advocates for Taiwan’s independence have condemned - and are
still condemning - Chiang Kai-shek for imposing an “alien”
government on the island. But they have forgotten one
fundamental historical fact. They owe their freedom for openly
calling for the sovereignty of the island nation to President
Chiang, who was born 124 years ago today.
Chiang Kai-shek who gave Taiwan its status as a nation state.
Taiwan would not have been what it is today if he had not
brought his tattered Kuomintang government to Taipei and
launched the island on its way to modernization.
has been no public celebration of Chiang’s birthday in Taiwan
for the past two years. It used to be a national holiday - his
son, Chiang Ching-kuo, proclaimed October 31 a national holiday
after the man who had ruled China in different capacities for
half a century died in Taipei on April 5, 1975.
on December 10, 1949, Chiang Kai-shek arrived in Taipei from the
Chinese mainland - still technically in “retirement” from
the Presidency which he did not reassume until March 1 the
following year - the political and other fortunes of the
Kuomintang government were at lowest ebb. As seen from Taipei at
that time, the situation could hardly have been worse.
regard to international status, the United States in its August
China White Paper had written off President Chiang’s cause. A
follow-up U. S. Department of State policy guidance paper of
December 23, 1949 had advised American diplomats to prepare for
the fall of Taiwan to the Chinese Communists. The words commonly
used at that to describe the Kuomintang cause were
“reactionary,” and “hopeless.”
Certainly the morale of those Kuomintang leaders who straggled
into Taiwan beginning in 1948 and through 1650 was all but
shattered. The Taiwan they came to had been bombed during World
War II, production was down, inflation was rife, and there
seemed no way to handle the more than million immigrants who
became an almost intolerable burden.
his balanced assessment “U.S. Aid to Taiwan,” Neil H. Jacoby
U.S. economic aid to the Republic of China was resumed in the
latter part of 1950, … the Nationalist government in Taiwan
was in a critical financial and economic position. Food,
clothing, and basic necessities of living were in short supply,
as a consequence of wartime losses of production facilities and
a rapid increase in population by natural causes and inflow from
mainland China. Heavy military spending on defense had created
huge deficits in the Chinese budget. Price inflation was
threatening to repeat the tragic sequence of events that
contributed to the Communist takeover of mainland China. During
1950, the Chinese government lost about $90 million in
convertible currencies, reducing its foreign exchange resources
below a minimum level. There was widespread popular unrest,
which could have impaired the stability of the government as
well as the military and economic viability of the country.”
factor contributing to the loss of the mainland was the collapse
of the gold dollar note, which, however, was not a legal tender
in Taiwan. On March 1, 1949 the exchange rate between Taiwan
dollars and gold “yuan” notes was three to one. Two months
later the ratio changed to 1:2,000. Had the Taiwan currency been
tied with the gold dollar, the island’s economy would have
gone under as well. On the other hand, Taiwan was instructed to
finance the “National”
government’s budget deficit. The deficit was financed by
borrowing from the Bank of Taiwan, which played a dual role of
commercial and central bank, and by directly increasing the
issuance of notes. The huge issuance of Taiwan dollars was
followed by a concomitant price rise at an annual rate of 776
per cent in 1947 and 1,144 per cent in 1948. The rate was 1,189
per cent up to June 30, 1949. Half a month before, on June 15,
Taiwan issued a new currency, the new Taiwan dollar which is
still in use now. The old currency, the Taiwan dollar, was
called back at the ratio of 40,000 for NT$1. The inflation was
finally tamed not until mid-1953.
