Sun, Jan 13, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The Taiwanese ‘hanjian’ problem

Despite the Judicial Yuan declaring that Taiwanese were not to be arrested as ‘Han Chinese traitors’ due to their Japanese citizenship during World War II, many were still targeted in purges that took place in both China and Taiwan starting in October 1945

By Han Cheung  /  Staff report

Then-Taiwan governor-general Chen Yi insisted on purging hanjian in Taiwan between 1945 and 1947, despite the Judicial Yuan declaring that Taiwanese did not fall within the definition of hanjian since they were Japanese citizens during the war.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Jan. 14 to Jan. 20

After World War II, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) started hunting down hanjian (漢奸, traitors to Han Chinese). But a tricky situation arose when 96 out of 195 suspected hanjian tried in Xiamen were actually Taiwanese.

According to the Hanjian Punishment Act (懲治漢奸條例) then in force, a hanjian was “a Chinese who directly or indirectly collaborates with the enemy, using various methods to hinder our military, sabotage our strategy, leak our secrets and harm our compatriots.”

A July 1947 government report showed that 26,970 people had been charged as hanjian, with 342 executed and 847 sentenced to life in prison. However, the authorities weren’t quite sure what to do with those Taiwanese who had been Japanese citizens up until 1945. The KMT saw them as a “deeply poisoned populace” brainwashed by the Japanese, and many had indeed worked closely with the colonial government or taken part in the Japanese war effort in China.

Quite a few Taiwanese were working in Japanese-occupied areas of China such as Xiamen. Historian Chen Tsui-lien (陳翠蓮) writes in Historical Rectification in Postwar Taiwan (台灣戰後初期的歷史清算) that while the bulk of them were civilians making an honest living, there were also those who turned to shady activities and were in cahoots with Japanese secret agents.

Even though the Judicial Yuan in January 1946 clarified that Taiwanese could not be tried as hanjian, they were still included in anti-hanjian purges across China. And in Taiwan, the governor-general Chen Yi (陳儀) also ignored the interpretation and asked people to report suspects between Jan. 16 and Jan. 29, 1946, collecting 335 names and arresting 41 over the next few months.

The Taiwan Minpao (台灣民報) newspaper protested, writing: “As Japanese citizens, Taiwanese bore the same responsibilities as Japanese, including fighting alongside them in the Japanese Army. According to the government’s definition, then, all Taiwanese can be seen as hanjian. Every single person who lived in Taiwan before Japanese surrender has helped the enemy in some way.”


After World War II, there was much Chinese resentment toward Taiwanese living in China. In September 1945, Guangzhou’s governor ran an article in the local newspaper in response to attacks on the 8,000-strong Taiwanese community.

“The Taiwanese have been deeply poisoned by the Japanese in the past, but they have realized their mistakes. We should act generously and help re-educate them so they can rediscover their conscience,” the article read.

Incidentally, the first war criminal executed in Guangzhou on Nov. 25, 1945, was Hsinchu native Chen Chin-tien (陳錦添), a minor officer charged with murder and selling opium on behalf of the Japanese government. The press closely followed his case, stressing that he was brainwashed by the colonizers, had “no recognition of the motherland” and even commenting that the execution was very “satisfying to watch.”

Despite the efforts of KMT figures, especially Taiwan-born and China-raised Chiu Nien-tai (丘念台), to protect Taiwanese, 74 were arrested in Guangdong’s anti-hanjian purges between November 1945 and May 1946.

However, even the Bureau of Investigation and Statistics wasn’t sure whether Taiwanese could be considered hanjian.

“We have found that hanjian should be limited to citizens of [the Republic of China]. Taiwan has fallen to Japan for 50 years, and it was the Qing Empire who ceded it. Therefore, Taiwanese were not citizens of our country until we reclaimed Taiwan. Those Taiwanese who participated in the killing, looting and burning alongside the Japanese troops should be tried under the appropriate war crimes, and it seems that those who were forced to join the Japanese Army or worked for the Japanese occupiers across China should not qualify as hanjian.”

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