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  • Today we're going to be exploring Taiwan, starting in the 3rd century. That's when

  • the first Chinese expedition to Taiwan was sent by an emperor, returning with the conclusion

  • it wasn't of much value. Boy would the centuries prove him wrong.

  • Taiwan is a 13,000 square mile hilly and forested island roughly 100 miles from mainland China

  • (1). Sea and air lanes pass by and over Taiwan, as it's strategically located southwest

  • of Japan, north of the Philippines, and northeast of Vietnam. It's also the vital northeast

  • corner of the hotly contested South China Sea.

  • To the south, the Bashi channel sits between Taiwan and the Philippines (3). Between mainland

  • China and Taiwan lies the Taiwan Strait. Within the Taiwan Strait are a series of small islands

  • known as the Penghu, controlled by Taiwan. But one of the things that makes Taiwan unique

  • is that many islands between the main island and mainland China, the People's Republic

  • of China, are in dispute. Notable examples: Taiwan claims and controls the Matsu Archipelago

  • and Kinmen islands, though as well later see, these islands so very close to the Chinese

  • mainland are not only disputed, but have been subject to artillery bombardment, fortification,

  • and even invasion.

  • Just above Taiwan lies Yonaguni Island, one of Japan's most southern islands- far closer

  • than the 600 mile-away Japanese mainland. I like how author Jonathan Manthorpe in his

  • History of Taiwan described Yonaguni as a quoteperiod dot at the base of the question

  • mark formed by Japan's island chain,” (12,25). So, a geographical conundrum accompanies

  • a cultural one we'll address later: depending on your perspective, Taiwan can appear close

  • to both China *and Japan. An important detail, as we'll see.

  • And with that, welcome explorers, to the first episode of 'Mapping History'. Writing,

  • producing, and animating a video about the intersections of geopolitics and history takes

  • a long time. So if, and only if you're financially able, consider going to patreon dot com slash

  • william c fox. Thanks to Frank, the most recent Patron to join.

  • In this video we're going to talk about Taiwan from the start of recorded history

  • until now, and I'm gonna take a swing at answering the question: is Taiwan part of

  • China?

  • Dynasties and governments in exile have fled there. Invasions have been launched there.

  • Western powers have tried to root themselves in the East there. Trading posts have been...posted

  • there. Taiwan is a naval crossroads- crosscurrent, whatever the naval term for that would be.

  • It's mountainous ranges prevented full control of the island by any outside power for at

  • least centuries- that's what we have records of.

  • Its people reflect this heritage as well. It has an indigenous population separate from

  • Han Chinese, though Neolithic sites indicate a shared heritage (2,86). Those Indigenous

  • people make up about 2% of the population today, commingled, conquered, sharing the

  • island with early southeast asian ocean nomads, Han settlers, Japanese fisherman, Mainland

  • Chinese refugees, and more.

  • As mentioned, Chinese records reference Taiwan beginning in the 3rd century BCE (7). But

  • until the 1600's, outside visitors to Taiwan were mostly fishermen, with a sprinkling of

  • outcasts and pirates too. This all changed in the 17th century, when the Dutch, English,

  • Spanish, Japanese, and two different Chinese dynasties set their eyes on the valuable island.

  • The first outsiders to have a go at controlling all of Taiwan were the Dutch, specifically

  • the Dutch East India Company, who constructed a fortification on the island in 1630. They

  • estimated just a thousand Han Chinese were living on the island at that time, who had

  • settled alongside indigenous people in the preceding centuries (2,87;7).

  • This number would increase rapidly after 1644, as the collapse of the Ming Dynasty to the

  • Qing Dynasty on the Chinese mainland sent refugees over the Taiwan Strait. Zheng Chenggong,

  • a holdout leader of Ming forces, was able to keep territory in Southeast China until

  • 1662, but then was forced by the Ching to retreat off the mainland. As a last resort,

  • he laid siege to the Dutch-controlled Taiwan, succeeding in taking the island from the Europeans,

  • and establishing mainland-originated Chinese control over Taiwan for the first time (3).

  • Ming control of Taiwan lasted 20 years, until 1683, when the Qing Dynasty finally left the

  • mainland and conquered Taiwan (4&5). Taiwan was now an integrated part of mainland China.

