The Other China

On the same late fall day in 1991, two stories about China appeared in the Western press. One announced that thirty-five drug dealers had just been executed in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming, probably by a single police bullet fired into the back of each man’s neck. Before their execution, the thirty-five had been paraded and “tried” in front of 40,000 people. A blurred photograph showed the defendants, arms tied behind their backs, each held by two helmeted policemen, in front of the enormous crowd. As their sentences were announced, a metric ton of refined heroin and four metric tons of opium, allegedly seized from the thirty-five dealers, were burned to ashes in sixty enormous cauldrons. Similar rallies and trials were said to have taken place in fifteen other southwestern Chinese cities, though the number of those executed or participating was not announced. The mass trials took place in a country where the annual per capita income was approximately $350, according to the World Bank.

The same day, confirmation came from Taiwan of the government’s six-year plan to spend $300 billion on rebuilding and expanding public facilities all across the island: 779 projects, most to be put out for bids by local and foreign contractors, were designed to develop roads, rails and subways, schools, housing and medical facilities, refineries, sewage and power plants. Taiwan already had $72 billion in its official foreign exchange reserves, and anticipated no problem in raising the rest from its rapidly increasing domestic tax revenues and lively foreign trade. The reconstruction effort would substantially raise the living standards of Taiwan’s population, whose annual per capita income was currently estimated by the World Bank to stand at $8,000.1

Six months later a different set of contrasting images was once more presented to us. The first, from the People’s Republic, told of the ordeal of a young Chinese worker named Han Dongfang. Han had organized an independent Workers’ Federation during the heady month of May 1989, with its headquarters on Tiananmen Square. After the June massacre in Beijing, Han was arrested. Though not summarily executed like several other workers active in the demonstrations, he was treated with sadistic cruelty in prison, tortured with acupuncture needles when he went on a hunger strike, and confined to a ward for seriously ill tuberculosis patients, where, not surprisingly, he contracted the same disease. Reluctantly released by the authorities, so that he would not acquire a martyr’s fame by dying in prison, Han spoke to his American interviewer of his fear that his wife, now pregnant, would be forced to have an abortion as a further way to punish and intimidate him. In a response to Western protest China agreed in August to allow Han Dongfang to travel to the United States for medical treatment.2

The lead stories from Taiwan at the same time spoke of the hectic arguments and the flurries of excitement that gripped Taiwan’s newly elected National Assembly, as the delegates grappled with the problem of whether the president of Taiwan should be elected by an electoral college system or by an island-wide popular vote. These contending delegates were from a new generation in Taiwan’s politics, men and women chosen by popular vote in December 1991 in elections where the newly legitimated opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party, ran against the incumbent Kuomintang Nationalist Party, winning around 23 percent of the vote. Central to their concerns were the possibilities of Taiwanese independence, the significance (or lack of it) of the fact that the Taiwanese president, Lee Teng-hui, was a born-again Presbyterian Christian, and the chances of Taiwan’s being granted full membership under its own name in GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade).

* * *

What is intriguing about the contrast of these images is not so much their content, though that is dramatic enough, but rather how much we have taken them for granted. Yes, of course, we expect to read about a policeman’s bullet in the back of the neck under the drifting opium clouds on the mainland and about the jeers of the faithful, or a young man deliberately infected by a near-fatal disease. Equally we are used to hearing about Taiwan’s high-tech planning on a supranational scale amid streets jammed with Mercedes and Porsches, and the volatile discussion of democratic practice and Christian belief. What a long way indeed many of us have come, from our absorption with the visionary leaps and passions of China’s Maoist version of socialism, and our disgust with Taiwan’s plodding censorship, denials of basic human rights, and omnipresent police spies. Clio of course has always been a flexible muse, but it is nevertheless surprising how swiftly the flood of books on Taiwan has grown, and how thoroughly the world of the People’s Republic is now being reassessed for inherent flaws and doleful portents.3

Ramon Myers, senior fellow and curator of the East Asian collection at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University, has long been among those who have strenuously pressed Taiwan’s claims to be studied in its own right, as a counterweight to inadequately critical analysis of the People’s Republic. He has also long called for more favorable assessment of the Kuomintang, the Chinese nationalist party built up by Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek, which has controlled the government on Taiwan since the end of World War II. In the new book he has written with Lai Tse-han and Wei Wou, suitably titled A Tragic Beginning, he and his fellow scholars give us a detailed analysis of the February 28, 1947, uprising by the local Taiwanese against the newly arrived members of the Kuomintang, an uprising quelled by a blood bath that poisoned relations between the island’s troubled residents and their Kuomintang overlords for a generation, and did much to reinforce the widely held view that the nationalist rule on Taiwan was both rapacious and bloodthirsty. The summary sounds harsh but the book may show the degree to which views critical of the Kuomintang are now tolerated, especially since Lai Tse-han himself has recently served as the head of a cabinet-sponsored panel on Taiwan to reassess and reanalyze the incident.4

