Taiwan in Time: May 16 to May 22
On April 20, 1949, negotiations broke down between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party, as the People’s Liberation Army continued its offensive, capturing the Nationalist capital of Nanjing three days later and then continuing to push southward.
Chen Cheng (陳誠), who had been sent to govern Taiwan five months before the offensive, was worried that Communists would try to sneak their way into Taiwan amid the mass Nationalist retreat across the Taiwan Strait, writes historian Chen Shih-chang (陳世昌) in his book, Taiwanese History, 70 Years After the War (戰後70年台灣史).
Courtesy of Google
On May 19, Chen Cheng declared martial law, to take effect at midnight the next day.
Chen Shih-chang writes in his memoir that martial law provisions made it easier for him to enact laws to restrict people entering and exiting Taiwan — the main purpose being to weed out possible communists. He was likely also responding to unrest within Taiwan, such as the student protests against police brutality that led to the April 6 Incident when military and police personnel stormed National Taiwan Normal University dorms and arrested about 200 students.
Some dispute the legality of this move, claiming that Chen Cheng had no right to declare martial law as, according to Article 39 of the Republic of China constitution, only the president had the power to do so and it had to be subsequently approved by the Legislative Yuan. Chen Cheng, however, claims in his memoir that he was acting under direct orders from the central government.
Photo: Tsai Chih-ming, Taipei Times
No matter what Chen Cheng’s intentions were, or whether it was legal or not, his declaration would remain in place for the next 38 years and 56 days — one of the longest duration of martial law in the modern era.
The real ramifications were that after the KMT’s full retreat to Taiwan, they would use it to keep Taiwan in a constant state of emergency and, combined with other laws, they exercised authoritarian control over the government and people.
It was the second time martial law had been declared in Taiwan. The first one was issued in 1947 by governor-general Chen Yi (陳儀) the day the 228 Incident broke out, and curfews were imposed in Taipei and Keelung. Chen lifted it the next day, only to declare it again on March 8 as the situation worsened and government troops clashed with civilians. Meanwhile, the commander in Hsinchu made his own declaration on March 4.
Photo: Wu Hsing-hua, Taipei Times
This period was short-lived. On May 16, Wei Dao-ming (魏道明) arrived to replace Chen Yi, and one of his first acts was to lift martial law and stop the government’s qingxiang (清鄉, the countrywide arresting or killing of civilians suspected to have ties to the uprising).
KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) declared martial law in December 1948 as the civil war worsened — but this issuance excluded non-war zones such as Tibet (which the KMT had no control over anyway), Qinghai and Taiwan.
Chen Cheng’s initial declaration closed all ports except for Keelung, Kaohsiung and Makung, established curfews for civilians and businesses, forbade merchants from raising prices or stocking up on goods for personal use and prohibited public gatherings, strikes, protests, bearing arms and “spreading rumors.” All citizens were required to have identification on them at all times, or face arrest.
Later that month, the Punishment of Rebellion Act (懲治叛亂條例) was enacted, which called for automatic death sentences for internal rebels or traitors to the country. The act specified that all trials be carried out by military tribunals regardless of the subject’s identity. Originally aimed towards Communist collaborators, the KMT would later use the act, along with the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion (動員戡亂時期臨時條款), to suppress freedom of speech, ban opposition parties and arrest suspected independence activists and other dissidents.
Finally, provisions were enacted allowing government screening and censorship of all publications, recordings and performances. Restrictions included defaming government leaders, promoting communism, swaying civilian loyalty toward government and disrupting social security — but in reality the scope was much wider, including sexually-explicit content and even martial arts novels.
With that, all conditions were ripe for the height of the White Terror era.
Taiwan in Time, a column about Taiwan’s history that is published every Sunday, spotlights important or interesting events around the nation that have anniversaries this week.
The media reported this week on another government stimulus program to make the birth rate rise. Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said that the budget for the government’s programs would reach NT$85 billion (US$3.05 billion) by 2023, and said that the government’s monthly subsidy for child support would rise from NT$3,500 to NT$5,000. These measures are a well-meaning attempt to address Taiwan’s globally low fertility and birth rates, but they are rather like poking a heart attack victim with a stick in the hope of reviving him. The problems driving the low birth rates are well known: the lack and cost of
May 3 to May 9 The Japanese soldiers thought they had already subjugated the Atayal when they set out toward the mountains of today’s eastern Taoyuan on May 5, 1907. The two brigades, one from the north and one from the south, were tasked with pushing the colonial government’s frontier defense lines deeper into Aboriginal territory to gain access to valuable camphor. “The defense lines were used to protect the economic activities, mainly camphor production, on the [Japanese] side of the line,” writes Wu Cheng-hsien (吳政憲) in the paper, “The Principle and Utilization of the Mortars on the Frontier Defense Lines”
Who would have thought that Taiwan — just over 100km from China and a few hundred kilometers away from Vietnam, which are the world’s first and second biggest consumers of pangolin scales — would become the last beacon of hope for this imperiled species? In fact, pangolins — from sub-species in Africa all the way down to Indonesia — are the world’s most highly trafficked mammal. Thought to cure anything from HIV to hangovers, ground pangolin scales and pangolin soup (the photos online are difficult to stomach) are expensive delicacies in Vietnam and China, and the rarer the species becomes,
Chu Mu-kun (朱木崑) carefully inspects a large boulder hauled from further up the Daniuci OId Trail (打牛崎古道). “This might work,” he says, rotating and repositioning it against the slope until it fits snugly. It takes two hours to manually make three steps using simple tools on the ancient trail, which has been rendered inaccessible due to the collapse of a wooden elevated walkway. “You have to transport goods up here to repair this walkway, which looks jarring against its surroundings to begin with,” Chu says. “Hand-built trails using readily available materials are easier to maintain and are better for the environment.