Sun, May 20, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: A ‘great national shame’

This week’s column looks at president Chiang Kai-shek and US Ambassador Karl Rankin’s reflections on the May 24 Incident of 1957 when a mob stormed and ransacked the US embassy

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

The former US Information Agency was also ransacked during the 1957 riots.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

May 21 to May 27

Cars were overturned, furniture was destroyed and an American flag was ripped and thrown off the second floor balcony of the then-US embassy in Taipei. The angry crowd wreaked havoc on the building for nearly 10 hours before the authorities dispersed the protesters — leading the Americans to wonder if the May 24, 1957 attack was orchestrated by the government.

“In a city notorious for its elaborate secret services and policing agencies ... why was a riot such as this permitted to go unchecked for hours?” writes George Kerr in Formosa Betrayed, noting that certain people were warned of possible trouble days in advance and that the incident happened while president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) was on a mountain retreat, US Ambassador Karl Rankin was in Hong Kong and the army’s chief officers were visiting the offshore islands.

The incident was in response to the killing of government employee Liu Tzu-jan (劉自然) by US soldier Robert Reynolds, who allegedly discovered Lee in his garden peeping at his wife, who was taking a shower. Reynolds claims that Lee attacked first with a stick, and he fired two fatal shots in response. There were no witnesses with little evidence, and Reynolds was acquitted by an American military court to the applause of Americans in the courtroom and flown out of the country on May 23.

The United Daily News (聯合報) reported that the nation was in shock over the ruling, and that “resentment and agitation has permeated every corner of society.”

The paper further stated in an editorial, “Protesting the US Army’s Disdain for Human Rights” (抗議美軍蔑視人權): “We can’t help but question US law and the Americans’ lofty ideals of protecting human rights. Otherwise, it simply means that the life of an American has far more value than one of [ours]. Liu is dead, and Reynolds runs free. Isn’t that the bloody truth?”

Dressed in black, Liu’s widow stood in front of the embassy the next morning to protest the ruling. This attracted a crowd as things quickly escalated and went out of control.

AMERICAN ACCOUNT

Both Chiang and Rankin later reflected on the incident. Chiang’s public speech made that July regarding the riots can be found in the National Central Library, while Rankin provides an account in his memoir, China Assignment.

Rankin had returned to Taiwan during a lull in the riots. The embassy was empty then, but the crowd was still there, throwing stones at his car.

“The buildings were gutted. Everything inside that could be lifted had been thrown out the doors and windows … my personal car was on its side, with a safe dropped on it from the floor above,” he writes. “The police begged us to leave. There were very few of them, and they feared that a new incursion might start at any moment.”

Rankin notes that he was able to account for all his staff by 7pm that night — they had avoided harm by hiding in an air raid shelter and were later escorted out by the police. Only one was hospitalized.

Rankin later told US news station CBS that Taiwanese officials were too slow in providing adequate protection, and asked for “full compensation and an adequate apology.”

In the following weeks, 111 people were arrested, with about 40 receiving sentences of six months to one year. Rankin does not speak of any conspiracy or premeditation in his account.

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