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Knowing China through Taiwan

  • Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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The History of Taiwan's Fight for Democracy

  • Hsieh Chin-fang/Ho Jung-hsing and Staff Reporter
  • 2010-12-14
  • 14:22 (GMT+8)
Taiwan's democracy activists worked to help develop a council during the Japanese colonial period. Pictured: Lin Hsien-tang joined by other activists pictured at Xinzhu train station before travelling to Japan to petition for the establishment of the Taiwan council. (Photo/Zhuang Yongming)

Taiwan's democracy activists worked to help develop a council during the Japanese colonial period. Pictured: Lin Hsien-tang joined by other activists pictured at Xinzhu train station before travelling to Japan to petition for the establishment of the Taiwan council. (Photo/Zhuang Yongming)

Japanese major general Bai Hungliang contributed greatly to the history of Taiwan for training Taiwan's military during Chiang Kai-shek's reign. Picture: half of Bai Hungliang's ashes are stored in a temple in Shulin City. (Photo/Tang Chiabang)

Taiwan's first political campaign for an elected legislature began in 1921 when Lin Hsien-tang, the son of a local landlord, and 186 other individuals launched a campaign to demand an elected parliament in Taiwan, then under Japanese rule.

The campaigners sent a delegation to present their appeal to the Japanese Parliament, or Diet, every year.

The delegation was also encouraged by Taiwanese studying in Japan in the 1920s. One student, Hsieh Wen-da, who was set to become the first Taiwanese pilot, flew an airplane over Tokyo and dropped 120,000 leaflets about the appeal, according to Taiwanese historian Chuang Yung-ming.

The 14-year campaign is the longest political campaign in Taiwan's history. Although the appeal fell on deaf ears for a long time, it awakened a sense of nationalism among the Taiwanese and encouraged them to pursue political rights.

Lin Hsien-tang, the campaign's leader, formed the Taiwan Cultural Association with Chiang Wei-shui, another political activist, at the end of 1921 to carry on the campaign.

After the association gradually came under the influence of a group of socialist followers, Lin and Chiang quit and set up the Taiwan People's Party, the first political party on the island.

Along with the demand for an elected legislature, the party also criticized Japanese policy on issues such as censorship, the sale of opium and discrimination against the local Taiwanese. This angered the local Japanese governors, who ordered the party to be broken up in 1931.

Meanwhile, Taiwan's first protest by farmers also took place in the 1920s, organized by the Taiwan Farmers Association led by Chian Chi, according to Chuang.

Chiang founded the association in 1926 and expanded it across the island in the hope of training local farmers to fight the Japanese. Before a crackdown by the Japanese government in 1931, the association boasted 24,000 members from across the island.

During five decades of Japanese rule between 1895 and 1945, democracy was not introduced in Taiwan. Even the arrival of the Chinese Nationalist (KMT) government at the end of World War Two did not signal the start of a democratic era: the Nationalist government imposed martial law and the election of legislators was prohibited until 1992.

Lu Li-cheng, chief of the National Museum of Taiwan History in Tainan, said that the 1996 presidential election by popular vote marked the most significant milestone in the country's political history, capping a 70-year political campaign for democracy.

In the run-up to that election, China fired missiles into waters near Taiwan to warn the island's population against voting for the incumbent president Lee Teng-hui. However, 76 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots making Lee Teng-hui and Lien Chan the first popularly-elected president and vice president of Taiwan.

Who's Who

  • Yang Yuliang (楊玉良)

    Yang Yuliang (楊玉良)

    Yang Yuliang is president of Fudan University in Shanghai. Born in Zhejiang province in 1952, he went on to attend Fudan, where he attained a ...