These days it seems fashionable to call the retrocession of Formosa to China – which in August 1945 was WWII victor and United Nations founding state Republic of China – an injustice to the Taiwanese people.
What injustice exactly?
What was Taiwan before Retrocession Day (台灣光復) ? A free and independent nation? Hardly. Taiwan was a colony of the Japanese Empire (1). Unfree and ruled by a military junta of aristocrats hailing from Tokyo (2), Formosa was the first colonial endeavor before Korea in 1910 and Manchuko in 1932.
Brave Capt. Awata trying to murder yet another Taiwanese
How was the Empire of Japan governed? You might have guessed it – neither democratic nor constitutional: Japan was an absolute monarchy (3). Unsurprisingly, as actual Japanese citizens had not many political or civil rights in the late 19th century when compared to their contemporaries in the United States, the French Republic or Switzerland, colonial subjects in Taiwan or Korea later on had even less rights.
But how did Taiwan even become a Japanese colony? Were the aboriginal tribes fed up with the discrimination they suffered under Qing rule? Were the Chinese living on Taiwan no longer willing to pay taxes to Beijing or simply wanted independence, yet due to unlucky circumstances were invaded by Japan?
No – Qing China lost the First Sino-Japanese War and in the late 19th century cashing in reparations became fashionable. It is often said China was more than willing to simply give away Taiwan to the Japanese Empire – yet this is not true. Li HongZhang, a Qing statesman and one of the first Chinese to receive the Royal Victorian Order, had to assure Empress Dowager CiXi that “birds do not sing and flowers are not fragrant on the island of Taiwan. The men and women are inofficious and are not passionate either”, an infamous quote by the QianLong Emperor. Only after Li HongZhang had maligned Taiwan in such a manner, the Empress would sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki.
Formosa Republic - doesn't stop Lee Teng-hui to look back fondly on the "good 'ol days".
And even after the invasion of Taiwan in 1895 it didn’t seem like the Taiwanese were exactly thrilled to be subjects of the Emperor: 14,000 people lost their lives in resisting the invasion, another 14,000 people lost their lives in numerous uprisings (Ta-pa-ni, Wushe, …). Keep in mind the total population of Taiwan in the late 19th century ranged only between 2.5 and 3.5 million.
The Treaty of Shimonoseki was eventually reversed in the 1952 Treaty of Taipei and other uneven bilateral treaties as the ones between Korea and the Empire of Japan have also been declared invalid after WWII (4).
It actually seems surreal any nation would willingly cede even the smallest piece of land. Yet this doesn’t stop certain people from believing the Chinese Empress Dowager sat together for some tea with the Japanese Emperor and casually gave him Taiwan as a gift for nothing in return.
Let us now move on to 1945.
The Empire of Japan lost a war she started by enslaving half of East Asia and attacking the formerly semi-neutral United States of America.
What if these "comfort women" were your grandmothers?
The Empire of Japan raped Nanjing and raped Taiwanese (and Korean, Filipino, mainland Chinese) comfort women (5) while at the same time recruiting young Taiwanese men into the Imperial Army like Lee Teng-hui. Talk about schizophrenia.
Per Cairo Declaration and reaffirmed in the Potsdam Declaration, the Republic of China accepted Japan’s instrument of surrender and gained back “all territories Japan has stolen from China, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores”.
Thus Taiwan became a part of what the majority of nations worldwide considered China: the Republic of China.
What if the R.O.C. had lost the civil war in the mainland theater in 1944 and not 1949? With only one China left and no rival government to support, Taiwan would have become just another province of Red China. Did the PRC make the transition to democracy and a multi-party system (yet) ? No. Instead the comrades in Beijing had the military shoot on their youth.
...meanwhile in Beijing
I can’t remember the Kuomintang had soldiers march against the Wild Lily movement of 1990 in front of Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.
Student Protest in Taipei
The localization of R.O.C. politics, military and civil service was a logical consequence of a lost war on the mainland. Eventually the mainlanders would marry locals and most adults on Taiwan were not born on the mainland anymore. One might even say, President Ma is the last of his generation.
For the Taiwan people, being left as the only full province under R.O.C. administration has been a blessing though: even in the harsh times of martial law one could feel safe of a communist takeover. Having the United States as an ally and profiting from post war subsidies made the Taiwan Wonder possible.
While on the mainland democracy seems to be a dream far away, the state philosophy of the Republic of China is able to accommodate political competition as long as the Three Principles of the People are safeguarded.
Before calling the R.O.C. a “foreign occupation”, people (on Taiwan) should reflect on the choices of 1945 and be thankful to live in not only one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but also one of the most stable democracies of Asia. Former President Chen Shui-bian is a prime example how well the Republic of China’s democracy and constitutionality work out on many levels.
(1) Minutes from the Conference on Wartime China: Regional Regimes and Conditions 1937-1945, Harvard University Press, Cambridge USA .
(2) The Imperial Japanese Navy, Nishida, Japan
(3) Chronological Table No. 5 Dec. 1, 1946 – June 23 1947 , National Diet Library, Japan
(4) The Normalization of Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jan., 1967)
(5) Japan’s Responsibility Toward Comfort Women Survivors, Sarah C. Soh, Japan Policy Research Center, Jesuit University of San Francisco, California, USA
FREE TAIWAN, an independent news blog.