  • To date, the Ching rule over Taiwan was longer than any other power that had, or would come

  • to control the island- over 200 uninterrupted years.

  • And this is a critical period for understanding the fluctuating national identity of the Taiwanese.

  • It is during this period when some identity with the mainland was able to develop. That's

  • going to be important when looking at three other periods. First, the Japanese occupation

  • of Taiwan, the end of the Chinese Civil War, and the modern day. Let's start with the

  • Japanese.

  • During the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894, between China's Qing Dynasty and Japan,

  • the surgent Japanese had eyes for many Qing possessions, including Taiwan. The war demonstrated

  • the weakness of the Qing, which was forced to sue for peace in 1895. And in the Treaty

  • of Shimonoseki, the Qing Dynasty ceded Taiwan to Japan (2,202).

  • Now, I'm just gonna spoil it here so we can have a productive conversation about this

  • period in Taiwan's History: The Japanese held control of Taiwan from 1895 until their

  • World War II surrender to the US and Allied Powers in 1945. 1895 to 1945- that means during

  • a 50-year period in relatively recent history, Taiwan was controlled not by the Chinese,

  • not by imperial western powers, but by an imperial Eastern power- Japan- something that

  • left a distinct mark on the island and the identity of its inhabitants, a mark which

  • the Taiwanese debate and define to this day. When the Republican Chinese government arrived

  • in Taiwan after World War II, they found a people who could speak Japanese, dressed Japanese-

  • culturally they looked like the enemy that had ravaged mainland China in the war. But

  • how did the people of Taiwan come to see themselves during this period?

  • Upon acquisition of Taiwan in 1895, Japanese political leaders were faced with a 5-month

  • war of resistance, and once concluded, a Taiwan in difficult circumstances- the ravages of

  • war, disease, ethnic tensions. To deal with this, the Japanese chose harsh governing policies,

  • and coupled that with repressive cultural policies- they had foreign governors, and

  • they forced Japanese culture onto the inhabitants. The Japanese felt a paternal superiority to

  • their colonists, forcing people to speak Japanese, take Japanese names, wear Kimonos and other

  • traditional garb.

  • But here's the rub. Economic development came under the Japanese as well. Agricultural

  • exports were expanded with new farming practices and subsidies, then diverted from their previous

  • destinations on mainland China to Japan. They brought education reform and new schools,

  • banking, currency, taxed previously untaxed land for use in expanded postal, energy, information

  • and road infrastructure (2). The colonizers invested in public health, disease treatments,

  • hospitals- a medical university. There's a solid rundown of all this in Murray Rubinstein's

  • Taiwan: A New History, listed in the description.

  • Before we get to World War II, an important change in mainland China. In 1912, the Qing

  • Dynasty, the dynasty which ceded Taiwan to the Japanese, was replaced by the Republic

  • of China, the ROC. During the second world war, western allies like FDR and Churchill

  • would come to see the Republic of China, and its leader Chiang Kai-shek not only as the

  • rightful government of mainland China, but of Taiwan as well (10). A return of Taiwan,

  • a retrocession, was planned should the allies prevail.

  • But while this retrocession was planned in cigar-filled rooms, World War II was proving

  • disastrous for Taiwan. Geographically like a natural aircraft carrier, Taiwan was strategically

  • located near the coast, a launch point for Japan's ambitions in mainland China and

  • the Philippines. 200,000 Taiwanese men fought for Japan in the war, 40,000 died (9). Some

  • were patriotic, others were motivated by increased food rations. Encouraged volunteerism eventually

  • turned to conscription. Taiwanese women were sent as 'comfort women' for Japanese soldiers.

  • It became clear as the war progressed into 1945, and the focus drifted from Europe and

  • onto the Pacficic, that control of Taiwan would be returning to China. The Cairo Declaration,

  • produced when Chiang Kai-shek met with FDR and Churchill proclaimed: “all the territories

  • Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa [that's Taiwan], and

  • The Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic

  • of China.” In August of 1945, Japan's unconditional surrender went into effect,

  • and the Cairo Declaration's implementation began. Taiwan would be part of China once

  • more.

