Mon, Apr 15, 2002 - Page 3 News List

The Koo family: a century in Taiwan

Although Koo Hsien-jung is seen by some as a traitor for opening the Taipei Gate to invading Japanese troops, the family's complicated political history mirrors Taiwan's evolution as a nation


The Chinese garden of the Lukang Folk Arts Museum. In 1973, Koo Cheng-fu and his younger brother Koo Wei-fu donated their family house and established the Lukang Folk Arts Museum Foundation. Koo Yen-hon left China Synthetic Rubber Corp five years ago to take charge of the museum.


Five years ago, Koo Yen-hon (辜晏宏) left China Synthetic Rubber Corp, an affiliate of the Koo's group, and moved to Lukang with his wife to take charge of the Lukang Folk Arts Museum.

Knowing nothing about museum management, it was a challenging but honorable mission for Koo, because he was chosen by his family to take care of the house built by his grandfather, Koo Hsien-jung (辜顯榮).

The Baroque-style building, which took seven years to construct and was completed in 1919, symbolizes the glory of the Koo business empire over the past century.

Before 1895, Koo Hsien-jung was already a successful businessman in Lukang. Being a far-sighted and an ambitious man, the elder Koo had foreseen the declining position of his home town and the emergence of Taipei in terms of its trade and political importance.

With this in mind he moved to Taipei to develop his business and established a foothold in Tataocheng, now the Tatung district, then the business center of the Taipei area.

The concession of Taiwan

After China signed the Shimonoseki Treaty conceding Taiwan to Japan in April 1895, the Japanese, in May, immediately sent troops to take over the island.

In an effort to prevent Taiwan from being occupied by Japan, an independent republic called Democratic Taiwan (台灣民主國) was created in Taipei under the leadership of Tang Ching-sung (唐景崧).

After the Japanese army conquered Keelung in June, the short-lived republic eventually collapsed, and Tang, together with some key officials, fled to China.

Without a government to maintain law and order, Taipei City fell into chaos. Soldiers and gangsters became bandits. Business circles, in particular, were longing for an authority to enforce security and order.

Though the Japanese army had superiority over their Chinese counterparts and the Taiwanese militia in terms of training and weaponry, they had still failed to conquer Taipei City due to the solid construction of the Taipei Gate.

In an attempt to restore security, Tataocheng businessmen moved to open the Taipei Gate and welcome the arrival of Japanese troops.

On June 6, 1895, Koo Hsien-jung opened the gate and guided the Japanese into the city. Koo's move became the turning point of his business and political career.

From then on, he won the confidence of the Japanese by demonstrating his allegiance to the colonial rulers.

In 1896, he was nominated as head of the Taipei Security Bureau. In 1921, he was selected as a council member of the Taiwan Governor's Office. In 1934, he was chosen as the first Taiwanese to be a congressman of the upper house of the Diet.

Apart from his political career, he had also dealt with monopoly businesses, such as salt, sugar and opium. In addition, he had participated in the establishment of the Changhwa Commercial Bank and ran the pro-Japan Taiwan Jih-jih Hsin Pao.

But the family's eminence did not perish with the withdrawal of the Japanese in 1945. The family's present economic and political influence is no less than the elder Koo enjoyed.

Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫), the chairman of the Koo's group and Taiwan's chief negotiator for cross-strait affairs, was Koo Hsien-jung's fifth son.

Jeffrey Koo (辜濂松), president of Chinatrust Commercial Bank and a national policy adviser, is a third-generation heir from Koo Hsien-jung's fourth son, Koo Yueh-fu (辜岳甫).

But the Koo family did not always sail with the wind, because of changes in the government and the ironic way history has of repeating itself.

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