This is the preface of the book titled Memoir of Chen Mingzhong (陈明忠回忆录) written by Lu Zhenghui (吕正惠) who is a university professor at Taiwan Tamkang University (淡江大学), the editor was Lin Na (李娜). Chen Mingzhong has been an activist in Taiwan since the 1950s. I feel that this part of Taiwan’s history is so well buried that it needs to be better known. In the following translation, I left out the part regarding the process of editing the book.
In the 1990s, young people from Taiwan who supported unification with the mainland, hope that the political prisoners from the 1950s (who I will called old classmates) will write their memoirs. At that time, Taiwan public’s opinion space was completely dominated by independence revisionist historical point of view, I hope my old classmates memoirs would create a balancing effect. However, my old classmates ignored our suggestion, they prefer to do practical things, in their view reminiscence is useless. On top of that, martial law has only recently been lifted and they were not sure what topics are off limit.
At that time, our targets are Mr. Lin Shu Yang (林书扬) and Mr. Chen Ming Zhong (陈明忠). Mr. Lin is totally against the idea of writing a memoir. As a result, little is known about his life when he passed away. Mr. Chen is more willing to talk about the past but he only spoke about it occasionally and has no intention of writing a memoir.
A few years ago, the editor in chief of Shixiang (思想) magazine, requested Chen Yuzhong (陈宜中) and I to do a joint interview of Mr. Chen. After that interview was published it was reposted by many mainland websites. Many mainland readers commented that it improved their understanding of Taiwanese history.
Because of this, Mr.Chen agreed to give an oral interview and let us complete a memoir. (Translator’s Note: To get the readers straight to the points the few paragraphs of the editing process were left out).
Chen was born in 1929 and experienced the last stage of Japanese occupation of Taiwan. When Taiwan was returned to China, he was a sixteen year old high school graduate, and his medium of instruction in school has been Japanese. When he was 18 he got involved in the 228 incident, shortly after that incident he joined the Chinese Communist Party underground. He was arrested in 1950 and was released on 1960. After his release, he became an important manager for an emerging Taiwanese corporation. Nevertheless, his heart has always been with development of his country, he spent a lot of money gathering information sourced from Japanese (Translator’s note: At that time the KMT has strict control on publication much like the mainland, non-officially approved reading material is hard to obtain), and keep in close contact with his comrades in the island. He was arrested for a 2nd time in 1976. The Nationalist Party (KMT) actually wanted to use this case to arrest all democratic movement supporters. But Chen refused to divulge the information they need despite being put under extreme torture. The KMT initially wanted to sentence him to death but due to the support of overseas human right group and Diaoyu Island support groups in the US, his sentence was commuted to 15 years of prison, he was released due to medical reason in 1987. When he was freed, the separatist movement has become very strong, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed shortly, and martial law was lifted. Chen organized left wing supporters to counter the Taiwan separatist movement.
Chen’s oral memoir mainly revolves around the above incident, and was mainly in the form of narration. As such his political view can be hard to interpret, for this reason an article “The Road to Unification of a Taiwanese Leftist” was included in the book. Chen’s life spanned over a period of seventy years which reflect not only history of Taiwan, but can be said to reflect the experience of a person in modern China. I hope to use this history to give modern readers who know very little of this period a deeper understanding through analysis. I also hope this book can be published on the mainland and my target readers include mainland youth which I hope will generate further interest and discussion.
My preface involved three main topics:
1. The relationship between Japanese colonial government and the Taiwanese people.
2. The KMT and separatist movement.
3. China’s 1949 revolution and its legacy.
Most mainlanders assume the Taiwanese people has a positive impression of Japanese colonial rule, to the extent that the sweet memories linger. The truth is, it is totally against historical fact, the impression was fermented only by the Taiwanese media for the last or two decades. In the beginning of the oral memoir, Mr. Chen clearly states that it is the bullying by Japanese classmates in his Gaoxiong (高雄) high school that gave him a lasting impression and affected his subsequent thought and action. This is not an isolated incident. Chen’s predecessor, the leader of Taipei Communist underground movement after the 228 incident, the late Guo Xiuczong (郭琇宗) mirrored his experience. Guo who was eventually sentenced to death by the KMT, was born into a rich land holding family, he attended the best high school in Taipei. He also became an ardent nationalist and socialist because of his experience of bullying by his Japanese classmates. If one is familiar with Japanese colonial history, and the life of the prominent personalities in Taiwan, this type of experience is very common to those Taiwanese who joined the Communist underground after the war.
