Tue, Jan 23, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Taiwan’s “outside the party” magazines on the road to democratization

Three generations of ‘dangwai’ magazines played a crucial role in calling for democracy, freedom of speech and mobilizing the public to fight against martial law

By Gerrit van der Wees  /  Contributing reporter

A number of dangwai (“outside-the-party”) magazines are displayed in a September 2016 exhibition entitled Democracy Wall.

Photo: Yang Ming-yi, Taipei times

Taiwan’s transition to democracy from 1979 through 1992 is something the people of Taiwan can be truly proud of. It changed the equation of the country’s identity and laid the foundation for a brighter future.

The major events that bookended and shaped the transition process are well-known: the Kaohsiung Incident of 1979, the formation of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 1986, the end of martial law in 1987 and the passage of legislation and constitutional reforms from 1991 to 1992, establishing a fully elected legislature and enabling direct presidential elections in 1996.

However, much less is known about one of the most important drivers in support of this transition to democracy: dangwai (黨外, “outside the party”) movement magazines published between the 1970s and 1980s. What follows is an overview of these publications, the people behind them and the various phases they went through.

Before 1979, there were a few initiatives to get opposition publications off the ground, including the Taiwan Political Review in 1975, but generally these efforts were relatively small-scale and short lived, as they were quickly shut down by the still repressive ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).


However, in 1979, the situation changed: after US de-recognition of the KMT as the government of China in December 1978, there was a period of anxiety and tension, when the authorities postponed the Legislative Yuan and National Assembly elections for which the dangwai had formed a loose coalition.

In the summer of 1979, two dangwai groups started a magazine: 1980s (8十年代), led by Kang Ning-hsiang (康寧祥) and edited by Antonio Chiang (江春男), and Formosa Magazine (美麗島), led by veteran activist Huang Hsin-chieh (黃信介).

During the Fall of 1979, both quickly gained popularity, but also were the subject of increasing restrictions by the (often secret) police and subject to virulent attacks by pro-unification gangsters, the “anti-communist-heroes.”


This all culminated in the now well-known Formosa Incident: the Human Rights Day celebration on Dec. 10, 1979 in Kaohsiung that turned ugly when police surrounded a peaceful crowd of some 10,000 and started to use teargas. Chaos ensued, and three days later the KMT government arrested virtually all dangwai leaders and accused them of “sedition” and “trying to overthrow the government.”

Three trials took place from March through May 1980. To the outside world, it laid bare a very repressive political system and a highly biased judicial system. The Chicago Tribune headlined its commentary “Comic Opera Trial.”

During this period, no dangwai magazines were allowed, but by the end of 1980, the KMT went ahead with the delayed elections for the legislature and National Assembly. Relatives of the imprisoned opposition leaders ran as dangwai candidates and scored major victories: Yao Chia-wen’s (姚嘉文) wife Chou Ching-yu (周清玉) in the National Assembly, and Chang Chun-hung’s (張俊宏) wife Hsu Jung-hsu (許榮淑) and Huang Hsin-chieh’s younger brother Huang Tien-fu (黃天福) in the Legislative Yuan.

These election wins empowered them to look for ways to spread the message about the goals and objectives of the democratic opposition, the continuing lack of human rights and democracy and the plight of those imprisoned.

In the spring of 1981, several magazines saw the light of day: 1980s (8十年代) resumed publication, while Hsu Jung-hsu started Cultivate (深耕) and Chou Ching-yu CARE Magazine (關懷). By the Summer of 1982 the number of dangwai magazines had grown to about a dozen.

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