* * *

A Tragic Beginning reminds us how frail was the foundation on which the Taiwanese government built up the economic successes that we now take so much for granted. Though the Japanese—who controlled Taiwan as a colony between 1895 and 1945—had built an industrial infrastructure on the island, and helped to educate a highly articulate and accomplished professional elite, they had also ravaged the domestic and cultural life of Taiwan’s Chinese settlers. During World War II the Japanese insisted that all Taiwanese study Japanese language and history at the expense of their own Chinese heritage, that they declare their loyalty to the emperor of Japan, and even be ready to fight against Chinese forces on the mainland as members of the Japanese army. Japanese “order” on the island had been maintained by enormous forces of regular troops and police, whose sudden removal at the war’s end threatened widespread crime and disorder. And the United States, in the closing year of the war against Japan, had bombed much of Taiwan’s industry, harbor facilities, and transportation networks, making the prospects for effective postwar reconstruction extremely doubtful.

After Japan’s surrender in 1945, a motley contingent of disorganized and poorly disciplined Chinese troops from the mainland stepped into this troubled situation, ferried to Taiwan on American naval transports or flown in on American planes. Initially received at dockside by smartly dressed honor guards of Japanese troops, and welcomed by excited crowds of their compatriots, these mainlanders moved swiftly to gut what was left of Taiwan’s economy. The melancholy story of incompetence, insensitivity, and graft was not helped by the character and actions of the governor that Chiang Kai-shek chose to run the island, Ch’en I. Born in the coastal province of Chekiang in 1883, Ch’en had studied in both Japan and Germany as a young man, and had grown up to be an obedient follower of the Kuomintang: inflexible, austere, and a master of factional politics. Ch’en packed the Taiwan administration with his own cronies, ignored aspirations of the Taiwanese for a say in the running of their own government and economy, and (although he knew both) refused to speak in the local coastal dialects or in Japanese, the most common languages of the Taiwan elites.

The rapid looting of Taiwan’s resources by his subordinates or by other mainlanders, and the rigor with which a maze of new taxes and monopolies were forced on the Taiwanese, led to a growing local resentment that exploded in late February 1947 with hideous violence after Nationalist monopoly inspectors beat a woman street hawker selling black-market cigarettes, and killed an innocent bystander. Following days of rioting, in which many mainland Chinese were killed or savagely beaten by Taiwanese, Chiang Kai-shek ordered a division of his best troops to the island to quell the unrest which had now begun to include calls for Taiwanese self-government.

Ironically the Kuomintang’s regular army units had recently been recalled to the mainland in a desperate last minute bid by Chiang Kai-shek to check the rapidly expanding Communist forces. The troops now ordered to Taiwan behaved with great cruelty, and the massacre of civilian insurgents and their supposed supporters—as well as Taiwanese shot at random in the streets, bayonetted to death, or drowned—continued until late March, leaving at least eight thousand Taiwanese, and possibly many more, dead. Even if, as the authors are at pains to show, the Taiwanese elite was not “wiped out,”5 the survivors were terrified and cowed, and many were held for decades in Taiwanese prisons—until 1987 in the case of one activist Taiwanese militia leader.

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The authors of A Tragic Beginning suggest that, horrendous though this moment was in Taiwan history, it had in it certain positive elements. It spurred the Kuomintang leaders to think more constructively about economic reforms, and gave birth to the idea that Taiwan might be developed as a model province. Though some have also claimed that the insurgency helped to produce the Taiwan Independence Movement, the authors insist that the Independence Movement remained fragmented and rather unclear in its goals, and subject to enervating conflicts of personality among its leaders, thus further reducing the long-range importance of the massacre. Furthermore, perhaps because of the violence of the 1947 events, and the hatred of mainland Chinese that was evidenced there, once the Kuomintang had been forced to the island for good in late 1949, they did allow limited forms of elections. But it was not until 1969 that any Taiwanese voice was allowed in the elections to the central government, not until 1977 that an “opposition party” was allowed to run candidates, and not until 1989 that martial law was fully lifted.