Secondly, the condition of Taiwanese farmers are worse under the Japanese than the late Qing period. This fact can be deduced from studying history. That is why all anti-Japanese movement were started by farmers led by highly educated Taiwanese. This is also why most main stream Taiwanese intellectual became sympathetic to the Communist movement.
Non left leaning nationalistic land owner like Lin Xian Tang (林献堂) etc, are also very dissatisfied with Japanese rule. Under Japanese occupation, they have very little political say and their business interest was displaced by Japanese companies. They have high hope in the return of Taiwan to China, at that time they wish to become the political and business leaders of Taiwan. As such, when that happened, they gave overwhelming welcome to Nationalist officials and troops who came to take over from the Japanese, all these fact are recorded by the newspaper of the period.
Unfortunately, these sentiments changed after the takeover by the KMT. The transition was almost a total disaster, in a little less than two years the infamous 228 incident spread to the whole island. The KMT became the byword for corruption and incompetence. Under the influence of progressive (here means Communist) mainlanders, the Taiwanese left leaning intellectual joined the Communist underground en mass. The Communist is also gaining the upper hand in the civil war, they believed that Taiwan will be liberated soon and a new China will emerged. Unexpectedly, the Korean War broke out and the US once again gave their total support to the KMT. The US also backed the mass arrest of suspected Communist sympathisers in what became known as the “white terror”. Under the policy of “It is better to kill one hundred innocence than to let off one guilty”, the Communist movement was suppressed. As a result, all nationalistic Taiwanese were either executed or put into prison on the Green Island (绿岛), those that managed to get away escape to the mainland. The nationalistic and anti-Japanese movement that existed was almost totally extinguished.
Non left leaning landowners (and left leaning landowners like Guo and Chen) worked grudgingly with the KMT. In order to reduce leftist support among landless farmers in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, the US forced these regions to institute land reform policy. The KMT was a willing participants because it reduced the power of the land owning class. (Translator’s note: At that time like the mainland, nearly 8/10 of private land was in the hand of the land owning elite). On top of it the KMT government paid less than 1/3 the market price of the land they appropriated from the wealthy landowners. (Translator’s note: Although the Japanese dominated the political and economic landscape in Taiwan, they never appropriate the properties of wealthy Taiwanese on such a large scale). As a result, the land owning class hated the KMT even more. Some land owning leaders like Lin Xiantang (林献堂) eventually fled to Japan, and even supported pro-Taiwan independence landowner Liao Wenyi (廖文毅) separatist movement. As such, Chen concluded that the land reform policy gave birth to modern Taiwan independence movement.
With the disappearance of the strongest leftist and patriotic movement; the landowning class who used to passively cooperate or resist Japanese rule also divert their hatred against the KMT. The descendents of the former group who were executed, imprisoned or exiled also hated the KMT. The landowning class although marginalized politically and economically still have access to good education, especially tertiary education in the US. Their disdain for the KMT propelled them to form a pro-independence movement in the US. (Translator’s note: The US tacitly allowed these movement so as to use them as leverage against to put pressure the KMT on issue such as diplomacy, politics and trade etc, much like how the US would use similar movement against the CCP). The overseas movement that grow in the 1970s eventually joined with the movement that expanded in the island in the 1980s.
The pro-independence movement in the US started to romanticize Japanese colonial rule. In the eyes of the average Taiwanese who has experience Japanese and KMT rule, they feel that Japanese officials are nevertheless more competent and corruption free than the KMT officials. As for exploitation and oppression, both the Japanese and KMT are about equal. It is under these comparison that the Japanese rule became nostalgic. Of course, the biggest factor is that most anti-Japanese sentiment as exemplified by the left leaning patriotic movement have been suppressed by the KMT.
The KMT definitely acted in self interest when suppressing the anti-Japanese patriotic movement in Taiwan. The act nevertheless, allowed a stable environment for economic development. The land reform can also be considered right. For without that reform, the subsequent economic boom cannot happened. (Translator’s note: The land reform allows Taiwan to transition from an agricultural based economy to an industrialized one). The landowning class misgiving about this part of history should be criticized.
To be honest, the KMT’s contribution should be analyze objectively. After the land reform, the KMT instituted a low cost universal education system, it also implemented a very fair unified examination system, which allowed many children of Taiwan’s poor farming family to eventually be successful in life. On top of that, KMT popularized the use of Mandarin Chinese (known as national language in Taiwan). The spread of Mandarin Chinese allow the Minnan people, Hakka people, Mainlanders, and also the aboriginal communities to communicate freely. It also allow easy communicate between both sides of the strait, objectively it lays a good foundation for unification. Of course, the high handed way the KMT used in the 1950s and 1960s to ban the use of local Taiwanese dialects should be criticized. Again the merits out weight the demerits. The use of Mandarin Chinese is so prevalent that even pro-Independence Taiwanese could not replace it with so-called Taiwanese language (basically the Minnan Chinese dialect).
After the 1970s, and especially after the lifting of martial law in 1987, the history and opinion that has been suppressed by the KMT came into the open. The ruling class of the KMT can no longer denied this part of history. With the clandestine support of the US, the opposition can no longer be suppressed by the use of legal means. This gave birth to the two main camps of the political arena in Taiwan, namely, the blue and green camp. During the rule of the KMT, many local Taiwanese cooperated closely with the KMT and their interest is closely tied with the KMT (the blue). At the same time, many politically neutral Taiwanese also supported the KMT because the Democratic Progressive Party (the green) position can be too radical or extremist in its approach. The blue and green camp support base is roughly equal now.
However, the blue camp is very disunited. The core of the KMT is the descendents of anti-Communist that was defeated and has retreated to Taiwan, their descendents also inherited deep anti-Communist view. They believe that although the KMT committed mistakes, it contributed to the prosperity of Taiwan. That is why when facing increased challenges from the green camp they refused the unification position of the CCP. Fundamentally, the blue camp is like the green camp, it does not possess any nationalist ideology. Except for their symbolic adherence to the Republic of China, the blue is as pro-independence as the green. The blue’s goal is to keep Taiwan independent from the People’s Republic of China. In essence, today’s KMT simply represented another form of Taiwan independence movement. It can be said that, the long term collaboration between the KMT and the US in their anti-Communist (and eventually anti-China) propaganda lead to the present feuds between the blue and green on Taiwan. However, when faced with the mainland both camps shared similar position.
The US played a big role in how relationship progress across the strait. After the start of the Korean War, the US offered military protection to Taiwan, and helped its economic development. The US also attracted a big portion of Taiwan’s elite to further their education. This elite consists of both the blue and green, the industrialists, the intellectuals, some even hold US green cards or citizenship. (Ma Yinjiu’s daughter holds US residency). This elite grouping controlled Taiwan and has deep relationship with the US. In addition, Japan, a US ally also help maintained the environment. Under this backdrop, it is no surprise that pro-independence Taiwanese would used insulting terms once used by Japanese against Taiwanese towards other Chinese. For example, the use of “Cina (支那)” or “Qing slave (清国奴)”. It can be said that, under the influence of the US and Japan, Taiwan has viewed itself as a foremost “civilized nation” in Asia. In many ways, it is the same view as the Japanese who shared the opinion of “leaving Asia to join Europe”. They not only look down on mainland Chinese but also other Asians.
A minority of people in the mainland believe that by maintaining the status quote on Taiwan would help the political development of mainland China. Those who hold this view do not understand the underlying issue, because the issue of Taiwan is a legacy of US and Japanese interfering of China’s internal politics. If there is no solution to the Taiwan issue it means the foreign invasion of China over the past hundred years has not ended. We should examine the issue from a national level. The recent DPP instigated surrounding of the Legislative building and Presidential palace by students, and the senseless display of anti-China sentiment is the best example.
Chen was only eighteen years old when he joined the new democratic Communist underground. At that time his understanding of socialism and socialist revolution is not that deep. After he was released from prison in 1960, he was already thirty one, he tried his best to obtain Japanese sourced material so he has a better understanding of mainland China. (Translator’s note: At that time the KMT has strict control on publication much like the mainland, non-officially approved reading material is hard to obtain). In 1976, right after the end of the Cultural Revolution in the mainland, he was arrested for a second time. He also started “to ponder” for the first time. He was deeply saddened by what he read about the CR, he could not understand why China’s revolution reached such a state, he need to understand the struggle that he has dedicated his whole life to. He feel that he owed it to himself to understand the issue.
In 1987, Chen was released a second time from prison. He started reading lots of leftist Japanese reading material to gain a better standing China’s revolution, its problems, the background and causes of the CR. He wrote a book titled <<中国走向社会主义的革命>>. His main point of views are included in this book.
