Sun, Dec 23, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Patriotic poet or embezzling deserter?

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A Japanese depiction of its troops landing in Keelung to commence its takeover of Taiwan in June 1895. Republic of Formosa president Tang Ching-sung fled to China shortly after the Japanese conquered Keelung, and vice president Chiu Feng-chia followed later.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Dec. 24 to Dec. 30

History can be convoluted: Chiu Feng-chia (丘逢甲), vice-president of the short-lived Republic of Formosa (台灣民主國), fled across the Taiwan Strait in 1895 and helped create the Republic of China (ROC), whose government ended up fleeing to Chiu’s homeland of Taiwan in 1949.

And even though Chiu secretly left Taiwan shortly after the Japanese occupying forces easily took Keelung in May 1895, Taichung’s Fengchia University is named after him as an “anti-Japanese hero.”

Many in Taiwan see him as a deserter, and Lien Heng’s (連橫) General History of Taiwan (台灣通史) even alleges that Chiu looted public funds before he left, contrasting him with Wu Tang-hsing (吳湯興) and Hsu Hsiang (徐驤), both of whom fought the Japanese to the death.

Those who favor him call him a “patriotic poet” (愛國詩人) who fled Taiwan in regret after organizing the Republic of Formosa and putting up a futile resistance. He spent the rest of his life writing mournful poems lamenting the loss of Taiwan, and named his firstborn son Chiu Nien-tai (丘念台, literally “missing Taiwan”).

Not only does this controversial figure have a university named after him, there’s also the Chiu Feng-chia Memorial Park in Taichung and a commemorative stele at Maolishan Park (貓裏山) in his home county of Miaoli.

REFUSING TO YIELD

First of all, the book Collections of Essays on Taiwanese History Records(台灣史志論叢) by historian Huang Hsiu-cheng (黃秀政) states that due to the chaotic circumstances, no concrete records were left behind regarding whether Chiu really took the money when he left, making it an issue not worth debating. What really matters is his legacy, Huang writes.

Chiu was born on Dec. 26, 1864 in Miaoli, when Taiwan was part of the Qing Empire. A gifted child, he became an imperial scholar at the age of 14 and passed the highest level of imperial examinations in Beijing in 1889. However, he soon returned to Taiwan, preferring to be an educator rather than serve at the Qing court, which was in disarray and would collapse two decades later.

While Taiwan was not involved in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894, Chiu felt uneasy, telling a friend: “Turbulent times are coming. The Japanese are burning with ambition, and they’ve drooled over this place (Taiwan) for a long time.”

He was right — the Qing ceded Chiu’s homeland to the Japanese victors in the Treaty of Shimonoseki.

Chiu’s actions up to his departure can truly be considered heroic. He traveled the country to recruit a resistance army, reportedly often breaking down in tears at the end of his speeches. He wrote to then-provincial governor Tang Ching-sung (唐景崧) 10 times stating that he would do all he could do defend Taiwan.

After the signing of the treaty, Chiu and other members of the Taiwanese elite begged the Qing and other foreign powers to help them, but the Qing decided to sacrifice Taiwan to keep the rest of its territory intact. Imperial tutor Weng Tonghe (翁同龢) writes in his diary: “Each word of the telegram sent by … Chiu Feng-chia was soaked in tears and blood. Reading it has made me felt ashamed to stand in front of my people.”

Having no choice, Chiu and his peers turned to plan B and declared Taiwan an independent Republic of Formosa so that it would no longer be Qing territory, and then to fight off the Japanese. Tang was chosen as president, while Chiu served as vice-president and commander of the resistance troops. The new government was inaugurated on May 25, 1895.

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