Sun, Dec 08, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: ‘Noble patriots’ vs ‘independence mobsters?’

The Mandarina Crown Hotel Incident was just one of many events in the buildup to the Formosa Incident, which observes its 40th anniversary on Tuesday and is considered a turning point in Taiwan’s struggle for democracy

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Protestors call for the release of ‘dangwai’ leader Yu Teng-fa in January 1979.

Photo courtesy of Chen Po-wen

Dec 9 to Dec 15

As Formosa magazine (美麗島雜誌) celebrated its launch on Sept. 8, 1979 at the Mandarina Crown Hotel (中泰賓館), members and supporters of Ji Feng magazine (疾風雜誌) gathered outside.

The two publications were naturally at odds with each other — Formosa was the mouthpiece of the dangwai (黨外), or politicians who opposed the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) one-party rule, while Ji Feng was founded to counter the opposition, whom it called “Taiwanese independence mobsters (台灣獨立黑拳幫).”

The official reason for Ji Feng’s gathering was to denounce the “traitor” Chen Wan-chen (陳婉真), who supported the dangwai from the US after being blacklisted from Taiwan for her political activities. Bringing a contingent of high school students, they yelled patriotic slogans and tried to block people from entering and leaving the hotel. Although there were skirmishes, the Mandarina Crown Hotel Incident did not descend into chaos — that would come three months later.

This event was just one of many conflicts that culminated in the Kaohsiung Incident, or Formosa Incident, on Dec. 10, 1979, when police and protesters clashed during a pro-democracy rally organized by Formosa magazine.

Much has been written about the incident and its ramifications, but everything began a year earlier, when the US announced that it would break relations with Taiwan for China.

SIMMERING TENSIONS

Having made significant political gains in the local elections of 1977 — despite accusations that the KMT rigged votes — the dangwai was hoping to further its success during the supplementary elections for the national assembly and legislature.

Since opposition political parties were banned, these independent candidates formed a dangwai canvassing team in October 1978 to campaign as a group, which alarmed the government. Their collective platform included ending martial law, government censorship, the ban on new political parties and discrimination against local languages, and calling for the release of political prisoners.

The first incident broke out on Dec. 6 during a dangwai press conference, when then-legislator Huang Hsin-chieh (黃信介) changed a phrase in the national anthem from “my party” to “my people,” causing pro-KMT politicians to rush the stage.

When the US announced that it was breaking relations with Taiwan for China on Dec. 16, just six days before the vote, the government suspended the elections. They issued several warnings that any pro-independence or anti-government activities would be severely punished. But on Dec. 25, the dangwai released a public statement criticizing the KMT’s authoritarian rule and reiterating its previous demands for democracy and freedom.

A month later, the government arrested dangwai leader Yu Teng-fa (余登發), tying him and his son to a sedition case and sentencing them to eight and two years in jail respectively. Led by then-Taoyuan County Commissioner Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良), the dangwai took to the streets for the first time to call for Yu’s release. The government then shut down two dangwai publications and moved to impeach Hsu for his actions.

The dangwai continued to organize gatherings throughout 1979, but in July, the government started suppressing them by force. On Aug. 4, the police shut down the underground newspaper Chao Liu (潮流) and arrested two of its staff in a widely-publicized incident after co-founder Chen, the dangwai supporter, protested by staging a hunger strike at Taiwan’s representative office in New York.

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