How far Taiwan was from being any kind of economic miracle during the 1950s is powerfully conveyed in the recently published short stories from that period by Bo Yang, himself a refugee from northern China, who joined the exodus to Taiwan in 1949, and wrote a series of searing short stories on the plight of the mainlanders. The harsh realism and almost unrelieved pessimism of these tales was in part the reason for the arrest of Bo Yang by the Kuomintang in 1968 on the grounds that he “undermined the affections between the people and the government.” After serving nine years of a twelve-year sentence, Bo Yang was released, and amply had his revenge in the bitter indictment of Chinese hypocrisy and cruelty of his 1984 essay “The Ugly Chinaman,” which circulated widely in the West, and eventually in both Taiwan and the People’s Republic.

In one of the finest of Bo Yang’s earlier stories, “On a Train,” two mainlanders who knew each other long before in China meet when traveling by rail in Taiwan. One has just been to see a former friend, now in desperate trouble with the authorities—the other is escorting a madman to a mental hospital in Taipei. Asked why the man he is taking to the hospital first went mad, the escort replies that he has no idea. He used to care about such things, but now he no longer does so:

I remember when I first started working at the hospital, I always wanted to find out why the lunatics got sick, and when I found out I couldn’t help crying for them. As time went by, I slowly stopped caring and became indifferent. Why should I try to find out why they were like that? What does that have to do with me?

In an equally sad story, “Narrow Roads,” two other mainland refugees reminisce over a dead friend. They conclude that he died because “he’d read too many books, and they led him into a dead-end street. They taught him too many principles: that a man should have spirit, should be fair, should refuse to bow down in the face of power, should hold to his principles even in poverty, and so on and so on.” Whereas in reality the only truth that refugee life on Taiwan had to offer was the simple one that when people “need to be lied to, or when lying to them makes them happy, you should lie to them, and lie without mercy.”

* * *

A useful way to see how these doubly despairing worlds of hounded Taiwanese resisters and of economically dispossessed and intellectually alienated mainland refugees somehow were brought together in a long-range pattern of astonishing growth, is presented in two recent books, Hung-mao Tien’s The Great Transition and Robert Wade’s Governing the Market. Tien shows clearly how the Kuomintang in Taiwan was able to accomplish virtually everything that it had refused to do—or been unable to do—in the long years of its attempts to unify mainland China between 1928 and 1949.

In the economic sphere, for instance, the new government proceeded to push through land reform, to end inflation, and to develop an indigenous Taiwanese industry backed by high tariffs, import quotas, and rigorous prohibitions of imported luxury goods. Japanese competition was curbed by these policies, and with advice from the American Agency for International Development Taiwan embarked on an aggressive strategy of increasing its exports. Despite the oil crisis of the early 1970s, the loss of the Nationalist seat in the United Nations and the end of diplomatic recognition by most other countries, and dislocations as the economy changed directions, the overall result was a remarkable annual economic growth rate between 1951 and 1984 of 8.9 percent and, after a dip in 1985, of around 11 percent in both 1986 and 1987. The share of the profit among those Tien identifies as the 2,699 most “influential industrial and commercial entrepreneurs” was not unfairly divided, with about 30 percent being mainlanders, and about 70 percent being Taiwanese.

This extraordinary growth was achieved in a strongly coercive political atmosphere. Political opposition, whether by dissatisfied mainlanders, or disenfranchised Taiwanese, was hardly allowed. The few attempts at even moderate liberal reformism were suppressed by Kuomintang police agencies who either arrested the dissident leaders for their alleged Communist contacts, or imprisoned them on the grounds of distributing “anti-government materials” if they tried to contest Kuomintang candidates at local elections, or to express opposing views in literary magazines. Only after 1977, in a number of complex and courageous organizational and electoral battles, well summarized by Tien, did members of the the opposition slowly learn to hold their ground; yet even here, as the rigged trials of eight men who were accused of leading riots at Kaohsiung in 1979 (most of them in fact were writers for the independent-minded journal Formosa) showed, the government did not yield power easily.

The sentences by military tribunal ranging from twelve years to life imposed on these defendants—several of whom had not even been in Kaohsiung until the demonstrations there were almost over—reminds one that the sentencing in 1979 of the Chinese Democracy Wall dissident Wei Jingsheng to fifteen years in prison was equally outrageous, but perhaps not worse than the Taiwanese abuse of justice. And to underscore these parallels, it was only in 1986 that the Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party was able to hold its first Party Congress to discuss a reform program, and even then those inside the new party who advocated an “independent Taiwan” were not safe from government wrath. As recently as 1988 two outspoken advocates of an independent Taiwan were sentenced to eleven and ten years respectively for their views, and in early 1992 the Democratic Progressive Party was threatened by the Kuomintang premier with dissolution for continuing to demand independence. That Taiwan now presents a moderately “democratic” exterior is thus a phenomenon of startling newness, and rights to free expression and to organize political opposition are still not secure there.

