Saturday, December 04, 2004

Kaohsiung Incident - anniversary; documentary

The Kaohsiung Incident's 25th anniversary on 10th December should be marked in the English-speaking world, since it was an important pro-democracy demonstration. Inconveniently, though, what happened was part of a struggle against one of our military dictatorships, rather than a communist regime, so most Europeans and North Americans have never heard of it.

Newspapers and school history books tell us about Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the massacre of the Tiananmen protestors in Beijing on June 4th 1989, but not the '228' massacre in Taiwan on February 28th 1947, in which at least 30,000 people were killed by the US-backed Nationalist forces (an archive of US sources is here), South Korea's Cheju uprising, which started in 1948 and in which mainland forces killed between 30,000 and 80,000 islanders, consolidating the grip on power of US favourite Syngman Rhee, or the April 1960 revolution which finally forced him from power, the massacre at Kwangju in South Korea in May 1980, when perhaps 2000 people died, Venezuela's Caracazo (February 1989) in which some 2000 were killed, riots against British rule in Hong Kong in 1952, '56, '66 and '67, or many others.

On 10th December 1979, police attacked a pro-democracy protest in Kaohsiung (高雄 - the second biggest city in Taiwan, after Taipei) then arrested a number of activists. Since the demonstration was partly organised by Formosa magazine, the Chinese name is Formosa (or 'beautiful island') incident: 美麗島事件.

According to Wikipedia, the incident followed

... the police raid of Formosa Magazine, an illegal publication designed to support the end of Kuomintang monopolization of power in Taiwan. The ROC Government Information Office under the leadership of James Soong hoped to chill opposition voices through heavyhanded methods. The protest disintegrated into a brawl as protesters, police and undercover agents collided. Soong addressed the public in a speech condemning the protesters, labelling one of the leaders, Shih Ming-teh, "King of Bandits."

The incident publicized the oppressive tactics of the government in ruling Taiwan and the trial of eight leaders of the protest allowed a team of lawyers to publicly question the practices of torture used by the KMT to extract confessions. Most defense attorneys and defendants were members of the Chinese Comparative Law Society (中國比較法學會), which is now the Taiwan Law Society (台灣法學會).

One of the accused, Lin Yi-Hsiung, was routinely tortured by police interrogators. Then, on February 28, 1980, while Lin's wife was discussing his case, Lin's mother and twin 7 year old girls were murdered in his home. The event, known as the "Lin Family Murders," remains unsolved.

Today the China Post reports:
The Eastern Multimedia Group... will release a documentary on a bloody crackdown on democracy activists 25 years ago crucial to the creation of Taiwan democracy.

The protest against martial law, known as the "Kaohsiung Incident", is a milestone in Taiwan's modern history — but paradoxically many Taiwanese are not familiar with it.

"We hope that from an objective viewpoint we can help the nation's people understand the real events and give a historic record of the most important event in Taiwan's democratization," said ETTV president Wang Lin-ling.

The protest challenged the harsh one party dictatorship first imposed on the island by the Kuomintang's Chiang Kai-shek after his forces fled from China and Mao Zedong's Communists in 1949.

"The Kaohsiung Incident ... started Taiwan's politics moving from one party rule towards a multiparty (system)

"It was a turning point in the process of Taiwan's democracy with a vast influence," Wang said.

For a long time the clash was shrouded in ignorance as martial law was not lifted until eight years after the event, newspapers for years exercised self-censorship and, until very recently, there were no plans to put it in official school text books.

The crackdown on the protest organized by opposition political leaders and the underground Formosa magazine to commemorate Human Rights Day on the evening of December 10, 1979 saw eight protest leaders jailed for their ideals and a further 33 tried in military courts.

Wang said the protesters experience of fighting for democracy against the odds was a lesson all Taiwanese could learn from.

"It will allow the younger generation to learn from Taiwan's past and deeply reflect on Taiwan's future," Wang said. The crackdown lead to the formation of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party seven years later, with many of the leaders of the historic protest now the nation's political luminaries.

Vice President Annette Lu, who delivered a 20-minute speech at the historical rally, was jailed by the regime until 1985. President Chen Shui-bian, as a young lawyer, also defended leaders in the protest movement.

ETTV played parts of the 100-minute documentary at a press conference yesterday attended by Lu, surrounded by over a score of security guards, and other former protest leaders, including former Democratic Progressive Party chairman, now independent legislative candidate Hsu Hsin-liang, Examination Yuan President Yao Chia-wen and DPP legislator Chang Chun-hong.

There is apparently an English language version of the documentary, which I'd very much like to see.

No comments: