Tue, Feb 27, 2018 - Page 13 News List

When Taiwan was China’s (for seven years)

Yes, the nation was once a province of China, but that’s before the Qing Dynasty in 1895 ceded it and the Penghu in perpetuity to Japan

By Gerrit van der Wees  /  Contributing reporter

Much of this new vitality and innovation was possible as Taiwanese were frontiersmen and pioneers, much more open to innovation than tradition-bound Chinese officialdom in Beijing.

DISTINCT IDENTITY

Liu also tolerated dissent and his policies started to attract intellectuals from China, escaping the oppressive atmosphere under the late Qing dynasty rule. The mix of these intellectuals and local gentry brought about a flourishing culture of art and literature. It resulted in the birth of a local identity that saw itself as distinct from China. This also formed the powerbase for the subsequent Formosa Republic.

But Liu’s policies and expansion created resentment and jealousy at the Qing Court. In 1891 he was recalled to China, and retired to Anhui Province. He was succeeded by Shao Yu-lien (邵友濂), who was governor until 1894. Shao’s major achievement was the definitive move of the capital from Tainan. However, the eventual destination was Taipei, which had become the center of political activity.

INCOMPETENCE

Shao’s rule was mostly known for its rampant corruption and ineffective government. He stopped or reversed many of the new modernization projects and innovations started by his predecessor. He was ordered to prepare Taiwan for defense against Japan, but purchased old and useless weapons, pocketing the difference. To his credit, he did bring in the famous “Black Flag” Liu, who would later play a major role in the Formosa Republic.

The ineffectual Shao was replaced by governor Tang Ching-sung (唐景崧), who had fought against the French in the South. Tang had fought together with “Black Flag” general Liu Yung-fu, who received the command of some 100,000 soldiers.

TREATY OF SHIMONOSEKI

However, war had broken out between China and Japan over control over Korea. China lost and under the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, it ceded Taiwan to Japan.

The treaty was signed on behalf of the Qing government by viceroy Li Hongzhang (李鴻章). Under its provisions, China recognized the independence of Korea, ceded Taiwan and Penghu in perpetuity to Japan, paid a huge war indemnity and opened port-cities to trade.

Back in Taiwan, the treaty came as a total surprise. Neither the population nor officials had been consulted. On May 23, 1895, Governor Tang was convinced by local gentry to declare an independent Formosa Republic, the first independent republic in Asia. A new government was inaugurated on May 25, 1895.

While during this brief interlude of eight years, Taiwan was indeed ruled as a province of China, at the same time the era established a more solid basis for a separate Taiwanese identity: a multicultural mix of the Aboriginal, Hakka and Hokkien heritages.

The earlier settlers were frontiersmen who had mainly engaged in agriculture and local trade. Along with the gentry, they had always had an independent streak, fighting off foreign control on numerous occasions. The intelligentsia and literati who arrived during the late 1880s did so to escape the stifling climate in Beijing under the Manchu rulers. The combination proved to be a powerful mix, which laid the basis for both the Formosa Republic and the early resistance against the Japanese.

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