was elected President of the Republic of China in 1948. Nearly
two years before, in October 1946, he and his wife came to
Taiwan for the first time on a visit to “shun the (public)
celebration” of his 60th birthday. He was actually 59 years
old on October 31, 1946, but he marked his 60th birthday on that
day in accordance with China’s age-old custom. With donations,
mostly private, the former Japanese Governor-General’s
Office Building, damaged during an American aerial bombing, was
repaired and presented to him as a birthday gift from the people
of Taiwan. The building was named “Chieh Shou Kuan,” or
Chiang Kai-shek’s Birthday Memorial Palace. President Chen
Shui-bian has his offices there
Chiang had no part in the suppression of the anti-Chinese
uprising, started on February 28, 1947. After the bloody
incident, in which at least 20,000 people were killed, Chiang
met with U.S. Ambassador in Nanking (Nanjing) John Leighton
Stuart and professed he was unaware of conditions on Taiwan. He
relied on the findings of Pai Chung-hsi’s investigating
mission whose findings were in large part published and
exonerated Gen. Chen Yi, administrator-general of Taiwan. Pai
was then the minister of defense. Chiang requested an
independent report by Stuart, who complied. Chen Yi was relieved
as administrator general in May. Wei Tao-ming, former ambassador
to the United States, succeeded Chen as governor and the new
administration was made a provincial government on a par with
all its counterparts on the mainland.
his arrival in 1949, President Chiang, except for two brief
visits to Korea and the Philippines, never left Taiwan. He
concentrated on consolidation of Taiwan as his base for a
counteroffensive against mainland China.
reassumed the Presidency on March 1, 1950. Taiwan was given a
new identity. The island, still a province, was now the Republic
of China. With Taipei as its seat, the government of the
Republic of China claimed to represent the whole of China. The
country was a founding member of the united Nations and a
permanent member of the U.S. Security Council. A few powers,
including the Soviet Union and Great Britain, derecognized the
Republic of China, but a majority of nations continued to
maintain diplomatic relations with Taipei. Inasmuch as
international relations are concerned, Chiang’s move turned
Taiwan into a new nation state, although that nation state had
existed as the Republic of China since January 1, 1912.
de jure status as nation state had to be defended by the de
facto control of the island. Two events, which occurred almost
immediately after Chiang’s arrival in Taipei, consolidated his
rule over Taiwan: the battle of Quemoy (Kinmen) and the Korean
17,000 Chinese Communist troops landed on Quemoy on October 25,
1949. They had taken small boats and junks or even rafts to
cross a narrow strip of waters separating Quemoy and the
mainland. They were convinced that they could easily defeat the
garrison on Quemoy. So far the Kuomintang forces, with a vew few
exceptions, had always fled or surrendered in the face of a
Communist attack. The invading Communist soldiers were mistaken.
The garrison took a last-ditch stand, routing the invaders at
Kuningtou, a cape on Quemoy. After a 56-hour battle, the
invasion force suffered more than 8,000 casualties. Six thousand
others were taken prisoner. It was the first victory the
Kuomintang forces had won since their fiasco in Manchuria. The
offshore island was secured.
the outbreak of the Korean war on June 25, 1650, President Harry
S. Truman made an about-face change in U.S. policy in China.
Truman ordered the U.S. Seventh Fleet to prevent any attack on
Taiwan, the Chinese Communist occupation of which “would be a
direct threat to the security of the Pacific area and to the
United States forces performing their lawful and necessary
functions in that area.” American military and economic
assistance started pouring into Taiwan.
is industrialization. Industrialization requires capital and
entrepreneurs. Both were supplied in large part by the more than
one million civilian immigrants who came to Taiwan in 1948-50.
Most of them were teachers, factory owners, engineers,
technicians, merchants, bankers, scholars, and professionals.
They filled the gap of managerial skill for industrialization,
which Japan had purposely left on the island under its
“agricultural Taiwan” policy. They also provided the “seed
as well as entrepreneurs for Taiwan’s initial
import-substitution manufacturing industry. And Taiwan continued
on its way to industrialization, an economic “miracle” of
the 20th century.
United States severed diplomatic relations with the Republic of
China in 1979. But the U. S. Congress adopted the Taiwan
Relations Act as a law governing the conduct of unofficial
relations with the island. All major powers of the world had
ended diplomatic relations with Taipei by 1972. Only about 30
countries, mostly small, still maintain official ties with
Taiwan. However, the Republic of China on Taiwan has been
legally a nation state in the minds of most countries around the
world. The Taiwan Relations Act restored this sovereignty as far
as the United States was concerned.
that status was first accorded Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek’s
move to Taipei in 1949. It is his legacy to Taiwan.
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