Chen’s conclusion is as follows. He believe the first step of China’s revolution is “New Democratic Ideology (新民主主义)”, which encompasses the strength and will of the people (or all four classes) to develop a “Capitalist Production Method (资本主义生产方式)” and total modernization. This idea is similar to Deng Xiaoping’s “Basic Socialism (社会主义初级阶段论)”. Or it can be argued as Liu Shaoqi’s interpretation of Lenin’s New Economic policy. “New democratic ideology (新民主主义)” is similar in many aspect to new economic policy, and Liu contributed greatly to its formulation. After the founding of the PRC, Mao Zedong himself failed to follow “New democratic ideology” which actually is part of Maoism. As a result, two big mistakes like the “Anti-right movement” and “Cultural Revolution” occurred.
In Chen’s view, Mao’s ideology is a form of “Battle Readiness Preparation System (备战体制)”. It was born out of the need to confront capitalism and imperialism, Mao erred in what is need in emergency to be an ongoing ideology. Chen is a fan of Liu “Revisionist Movement(修正主义路线)”. Chen also believe that China’s present political structure is not a violation of socialism, and is progressing in the right way. But he cannot foresee when socialism can be achieved. However, he is happy to see that China is now able to resist Western, especially US’s imperialism and capitalism exploitation system. He does not have any regret as he see China is now strong and unification is within reach.
I am a “late” observer, unlike Chen who is an active “participant”. But like Chen, I also believe the fundamental goal of “revolution” of a “late developing” China is collective modernization. This is both to “alleviate poverty” and “resist imperialism”. However, I believe Mao’s ideology is “more complex” not strictly a ” Battle Readiness Preparation System (备战体制)”.
Although we differ in this regard, we both agree that the difficulty of the road to revolution is unprecedented. In the 1950s, the person in charge of economic, Chen Yun (陈云) and the person in charge of agriculture, Deng Zihui (邓子恢) have constant “argument” with Mao. They both disagreed with Mao opinion on those matters and eventually retired. (梁潄溟) also has disagreement with Mao mainly on agricultural policy. After the founding of the PRC, there are different opinions both within and outside the party on how to develop China. Before the failure of the Great Leapt Forward, Mao is in charge; after that Liu is in charge. Mao also directed the Cultural Revolution and this ended Deng Xiaoping position. In conclusion, one can said that the situation in China is too complex. It is only after the bitter lesson of CR that Deng is able to stabilize the general direction of development (although in 1989, this direction is almost derailed).
The CCP and Mao both committed mistakes, some mistakes extremely serious, and they should be justly criticized. However, to say that those mistakes can be avoided, and to discredit CCP contributions is simply naive in the understanding of the “rebuilding” a country as ancient and as big as China. Since Deng’s reform, in less than thirty years, everybody seems to be relief that the direction is correct and Deng was deemed brilliant. This is to simplify matter also, Deng is the successor of Mao, Liu and Zhou and he inherited their legacy. We should understand history pragmatically. (It is also obvious Deng learned something from the four tiger economies of Asia).
I feel that the biggest problem with intellectuals in mainland China is that they failed to see the role China’s revolution played in “Countering western capitalism and imperialism” or in “Anti global capitalism”. Before the rise of China, “Powers” like Western Europe, North America, Japan all invaded foreign countries and colonizes them to achieve prosperity (We can also included Soviet domination of Eastern Europe). China has never colonized other countries in its rise.
Everybody says China is “the factory of the world”, a Russian weekly reported that China makes “half the world’s camera, 30% of TV and air conditioner, 25% of washing machine, 20% of refrigerator”. A few years back, a snow storm in southern China paralyzed traffic and hindered export. It caused household items price to rise 10 to 20%. I am not trying to show off China’s achievement, but rather trying to say that China’s economy changed “global economic system”.
Even though China’s economy is still not able to dramatically influence “global economic system”, the West and Japan have already shown sign of anxiety that China’s rise will “create disaster for the world”. If not because of US being bogged down by its own quagmires, can you imagine it will sit quietly when China rises?
If the addition of the new China to the “global economic system” cause a global imbalance, like how Germany’s rise before WWI caused anxiety to UK and France, then “developed countries” would want to stop “the rise” of new powers. Both world wars were started by established powers wanting to check the rise of new powers. In the 1990s, it is not that the US do not want to “teach” China a lesson but it is simply beyond their power to do so. The US, Japan alliance is based on the assumption that it is formed on the basis to counter if “something happened”, isn’t their intention obvious?