  • In October 1945, Chiang Kai-shek's Republic of China ended Japanese colonial rule and

  • instituted a new governing structure for Taiwan. While there was excitement about the end of

  • colonial rule, the young and unprofessional Republic of China soldiers that came to replace

  • the Japanese soldiers foreshadowed the difficulty of ROC governance. In a documentary I watched

  • on this, one guy described it as, “the dog leaves, but the pig comes.” (9)

  • We're flirting with dangerous territory here, but just imagine a normal person looking

  • at the previous group, the harsh Japanese. And then the new and corrupt Republic of China.

  • What were the Taiwanese supposed to feel about their situation? Nostalgia for their former

  • colonizers? Things were uncomfortable.

  • Stangely, Taiwan was ahead of the mainland which came to rule over it: trains, phone

  • line, energy production and consumption- metrics indicative of economic development- metrics

  • which wouldn't be matched per capita on the mainland until the 80's. Now you can

  • see the dilemma. Maybe why some Taiwanese would eventually come to desire independence.

  • Steven Phillips put it a little better: quoteboth Taiwan and mainland China had changed

  • so much between 1895 and 1945 politically, socially, and economically that the retrocession

  • was less the restoration of historical ties than the attempt to forge an entirely new

  • relationship.” (2,275).

  • I've already alluded to the amateurish, sometimes shoe-less boy soldiers of the ROC

  • that landed on Taiwan. They acted like conquerors of a foreign people, looting, supplemented

  • poor pay with stolen property from Taiwanese homes.

  • But this was a mere symptom of Chiang Kai-shek's corrupt governance, and general disregard

  • for Taiwan- a place, might I spoil the story a little, Chiang Kai-shek is going to very

  • desperately need very soon.

  • Taiwanese were largely excluded from the new governing structure. Administrators reappropriated

  • business, property, industry to themselves (12,190). In this way, it was like a new form

  • of colonialism rather than a reuniting with China. Ordinary Taiwanese started going hungry,

  • and getting sick.

  • Every source I read in preparation for this video spends time talking about just how bad,

  • corrupt, incompetent, cruel, indifferent to suffering the ROC officials and their enforcers

  • were. Even the US State Department would come to recognize the problems internally. But

  • the US didn't stop helping Chiang Kai-shek because: on the mainland, standing opposite

  • of Chiang Kai-shek were Mao's communists.

  • So every source mentions the mal governance. And then all the sources zoom in on a moment

  • when the tensions between the Taiwanese and their...administrators boiled over. A cascade

  • of violent political repression- decades of it, and it all traces back to some cigarettes.

  • On February 27th, 1947, a widow in Taipei was caught selling contraband cigarettes.

  • The ROC enforcers took her cigarettes and her cash, and tried to arrest her. The widow

  • begged for leniency, and the soldiers, well, they bashed her on the head with the butt

  • of a rifle. With a crowd forming, the soldiers realized they had stepped in it, and tried

  • to leave. But they were followed, and ended up firing into the crowd. They hit several

  • people- one died.

  • From here the violence grows. The next day, as news of the incident spread, protests formed

  • against the Republic of China rule. Crowds that gathered around the governor's residence

  • were met with machine gun fire. Mass protests nationwide follow. Taiwanese civilians appropriated

  • government offices, took control of their island. Chiang Kai-shek declared martial law,

  • sending in thousands of mainland Kuomintang troops to put down this uprising.

  • But they didn't just put down the movement in the streets- they started something that

  • would come to be known as 'the White Terror', the Kuomintang soldiers imported from the

  • mainland killed Taiwanese by the thousands: first the people in the streets questioning

  • their rule; next, they rounded up intellectuals, professionals, students- anyone who posed,

  • in their eyes, a potential threat to mainland rule. At least 10,000 were rounded up and

  • murdered- some estimates go as high as 28,000 (13).

  • What started after the cigarette scuffle is known as the February 28th incident, 2-2-8.

  • The martial law declared in this moment lasted 38 years, long after Chiang Kai-shek's death.

  • And keep in mind, this is before Chiang Kai-shek is expelled from mainland China by Mao, so

  • this is the relationship developed between the Nationalists and the Taiwanese without

  • any knowledge of what was to come- that the Nationalists, like the Ming Dynasty, would

  • flee from the mainland, expelled, relying entirely on Taiwan for their future very soon.

