Taiwan’s White Terror


As a colony of Japan, Taiwan participated in  world war II. World War II ended on 15 August 1945, and at first the people of Taiwan welcomed the governor sent by the Republic of China. By 1950, the inhabitants of Taiwan had already served in various uniforms, the Japanese Imperial Army, the Kuomintang military, and even a few with the Chinese communists. However, the people of Taiwan as a whole experienced indiscriminate slaughter following the February 28 Incident of 1947; there was deep disappointment with the “mother country,” which not long before had landed in their midst to a warm welcome.Thereafter, as the inhabitants of Taiwan sought a way out of their despair, an underground organization directed by the Chinese Communist Party, the Taiwan Provincial Work Committee, worked to recruit secret party members. It had less than one hundred members prior to the February 28 Incident, but by the end of 1949 its membership had mushroomed to over 1300. The organization was later cruelly uprooted. 

On the morning of 20 May 1949, the “Taiwan area” came under martial law. The April 6 Incident at National Taiwan University and National Taiwan Normal University took place in the same year, and three months later Penghu witnessed the Shandong Refugee Students Case involving over one thousand people. On 11 December 1949 school principal Chang Min-chih and six others were executed in Taipei. In August 1949, the underground publication Kuangming News was broken up by the authorities, following which the Keelung Work Committee–Middle Case were each busted in succession. In October dissidents were arrested throughout the island, while in January 1950 Provincial Work Committee secretary Tsai Hsiao-chien was arrested. Leading Work Committee members Chen Tse-min, Chang Chih-chung and Hung You-chiao were arrested one after another. Tsai found a chance to escape, but in April he was nabbed again in Chuchi, Chiayi. After that, the number of those who had been arrested, put under surveillance or house arrest, had been murdered, or had turned over a new leaf far exceeded the underground membership of the group. Implementing its White Terror policy of “better to arrest one hundred by mistake than to let one [guilty party] go,” the Kuomintang brought hardship and misery to countless families throughout Taiwan. This 38-year rule of martial law, running from 20 May 1949 to 15 July 1987, therefore goes by the name White Terror. 

The outbreak of the war in Korea and the onset of the Cold War between West and East brought about a new international situation for Taiwan, where it became one of the countries on the front line between the Free World’s stand against communism. At that time the government, calling itself “Free China,” all the while conducted within Taiwan a harsh rule of terror, eliminating dissidents as so-called “bandit spies” and “rebels.” According to the authorities’ own preliminary statistics, from December 1949 to the start of the Korean War, they executed twenty people, all of whom were from the mainland provinces, while from June 25 to the end of 1950 they executed 145. 148 people were executed in 1951, 208 in 1952, 147 in 1953, 108 in 1954, 106 in 1955, 47 in 1956, 20 in 1957, 10 in 1958, 13 in 1959, and 7 in 1960, while for the years 1961 to 1972 the total was 49, and in 1971-72 it was 18 all of whom were from the mainland provinces. Of the thousand-odd lives claimed by this tyrannical rule, about forty percent were those hailing from the mainland. 

The February 28 Incident and the rule by White Terror not only represented the wholesale usurpation of human rights during the latter half of the twentieth century; both directly and indirectly it created a deep trauma permeating all levels of society, just as if society as a whole were being cooped up on some prison island. Together with the intensified ethnic tensions brought on by the rulers, it sowed the seeds of political identity issues that remain with us today. 

Although the Republic of China signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations on 10 December 1948, the behavior of the government during the era of the White Terror provided an historical lesson quite contrary to the Universal Declaration. 

Article 30 of the Declaration reads, “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein,” yet during the period of martial law, the infringement of the rights of untold number of people meant that every last one of the Declaration’s articles was being violated. 

The park’s limited exhibition cannot give full expression to the actual circumstances surrounding the usurpation of human rights that went on day in and day out. It is to be hoped that Taiwan’s citizens will open up their minds unreservedly, and from the tragic history of the past come to a deep understanding of the importance of human rights. Only if a greater number of our citizens take it upon themselves to care about the true facts of history, can the ideas of human rights become a part of everyday life. Everyone has not only the responsibility for protecting their own human rights, but also the responsibility for standing up for everyone else’s rights. 

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