Sun, Apr 07, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: A tale of two protests over specks of land

Taiwanese and Hong Kong students in the US led the protest over Japan’s claim to the still-disputed Diaoyutai Islands, but when students in Taiwan attempted to emulate their overseas counterparts, they faced government and institutional interference despite their patriotic intentions

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

A photo taken on April 10, 1971 shows the baodiao march in Washington.

Photo: Chen Yi-shan, Taipei TImes

April 8 to April 14

It began on April 12, 1971 with the appearance of a poster that read “Diaoyutai is ours! (釣魚台是我們的)” on the National Taiwan University (NTU) campus. Stemming from a territorial dispute between Japan, Taiwan and China over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), student movements exploded in both the US and Taiwan that year. The territorial dispute was never settled, and remains a contentious issue among the three countries today.

What’s intriguing about the baodiao (保釣, “protecting the Diaoyutais”) student movement is that students from Taiwan and Hong Kong studying in the US took the lead months before anything happened in Taiwan, organizing two well-attended marches in January across seven American cities. A second wave of protests in San Francisco and Washington DC took place on April 9 and April 10, just before the poster appeared at NTU.

On April 13, a 10-meter long banner was hung outside the now-demolished agricultural economics building that borrowed a slogan from the 1919 May Fourth Movement (五四運動) that initially broke out to prevent Shandong Province from being handed over to Japan: “One can conquer China’s territory, but we cannot just give it away; one can kill the people of China, but we will not bow our heads,” the banner read.

However, due to martial law the student movement in Taiwan faced considerable interference from the government and schools — even when their actions were in the name of patriotism and the national interest.


The Diaoyutai — known as the Diaoyu Islands in China and Senkakus in Japan — are a group of uninhabited islands 186km northeast of Keelung. The US controlled the islands after World War II along with the Ryukyu Islands, and in the late 1960s the US were preparing to return the Ryukyus to Japan.

Nobody seemed to care about the insignificant Diaoyutai rocks until the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in 1968 revealed the possibility of petroleum reserves in nearby waters. Taiwan claimed the islands in July 1969, which Japan officially rejected the following year.

Japan argued that it had already occupied the islands in January 1895 before the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki in which the Qing Empire ceded Taiwan and Penghu to Japan. Thus, it should not be included in the territories that the Republic of China (ROC) government took ownership of after World War II. Furthermore, neither Taiwan nor China made any claim toward the islands until the discovery of oil.

The ROC government on Taiwan in turn argued that several Qing Empire annals showed the islands as part of it its territory. There was also evidence that in 1884 the Japanese government denied a request from Okinawa to officially incorporate the rocks into its jurisdiction because they didn’t want to anger China.

While the ROC claimed that Japan never formally annexed the islands, Japan argues that it did so in January 1895. The ROC also believed that they should have recieved the islands along with Taiwan and Penghu after World War II. Geologically, they argued that the rocks were connected to Taiwan rather than Okinawa.

On Sept. 2, 1970, four China Times (中國時報) journalists traveled to the islands, planting a ROC flag and painting “Long Live President Chiang [Kai-shek (蔣介石)]” on a nearby rock. Okinawan police arrived and removed the flag two weeks later. This incident was widely reported, and the first baodiao organization was formed in November at a gathering of Taiwanese and Hong Kong students at Princeton University. China’s People’s Daily (人民日報) claimed ownership of the islands in December.

This story has been viewed 3704 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top