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

Between the Summer of 1982 and the following year, these magazines were joined by a second generation of magazines, such as Taiwan Panorama (博觀), published by Kaohsiung Incident lawyer You Ching (尤清), Vertical-Horizontal (縱橫) and Bell Drum Tower (鐘鼓樓), published by Huang Tien-fu, and was later succeeded by Neo Formosa Weekly (蓬萊島).


The increase in the number of publications led to a crack down by KMT authorities. There were four levels of censorship: removing or blacking out a particular offending article; banning the publication (though many remained available under the counter); confiscation; and suspending the publication’s license (often circumvented by registering several similar-sounding titles).

The reasons for censorship included revealing the harsh prison conditions under which the Kaohsiung Incident prisoners were held; discussing Taiwan’s isolated international status; establishing an opposition party; and writing unflattering profiles on the KMT and the family of the nation’s authoritarian ruler, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石).

The magazines also examined several political murders that took place during the early 1980s: the murder of the mother and twin daughters of human rights lawyer Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) on Feb. 28 1980, the murder of Taiwanese-American scholar Chen Wen-chen (陳文成) of Carnegie Mellon University in July 1981 and the murder — on American soil — of China-born US writer Henry Liu (劉宜良), who was writing an unflattering biography of then-President Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國).


By the beginning of 1984, a third generation of dangwai magazines appeared: Lin Cheng-chieh (林正杰) started Progress (前進), while Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕) started Freedom Era Weekly (自由時代 ). These magazines were different from previous generations in that they were started by people who had no direct connection to the Kaohsiung Incident.

This new generation of publications and those who ran them also initiated street protests to put more pressure on the authorities.

The widespread pressure for liberalization and democratization from activists prompted an increase in censorship from the KMT authorities: in October 1984 there was an infamous “Thought Police” meeting attended by the Garrison Command, the head of the Government Information Office, Chang Ching-yu, and James Soong (宋楚瑜) of the KMT. The minutes of the meeting, which read like something out of Nineteen Eighty-Four, were leaked.

From early 1985, there was an intensified confiscation campaign with more than 1,000 police dedicated to confiscating publications. The authorities also started “legal” proceedings against several magazines, such as Neo Formosa Weekly, which led to the imprisonment of future president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). By September 1985 some 95 percent of all publications had been confiscated.

However, the pressure to end martial law and move towards a representative democracy intensified through street protests: the dangwai movement — as it came to be called — was able to field increasingly large numbers of people in street protests. The most well-known was the “Green Ribbon Campaign” started by Deng on May 19, 1986.

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