Chiang attracted the PRC
I would like to disagree with my good friend Arthur Waldron on his recent statement that "had Chiang [Kai-shek, 蔣介石] and the Nationalists not taken refuge in Taiwan, it is a near certainty that the island would now be a province of China" (Letters, May 22, page 8).
I suggest that if Chiang and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had not moved to Taiwan in the late 1940s, but rather had remained in Hong Kong or Shanghai (or simply been defeated), the PRC would never have developed such strong feelings about "Taiwan."
Taiwan became a bone of contention because the Nationalists moved there and perpetuated their civil war against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
If Chiang had remained in China, then it is rather certain that Taiwan would have followed the same basic route of so many other countries in Asia and Africa, which were decolonized and gained their independence in the 1950s and 1960s. The Philippines, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Malaysia, Ghana, and other countries were all "desperately poor and little known to the outside world," but they were subsequently recognized by the international community.
Research by a number of people, including former American Institute in Taiwan director Richard Bush, has shown that the CCP didn't show the slightest interest in Taiwan until approximately the time of the Cairo Declaration of 1943, and they did so because Chiang had started showing interest in the island. There is of course one famous 1936 quote from Mao Ze-dong (
It is clear that in the second half of the 1940s, the main preoccupation of the CCP was to win its civil war against Chiang. They only focused their attention on Taiwan because Chiang and his remaining Nationalists fled there. Thus, Taiwanese saw their island and its future become a hostage of a civil war in which they had no part.
Gerrit van der Wees,
Better off without Chiang
Many thanks to Arthur Waldron for his professed support for the Taiwanese quest for self-determination and democracy. His assertion that Taiwan was desperately poor and little known during World War II, however, completely ignores historical facts.
In Asia, Taiwan was second only to Japan in terms of development in infrastructure, educational level and GDP during the period up to the end of World War II.
Taiwanese life today would be better off if Chiang Kai-shek had never escaped and taken up the position of unwelcome dictator of Taiwan until his death.
Chiang's merits, if any, were overshadowed by his criminal acts, which included massacre, terrorizing the populace and despotism.
If Chiang had been administrating based on the interests of Taiwan, he would have accepted then US ambassador George Bush's advice to remain in the UN General Assembly in 1971.
No credible evidence supports Arthur's contention that the US would have handed Taiwan over to the PRC for the sake of unity.
I read with interest Arthur Waldron's letter. I agree with his assertion that without Chiang Kai-shek and his army, Taiwan would now be a province of China.
I also agree "that the contribution made by Chiang and his government must not be ignored," as Waldron observed.
Not ignoring his contribution simply means knowing history.
But this doesn't mean Chiang should be glorified or immortalized in any way. To do so, to say the least, is in very poor taste, considering the large number of Taiwanese and Mainlanders who suffered under his regime. The victims of his dictatorship could do without such reminders.
That Chiang's "contribution" kept the communists out of Taiwan is true. However, the generalissimo's considerable efforts were driven by his lust for power and his desire to "retake the Mainland" thereby restoring his position of absolute rule over China, which in his vision included Taiwan, of course.
A free and democratic Taiwan was the last thing on Chiang's mind.
If Chiang contributed to the freedom Taiwan currently enjoys, he did so completely unwittingly. Indeed, if he were alive and in charge today, Taiwan would still be under martial law, under the rule of a one party dictatorship and I would face harsh punishment indeed for writing this letter.
Remember the Korean War?
Waldron's letter is filled with a combination of exaggerations and gross simplifications as he tries to make a case for Chiang Kai-shek.
Taiwan was not taken over by the Chinese Communist Party because of the Korean War, not because the Nationalists came here. US president Harry S. Truman was fed up with the corrupt Chiang regime and willing to let Mao Zedong and Chiang duke it out. Russia's support for North Korea upset the balance in Asia and made Truman put the 7th Fleet in the Taiwan Strait. Containment of Russia's communism was the goal. Chiang's presence was more of an accident.
As for the claim that Taiwan was "desperately poor," it was desperately poor because of what happened between 1945 and 1949 when Chiang gutted the island to support his lost cause in China. After World War II, Taiwan had damage from bombs, but it had food and infrastructure. Waldron should read the work of George Kerr, who was here then.
Taiwan under Japan was not a third world country -- it was far more advanced than most places in China and its educated were more involved in a call for democracy than any of Chiang's underlings -- until Chiang's government killed them off in the 228 Incident and ensuing White Terror.
Many voices in the US wanted to get rid of Chiang because he was a corrupt dictator. They wanted a more competent general. Waldron's implication that "many" people in the US wanted relations with China is absurd.
The actions of former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who had a history of selling out countries, were only guided by his aim to contain Russia.
Waldron's story of going to Kinmen in the early 1970s caps off the typical myopic vision that most US observers had when the generalissimo let them tour select areas and monitored who they talked to. The Mainlanders were the core of the conscripted army because Chiang knew he could count on their loyalty. They had no where to go and Chiang feared arming too many Taiwanese. Many Taiwanese had fought for Japan and Chiang had even used them as cannon fodder against the Communists in China. Waldron implies the Taiwanese were helpless waifs.
Taiwan has not been fortunate in its despots; Chiang kept democracy at bay during his life and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo (
Chiang made Taiwan poor
What Arthur Waldron does not seem to consider is that Chiang Kai-shek is the one who brought Taiwan into poverty. Japan had treated Taiwan as a model colony to show off to the world. At that time, Taiwan's infrastructure was the most modern in Asia.
Though it suffered some war damage, it was in the best situation after the war -- that is, until Chiang Kai-shek sent his henchman, executive administrator and garrison commander Chen Yi (
There were plenty of modern Taiwanese intellectuals educated in Japan who could have helped run the country and get the after-war economy back on track. Tragically, the KMT decided to eliminate all intellectual opposition, beginning with the 228 Incident in 1947 and continuing with the White Terror. His regime arrested dissidents and suspected dissidents, put them in prison and murdered them.
Just imagine what Taiwan would be like if the KMT had not shown up on its doorstep. Japanese-trained Taiwanese intellectuals would have had the chance to organize a new sovereign state after Japan relinquished its claim to the island in the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco. Even as the US rebuilt Japan, a delegation from Taiwan would have come and asked for aid. Without Chiang to demand to have Taiwan at the Cairo meeting, there would never have been an instance when anyone would consider Taiwan part of China, since it had been ceded in perpetuity to Japan in 1895 by the Qing Dynasty, which incidentally was Manchu, not Chinese. And if it had not been for Chiang's corrupt party, the communists might never have won the war in China. The Mainlanders might never have been displaced and we might today have two democracies smiling at each other across the Taiwan Strait.
`Independence Day' idiocy
What conceivable practical purpose could possibly be served by Bruce Herschensohn's suggestion that Taiwan declare Oct. 25 "Independence Day" (US academic proposes `independence' holiday, March 23, page 2)?
It is a call for a monumental exercise in cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.
"Over the years, you have done everything in the world to try to accommodate the international community. You can't win. Take exactly the opposite course," he urges.
Or, more succinctly: "You've been isolated all this time. Make yourselves more isolated."
His comparison with the Palestinian Authority is wildly misplaced.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an extremely deep and prolonged crisis and confrontation. The China-Taiwan situation is not. Perhaps Herschensohn would like to make it so.
As for President Chen Shui-bian's (
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