Sun, Mar 25, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The reformer’s visit

Exiled Chinese intellectual Liang Qichao spent two weeks in Taiwan in 1911, leaving behind an impressive body of literature as well as steering the Taiwanese elite toward nonviolent resistance against the Japanese colonizers

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

He was eager to visit Taiwan and assess the situation for himself. Even in exile, Liang was thinking reform. He made a detailed list of items he wanted to observe with the plan of applying his findings to China one day, such as how the colonial government was able to raise Taiwan’s economy in such a short period as well as the effectiveness of its state-run opium business and advanced agricultural technology.

Interestingly, he also wanted to learn about colonial immigration policy and census methods to use as a blueprint for China’s colonization of non-Han Chinese areas such as Xinjiang.


During five days in Taipei, Liang visited numerous government institutions, taking note of the disrespectful way Japanese treated him and other Taiwanese. He wrote several poems mourning the Taipei city walls torn down by the colonizers, comparing the destruction to the plight of Taiwan.

On April 1, under the close watch of the Japanese police, Liang gave a one-hour speech to a crowd of more than 100 local intellectuals who were, as Chang writes, deprived of new concepts and ideas as the Japanese were mostly concerned about teaching their language, while Han Chinese schools focused on Confucian classics. At the end of the speech, he read a new poem to thank the Taiwanese for their hospitality, one of about 80 pieces he would complete during his stay.

In Taichung he spent time with the Oak Tree Poetry Society (櫟社), which was headquartered at Lin’s family garden. The society threw Liang a welcome party with about 30 poets and guests in attendance. While they did not explicitly talk politics due to fear of Japanese surveillance, Liang improvised poems lamenting Taiwan’s situation as well as their collective sorrow of not being able to put their talent to use under a discriminatory government.

Chen Chao-ying (陳昭瑛) writes in Taiwan and Traditional Culture (台灣與傳統文化) that Liang’s visit transformed the spirit of the poetry society: “They shed their sorrow and grief of being an abandoned people, and turned their focus toward cultural enlightenment and nationalist and political activism.”

By the end of the trip, he writes in a letter back home, Liang says he was “very disappointed” in the Japanese. Although he did praise their effective policies and improvements in infrastructure, he noted that this progress came at the expense of the rights of Taiwanese, who were not given any say regarding their own land.

He included three poems in the letter that described concrete examples of Japanese oppression, including one about how the state-run sugar factory had forcefully purchased land from peasants for half the market price.

Finally, he repeatedly warned the Taiwanese elite not to submit to the Japanese in exchange for a comfortable life. He stressed to Lin and his relatives that literature wasn’t enough; that they needed to study politics and economics as well as modern philosophy, giving them a list of 170 books to read before he left.

Lin did not wait for long to act, forming several Taiwanese rights groups over the next few years. After finding no success, in 1921 he heeded Liang’s suggestion and made the first of 15 petitions over the next 14 years to the government to establish a Taiwanese representative assembly.

This was the last straw for governor-general Kenjiro Den, who originally wanted Lin on his side. From then on, Den labeled him as a troublemaker.

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