If the rise of China can cause a positive adjustment to the “global economic system”, it would be a positive development for humanity. If to the contrary, it causes another “war of the powers”, that could signal the end of humanity. The US is in an economic depression, would a US collapse mean a “temporary” ending of the “global economic system”? The reason of China continual emphasis on “peaceful rise” and “harmony”, is to prevent such a big shake up. I believe it is very meaningful now to analyze again Marxism interpretation of capitalism. I am a nationalist, but I always wish that China’s rise is for “self preservation” and not become another “US” or “UK” or “Japan” or “Germany” or another inscrutable economic “monster”. I believe this is a time to discuss how the “global economic system” should “transition towards a socialist model”.
Marx’s thesis presume that socialism will only be achieved when capitalist production method is being implemented worldwide. It is only when amble production is available that people can have enough material and mental freedom to fulfil socialism. After the first word war, many leftist revolutionaries thought the time has come for a world revolution, but it turned out to be an illusion.
This revolution that did not fit Marx’s thesis started with the Soviet revolution and climaxed with the Chinese revolution. After the WWII, more “later developing” countries joined the communist revolution. However, it is clear now these are not “socialist revolution” but rather those “later developing” countries way of fighting western capitalist and imperialist exploitation. The sacrifice of those movement is extremely heavy. (Translator’s note: For example the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and socialist/communist uprisings throughout Asia, Africa, S. America and Europe etc. which eventually switched to a communist economy can be considered such movement). Those “later developing” that followed the “western modernization” method also has relatively lighter but heavy sacrifice. (Translator’s note: For example most colonized countries that gained independence after WWII fall under this category). However, all countries eventually were forced to follow the capitalist model. However, of all the former category of countries only China seems to be successful, India belongs to the latter category and high hope was placed on its success. China’s success is profound because it did not cause a worldwide conflict, like Germany and Japan did. It also retained a sizable state enterprises and should be a good case study for other “later developing” countries.
China’s development is still a long way off from complete modernization. The regions of Latin America, Africa, the Islamic World, Southeast Asia are still developing. We are not sure when the conflict between the West (especially the US) and the Islamic world will be resolved; or when Latin American economies can be freed from the yoke of domination by US capitalism. However, we should now have a better interpretation of global capitalism. I hope a new form of Marxist theory would emerge in the 21st century.
Under these circumstances I hope all regions, all people will be able to achieve self help and self preservation. Achieving that is only the first step. The preferred subsequent development should be a new model without “exploitation” of the regions. I believe this development model is better than the method used by UK, France before and subsequently by the US, Japan after WWII. Thirdly, such a development would check the war mongering by the US, and would help promote world peace. I believe China is the only country able to achieve such a balance of power.
I have spoken with many mainlanders. They feel that China has too many problems and my view is unrealistic. Most of them actually admire the US model, and feel that China is a long way off from that. I am happy to say that more and more people share my view. I believe this will be a mainstream thought in the mainland in a decade or two.
I have known Mr. Mingzhong for twenty years and I study his life with great interest. He is born from a large and rich land owning family. He is very intelligent and was able to graduate from a rural primary school to attend the best high school in Tainan. He graduate first place from there and attended college in Taizhong, and he also graduated placing first. For somebody with his background, he could easily be a local leader and could end up as a county chief. If he got involved with business he would be a successful entrepreneur. If he furthered his study in Japan, he should easily become a distinguished professor. However, because of Japanese bullying he joined the resistance; and after the war and because of KMT’s incompetence and 228 incident he took the path to revolution. In the view of people like me who are educated under the Nationalist education system this is simply unbelievable.
Mr. Chen lives a very simple life. If he stay home he would buy two set of meals, one he share with his wife for lunch and another for dinner. He dedicate his life to the cause he believe in. I have never met anyone who has such a clear goal of his life and as resolute and dedicated. he joined the movement when he was eighteen and he is still going strong at eighty five. Men like Mr. Chen and (郭琇宗、吴思汉、许强、钟浩东) etc who lost their lives in the 1950s are simply an outstanding generation.
My biggest reward from my dealing with Mr. Chen is I learned of the bad habits of petty intellectual such as self interest and constant whining. Once, I was whining about an incident to him. He was puzzled and look at me and said “Why is this such a big matter?”. I was deeply embarrassed by that incident. For the past decade, my goal has become clearer, my action has become more resolute, I also whine a lot less due to his influence. I am happy with the publication of his memoir as it allow me to repay some of my gratitude. I also hope to use this memoir to remember those Taiwanese heroes who sacrifice their lives for China and humanity’s progress.
[Editor’s Note: Title changed from “Alternate View from Taiwan” to better reflect history.]