1924, Yang headed to Japan to study literature and to escape an arranged marriage because he believed in true love. He became a student activist and read Karl Marx’s Capital. He later became a socialist, organizing speeches and handing out anti-capitalist fliers.

“I did study in Japan, but not my school subjects,” he says.

Yang earned his first of many arrests during this period, protesting the Japanese occupation of Korea. He spent two days in jail. He soon returned to Taiwan and immediately immersed himself in the farmers’ rights movements.

Three months after his return, he was arrested after being elected to the Taiwan Peasant Association. He was arrested six times in 1929 alone.

Yang and his girlfriend and partner-in-crime Yeh Tao were so engrossed in their activities that they still spoke at a labor union rally the night before their wedding. They were arrested the next day, delaying the wedding by 17 days. Yang seemed to think nothing of it, referring to the time as a “government-paid honeymoon.”


Soon, the couple stopped their activities as colonial control tightened. They barely had enough to eat, but Yang stuck to his ideologies — he named his daughter Hsiu-e (秀俄,beautiful Russia) and son Tzu-peng (資崩, collapse of capitalism). He turned to writing during this time, penning his most famous work The Newspaper Boy (送報伕). Like most of this work, the novel centered on colonial oppression and class struggle, and even though it won a Japanese literary prize, it was banned in Taiwan.

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