While celebrating the anniversary of the lifting of martial law in 1987, it is easy to forget what life was like at a time when many aspects of society -- including books, music and TV and radio programs -- were heavily censored and under the tight control of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime.
Dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) declared martial law on May 19, 1949, after his KMT troops lost the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong's (毛澤東) Communist Party and withdrew to Taiwan.
Martial law was not lifted until July 15, 1987.
"Only those who lived through the martial law era know how important freedom and democracy are," said Lee Shiao-feng (李筱峰), a professor of history at Shih Hsin University.
Lee knew first-hand what life was like during the martial law era.
One of Lee's books, The Confession of a Defector (叛徒的告白), was banned by the authorities on the grounds that it "sabotaged the credibility of the government," "instigated dissension between the government and the people," "violated the basic national policy," "confused public opinion" and "damaged popular sentiments."
Publications were strictly managed by the Taiwan Garrison Command and regulated by the Publication Control Act (出版物管制辦法) during the martial law era.
Lee said he felt that the ban was "ridiculous" because the book was a collection of articles he had already published in newspapers. The books were recalled a few months after hitting the shelves.
A magazine he co-founded in 1979, called the 80s, encountered a similar fate.
The magazines were confiscated and he was ordered to stop publication for a year. To keep the magazine going, Lee and his cohorts obtained another license for a magazine which went under a different name, the Asian.
When the Asian was also ordered to cease publication, they acquired another license for the magazine, this time under the name Current.
His phone was tapped, mail checked and he was constantly followed by intelligence officers.
Lee thought his life would be different after leaving the magazine and going to school, but that was not the case. He was almost maneuvered out of graduate school, but the school had to let him in because he had obtained the highest marks in the entrance exam.
No new political parties were allowed during the 38 years of martial law. Among the existing parties at the time were the KMT, the Chinese Youth Party (中國青年黨) and the Chinese Democratic Socialist Party (中國民主社會黨).
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was founded in September 1987, although the ban was not officially lifted until January 1988.
President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has attributed the lifting of martial law to the social forces that came into effect following the Kaohsiung Incident, with the immediate cause being the founding of the DPP.
The December 1979 Kaohsiung Incident occurred when the KMT authorities broke up an anti-government rally organized by Formosa magazine.
Ten days after the DPP was founded, then president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) announced he would lift martial law and allow the formation of opposition parties.
Newspapers at the beginning of the martial law era could not exceed six pages. The number was increased to eight pages in 1958, 10 in 1967 and 12 in 1974. There were only 31 newspapers, 15 of which were owned by either the KMT, the government or the military.
It was common for newspapers to be asked to run propaganda stories or make last-minute editorial changes to suit the government's needs. Foreign-language newspapers were also strictly regulated. Only those that strongly opposed Communism were allowed to enter the market.
The Chinese-language China Times and United Daily News capitalized on the regulations and grew to become the two mainstream local newspapers, said Chen Yi-shen (陳儀深), a researcher at Academia Sinica's Institute of Modern History.
While the media were under the tight grip of the Taiwan Garrison Command, soldiers stationed at the post office could open mail and listen to private telephone conversations at the telephone company for "security reasons," he said.
Many songs, both Chinese and Taiwanese, were banned during the martial law era.
Teresa Teng's (鄧麗君) popular Chinese song When Will You Come Back? (何日君再來) was banned because the authorities considered the Chinese word "you" (君) -- pronounced jun in Mandarin -- was a reference to the Communists liberation "army" (軍), which has the same pronunciation.
Yao Su-ron's (姚蘇蓉) The Breaker of a Pure Heart (負心的人) was not only banned, Yao was arrested on stage before she could start to sing it.
Dubbed the "queen of banned songs," Yao had about 80 or 90 songs banned.
Wen Shia (文夏) was touted the "king of banned songs." Nearly 100 of his songs were banned.
Taiwanese songs with titles such as Mending the Net (補破網), Sentimental Memories (舊情綿綿) and Mama, I Am Brave (媽媽我也真勇健) were thought to "corrode military morale," "reflect the plight of the people" and "create nostalgia for life in mainland China."
Official statistics show that more than 930 songs were banned from 1979 to 1987. Among the 10 reasons given by the authorities for banning songs were that they promoted left-wing ideology, reflected Communist propaganda, corroded popular sentiments and endangered the physical and mental health of youth.
Chen Yen-hui (
At that time, Taiwanese were allowed to elect local representatives equivalent to today's county commissioners, only representing larger constituencies.
"Democracy is a gradual process. Imagine what Taiwan would have been like had martial law not been instituted," he said.
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