Sun, Jan 12, 2020 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Yijiangshan: Moving the Americans to action?

Over 500 ROC troops perished in a doomed battle against communist invaders as part of a Chiang Kai-shek-led plan to rally US support

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Chinese Nationalist Party soldiers of war are seen being taken to China after losing the battle of Yijiangshan in 1955.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Jan. 13 to Jan. 19

The battle began when People’s Liberation Army (PLA) warplanes blasted Yijiangshan Island (一江山) in the morning of Jan. 18, 1955. They then heavily shelled the uninhabited rock, just 1.24km square in area, for about three hours before commencing the ground invasion.

The defending Republic of China (ROC) troops knew they had no chance of winning, but they had signed a blood pledge to fight the enemy to the bitter end. Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) leader Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) had given the following instructions: “Guarding [Yijiangshan] for a day will raise the spirits of people in Taiwan; guarding it for two days will strike terror into the Chinese communists; and guarding it for three days will reverse the attitude of the White House.”

The Ministry of National Defense states that the troops held out for over 61 hours, and in the afternoon of Jan. 20, commander Wang Sheng-ming (王生明) radioed the ROC army base in nearby Dachen Island: “The enemy is just 50 meters away. In my hand is a grenade I have saved for myself,” before pulling the pin.

The government in Taiwan declared that all 720 ROC troops on Yijiangshan sacrificed their lives while killing over 3,000 enemies; the Chinese side claims that they killed 519 and captured 567 ROC troops while losing 393 of their own. The fact that the ROC troops didn’t all die was confirmed in 2011 when one of the prisoners, Chen Hsiao-pin (陳小斌), was allowed to visit Taiwan.

Nevertheless, the troops fought a valiant battle, although Chiang has been criticized for sending them into an unwinnable fight for political means and to keep the nation’s war spirit up. The government, however, maintained that the battle did change the White House’s position as the Americans were moved by the troops’ bravery, contributing to the security of Taiwan for the next 60 years.

TESTING THE TREATY

During the 1950 to 1953 Korean War, relative calm settled over the two sides, as the US Navy’s Taiwan Patrol Force “neutralized” the Taiwan Strait.

This blockade was lifted in February 1953 and hostilities resumed. Chiang pressed the US to sign a formal agreement to defend Taiwan, but to no avail.

In August 1954, then-Chinese premier Zhou Enlai declared “Taiwan must be liberated,” and the Chinese military started shelling Kinmen, Matsu and Dachen islands off the Chinese coast.

M. Taylor Fravel writes in Strong Borders, Secure Nation that the Chinese intensified its attacks that year to deter the US and Taiwan from signing a defense treaty. Instead, it expedited treaty negotiations.

That December, Taiwan and the US signed the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty. The US naturally had its own objectives: while protecting Taiwan from attack, the treaty also essentially curbed Taiwanese aggression toward China. As a result, the US avoided direct conflict with China or the Soviet Union.

Beijing was afraid that the offshore islands would be included in the treaty since that would “embolden Chiang to conduct more raids against the mainland and also greatly weaken China’s ability to seize Kinmen and Matsu as steps toward an attack on Taiwan,” Fravel writes.

Fravel adds that in addition to removing the KMT presence from the coast of Zhejiang Province, the Chinese attacked Yijiangshan to “probe the treaty’s scope,” as it only explicitly mentions Taiwan and Penghu. During the invasion, the PLA troops were given instructions to actively avoid any conflict with US forces.

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