  • And by soon, I mean two years, 1949. The communist forces of Mao found themselves in an advantageous

  • position against Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang Nationalist forces. From 1945-1949, the Nationalists

  • lost ground to the communists. By the end of 1948, over 30,000 refugees from the mainland

  • were arriving in Taiwan every day (2,299). Mao controlled both Beijing and Nanking, and

  • Chiang Kai-shek had to retreat from the mainland to.. well, we know: to Taiwan.

  • "Hey guys, ni hao. Know we were repressing y'all and - violence. But I was wondering

  • if you know, my army and I, and around 2 million refugees could crash on the couch for a couple

  • nights, set up a base of operations against the communists…?."

  • And that was that, here are the two China's: the Republic of China (still claiming control

  • of the entire mainland) was now contained on the island of Taiwan. And everyone was

  • waiting for the new People's Republic of China under Mao, which now controlled the mainland,

  • to come across the Taiwan Strait, and put an end to the whole thing, to eject Chiang

  • Kai-shek, control Taiwan, and conclude the Chinese Civil War. Any day now.

  • The governing system established from the fall of the Japanese empire between 1945 until

  • 1949, the quasi-colonial rule from the Nationalist mainland, then the move of that Nationalist

  • power from the mainland onto the island itself- this system established in the interlude period

  • set the tone for the following decades. The people of Taiwan would not have a say in their

  • governance, any attempt to acquire it would result in the dissidents disappearance, and

  • any overtures from the Republican leadership to indicate the Taiwanese might have a bit

  • of representation in their government was a facade, a display for Chiang Kai-shek's

  • new benefactor- the United States.

  • Why am I belaboring this point? Well, this is what surprised me in my research. When

  • we hear about Taiwan, if we ever do, we get this super condensed version: Taiwan is the

  • last bastion of Republican resistance against communist rule. But at the start, the Republicans

  • that ruled over Taiwan and evacuated to Taiwan were not doing so with the excited consent

  • of the people already there- the arrival and stay of this government in exile was painful,

  • and it took decades of repression and eventually, reconciliation, to achieve democratization,

  • and for the Taiwanese to have a real hand in their government. As the Taiwanese were

  • waiting for these processes to play out, their island was a prominent pawn in geo-politics.

  • So, as this series is about the intersection of geography, history, and politics, let's

  • return there.

  • When Chiang Kai-shek and his exiled government arrived on Taiwan, World War II was a few

  • years in the rearview mirror. But so much was in flux. In particular, the relationship

  • between two massive powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, and the ideologies underpinning

  • their power. Across the globe, the US and the soviets believed that no conflict was

  • too small. The Soviets would arm and equip anyone willing to ally with them, the US did

  • the same. The Cold War, as I'm sure you know, was actually quite hot in some places.

  • And southeast Asia was one of them. Both the US and USSR involved themselves in China's

  • Civil War, and had stakes in the outcome.

  • When Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalist forces retreated to Taiwan, the US thought they had

  • lost the whole game in Asia. Mainland China was gone, and the USSR would have an ally

  • in Mao: a new huge communist power was on the map. The moment Chiang Kai-shek retreated

  • to Taiwan, the US counted him out completely.

  • But Kai-shek, though he seemed clearly down for the count, took an aggressive posture,

  • one of temporary exile on Taiwan; this was a tactical retreat; it would be a regrouping

  • of Nationalist forces which would eventually lead to the Republic of China retaking the

  • mainland with Taiwan as a base of operations. This was, to be clear, posturing, but no one

  • ever said posturing doesn't occasionally lead to form. Some countries like the Soviet

  • Union went ahead and recognized Mao's People's Republic of China. Others waited to see if

  • Chiang Kai-shek would succeed.

  • The United States? Well, they eventually bought into his narrative that Kai-shek would retake

  • the mainland, perhaps cynically so. Sure, Chiang Kai-shek had this framing of retaking

  • the mainland any day now, but even if he didn't, might the endeavor of keeping Taiwan anti-communist

  • be worthwhile? Every inch and mile in the Cold War seemed to matter.

  • And with a new conflict emerging on the Korean peninsula, the Americans decided to double

  • down. President Truman moved naval vessels into the Taiwan Strait in 1950 (2,321). It

  • was meant to stop Mao's forces from invading Taiwan while the US was preoccupied with the

  • Korea War.