The history of Taiwan–6. Tokyo’s triumph

Posted: 2013 年 11 月 01 日 in The history of Taiwan

Tokyo’s triumph

In 1872, a Japanese ship foundered and sank off the coast of Taiwan. Three of its crew drowned. But only 12 of its 69 men survived. The other 54 were slaughtered by Botan (牡丹社) aborigines. When the news of the killings reached Tokyo, Japanese military circles immediately prepared to launch a punitive expedition against the Botan tribe. Only Foreign Minister Soyeshima Taneomi held back the impending attack. He decided to first try to work out a diplomatic resolution in Peking.

Soyeshima was accompanied by Charles Le Gendre, who resigned as U.S. Consul to Amoy in 1872 in order to enter the service of Japan’s Meiji Emperor as an advisor to the planned military expedition to Taiwan. Le Gendre had extensive experience in the island. He had negotiated settlements involving several American sihps wrecked there, in some cases dealing directly with Formosan aboriginal tribes. But Washington always ignored Le Gendre’s calls for greater American vigilance in Taiwan. Now he advised Tokyo it should prepare for war if its foreign minister’s mission to Peking failed.

Soyeshima managed to obtain a formal audience with the Chinese Emperor, in itself a significant accomplishment. The Emperor tacitly admitted that the aboriginal tribes inhabiting parts of eastern Taiwan were beyond his political control. All Japan hailed that disclosure as a diplomatic victory, but Soyeshima’s return to Tokyo was marred by factional infighting over the military’s long postponement of plans to intervene in neighboring Korea, another Chinese protectorate. The disgusted foreign minister wiped his hands of the Formosa affair and Le Gendre stepped in.l A violent revolt of samurai protesting Meiji reforms in February 1874 impressed upon the Japanese government the urgent need for a “foreign adventure” that would vent the pent-up energies of dissatified samurai. So on April 27 that year, 2,500 troops, 1,000 coolies and several foreign advisor led by Le Gendre boarded warships bound for Taiwan.

The military expedition landed at two points in southern Taiwan, one clearly within Chinese jurisdiciton. Japanese troops made a few forays into the mountains to punish the offending aborigines. But their continued presence in the south prompted strong Chinese protests and a willingness to negotiate. After protacted talks in Peking, the Chinese government agreed to pay Japan 100,000 taels of silver to compensate the families of the dead crewmen and 400,000 taels for the expenses incurred by the military expedition. In return, Japanese forces withdrew from Taiwan and returned to Tokyo in triumph.

China continued to run Taiwan as a prefecture of Fukien province for more than a decade after the departure of the Japanese. It was declared a province of China in 1886. The population had surpassed 2.5 million.

But the repercussions of the Japanese occupation continued to resound throught Taiwan. For one thing, Japan’s bold military move for the first time in history had created a semblance of law and order on the island. In fact, some foreign traders even seemed to welcome the Japanese occupation of 1874 because it forced Chinese authorities to take greater interest in the island’s affairs and virtually eliminated attacks on its foreign settlements. Meanwhile, militarists back in Tokyo soon began rattling their swords and demanded outright annexation of Taiwan, Korea and the Ryukyu Islands (琉球群島).

Full scale war between the two oriental superpowers again broke out in 1895 when the Japanese invaded Korea, long a loyal ally of China. China sent armed and manned ships to Korea’s aid, but the Japanese sunk them in a blatant effort to fuel hostilities. China had managed to buy off Japan before to avert war but this time the Japanese were not for sale. Nothing short of territorial gains would satisfy Japan’s buring desire for an overseas empire that would surprass the colonial conquests of Britain.

China suffered total and ignoble defeat at the hands of a nation it had considered in ferior and barbaric. Vast sums that had been earmarked for modernizing China’s navy had been diverted by the Empress Dowager Tze-His (慈禧太后) to restore and redecorate her elaborate Summer Palace north of Peking. Thus, the decimated Chinese navy was no match for Japan’s.

Japan literally dictated the terms of the notorious Treaty of Shimonoseki (馬關條約) which ceded outright possession of bothe the Ryukyu Islands and Taiwan, the start of half a century of Japanese rule over the Beautiful Island. It also gave Japan a decisvie role in Korea that would culminate in annexation 15 years later in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War (日俄戰爭).

Taiwan moved rapidly into the modern age under the tutelage of Japan. A domestic network of railways and roads was constructed, connecting important points of the island for the first time. The Japanese also built modern schools, hospitals and industries and updated agricultural methods. Most importantly, strict Japanese rule ended the factional bickering and futile debates that had always marked island politics.

Still, occupation proved oppressive and ultimately unpopular. The Japanese required everyone to adopt Japanese names and speak the Japanese language. They exploited Taiwan’s rich natural resources exclusively for the benefit of Japan. And resident japanese officers and magistrates enjoyed elite privileges denied to local citizens. In effect, Japan tried to remold Taiwan in its own image by forcing the island to sever her connections with her ancient Chines cultural roots. Taiwan toiled under Japanes rule until Allied forces won World War II. After Japan surrendered, Taiwan was restored to Chinese rule on Oct. 25, 1945, an event still celebrated annually on the island as “Restoration Day.”

During the following years, Taiwan suffered the same kind of “carpetbagger” treatment accorded the American South after the Civil War. Hordes of adventurers from mainland China stormed across the Taiwan Strait and systematically dismantled the extensive industrial infrastructure left by Japan, shipping everything of value back to Shanghai for sale.

Meanwhile, civil war had broken out in earnest on the mainland. The struggle for control of the vast country matched a communist party called the Kungchandang (共產黨) against the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT;國民黨). At the head of the KMT was a fiery leader name Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石).

The First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895)

The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)



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