Sun, Sep 30, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The great Aboriginal migration

After the Kuo Pai-nian Incident devastated Puli in 1814, the Aboriginal inhabitants invited their Pingpu brethren from the plains to move en masse to the area to bolster their defenses

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Kahabu Aborigines in Puli perform a new year’s ceremony. The Kahabu people once lived on the west coast, and migrated to Puli in the 1820s.

Photo: Chen Feng-li, Taipei Times

Oct. 1 to Oct. 7

Kuo Pai-nian (郭百年) and his fellow Han Chinese settlers were locked in a stalemate with the Aboriginal warriors of Shuishalian (水沙連, the area around today’s Puli Township) for over a month until they decided to revert to trickery. Kuo offered to leave the area in exchange for deer antlers. When the Aboriginal men went to hunt for the antlers, Kuo and his cohorts invaded the village, burning, slaughtering and stealing. They even overturned all of the community’s graves and took the weapons inside to bolster their forces. The Aborigines had no choice but to flee. This was the beginning of the Kuo Pai-nian Incident of 1814.

As Chung You-lan (鍾幼蘭) shows in a study, Pingpu Peoples and the Puli Basin (平埔族群與埔里盆地), such instances of Han Chinese brutality toward Aborigines were not uncommon, and that the incident was a microcosm of the way in which Han Chinese violently expanded into Aboriginal territory. This expansion would in turn cause the affected Aboriginal group to encroach on the land of others.

What makes this incident unique, however, is that despite Kuo’s success in driving out the area’s inhabitants, the result of this conflict was not Han Chinese domination, but a mass migration of Aboriginal groups from the west coast into Puli. Many of whose descendants still live there today.


Chung writes that various Aboriginal groups lived in Shuishalian during the 17th and 18th centuries, but the exact ethnic composition isn’t clear because Han Chinese and even the coastal Siraya Aborigines were unable to enter the area.

At the turn of the 19th century, the Puli basin, which was a part of Shuishalian, was still considered an “untouched paradise” by the Han Chinese settlers of the western plains of Taiwan. In fact, the Qing Empire forbade Han Chinese to enter these mountain areas, and employed shou (熟) — “civilized” Aborigines who lived on the plains and largely cooperated with the Qing and had a high degree of contact with Han Chinese — to guard the border. The ones beyond the border were sheng (生), “uncivilized” Aborigines who were often hostile. This policy officially began in 1791.

However, since these “civilized” guards often did not farm land close to the border, they would rent it to Han settlers, who then became aware of the valuable land controlled by the “uncivilized” Aborigines. Consequently, illegal border crossings were common.

Additionally, the Qing court awarded Shuishalian Aborigines border guard positions because they had helped pacify an earlier Han Chinese rebellion.

By 1800, the Han Chinese settlers around today’s Changhua County were running out of land to cultivate; newcomers could only look towards the mountainous area to the east. So when a Shuishalian border guard approached Kuo and told him that his community had valuable land to farm, they devised a plan to obtain a permit from Qing officials to cultivate it. The pair applied for and received the permit in the name of a dead local chief, claiming that he wanted to rent the land to Han Chinese settlers.

Using this permit, Kuo and about 1,000 followers entered the area and immediately started encroaching on Aboriginal land, farming way beyond what they were allowed to.

Finally, Kuo and company pushed their way towards today’s Puli. The Aborigines there were powerful enough to resist him, leading to the stalemate that finally ended with the massacre.

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