Robert Wade’s book provides an admirably clear institutional and economic perspective from which to assess Taiwan’s achievements. He is interested both in the scale of industrial development in Taiwan and in the precise ways that government either fostered or occasionally hindered this growth. By contrast with either Japan or Korea Taiwan has few huge firms, and almost none that figure in the Fortune list of five hundred biggest industrial firms outside of the United States (two to Korea’s ten). In the period of swiftest growth during the late 1970s, only 176 firms in all of Taiwan had more than one thousand employees, and an astonishing 80 percent had fewer than twenty employees. This has led to a relative balance among Taiwan’s fifteen largest firms, but also to an enormous flexibility in overall production patterns. As Wade puts it,

Amongst the many thousands of small- and medium-sized firms, there is little sense of “belonging” to any one industry. The owners are prepared to move, grasshopper-like, to wherever a chance of quick profit shows itself. The same person may be proprietor of several companies producing quite different products. One such person owns an air cargo agency, a travel agency, an apartment-leasing agency, a construction company, a company to manufacture video games, and another to make counterfeit personal computers.

Government intervention in Taiwan’s economy has been crucial, Wade argues, and at its best has proved both clear in its goals and swiftly adjustable. The large amounts of aid sent from United States during the 1950s were put to skillful use, and the government carried out intelligent plans for import substitution that gradually expanded and strengthened Taiwan’s communications, electrical power grid, and other parts of its industrial infrastructure. This pattern of development has not always been even, however. Taiwan’s civilian companies have suffered consistently from the government’s refusal to give them lucrative defense contracts, which are restricted to a small number of publicly owned firms. And as the government concentrated its attention on petrochemicals, plastics, and electronics, the Taiwan policy toward automobiles “wobbled and drifted,” leading to the production of “some of the world’s most deservedly obscure cars.” A subsequent attempt to establish a major joint venture with Toyota ended in “fiasco.”

* * *

Recent developments in microelectronic technology, as presented by Wade, give us an excellent look at the complex institutional planning that lies behind Taiwan’s “economic miracle.” In 1974 the Taiwan government formed a group known as “ERSO” (Electronic Research and Service Organization) that was to develop semi-conductor design and production as a subsidiary of the officially sponsored National Industrial Technology Research Institute. By 1976 ERSO had opened a model plant for making electronic wafers, and in 1977 it signed an agreement with RCA to design integrated circuits. ERSO’s growth was supervised by an “industry task force” headed by two cabinet ministers reporting directly to the premier. To sharpen Taiwan’s competitiveness with South Korea (which was putting its main energies into high-volume production of memory chips), ERSO planners decided to concentrate on custom tailored chips. In 1979 some of this work was passed over to a newly formed ERSO subsidiary, United Micro-electronics; at this stage, a 45 percent share of the equity was parcelled out among five private local firms.

By 1982 United Microelectronics was in full production, in collaboration with three Silicon Valley Chinese American firms that had agreed to relocate in a government-backed industry park in Taiwan. In 1985 the company designed and produced a 256K dynamic random access memory chip and by 1986 had progressed to even more powerful chips of a similar kind. As Wade, whose book is not noted for hyperbole, remarks, “these projects were already quite advanced by world standards.”

Such details give a sense of the planning involved in Taiwan’s growth and of the brain power the regime can muster. According to Wade’s informants, by 1987 the Industrial Technology and Research Institute had a civilian staff of over 4,000, of whom a thousand had Ph.D. or MA degrees, and 1,400 had BAs. (A military “equivalent” to this institute employed a staff of over 20,000.) A separate development center for biotechnology was established in 1984, and other fields have since been selected for fast growth through government support during the last decade—including energy, automation, electro-optics, food-processing, and disease control.6

* * *

Taiwan’s gradual moves toward democracy and the heightened complexity of its economic planning both coincided with the last years of the presidency of Chiang Kai-shek’s son Chiang Ching-kuo, and the inauguration of President Lee Teng-hui in 1988. As Tien points out in his study, Lee “symbolizes the transition of power from the mainlander old guard to a younger generation of Taiwan-born leaders.” Son of a Taiwan rice farmer, Lee went to four universities—Kyoto, Taipei, Iowa State, and Cornell—receiving a Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Cornell in 1968. After a few years as a university teacher in Taiwan, and as a consultant with a US-funded “Commission on Rural Reconstruction,” Lee began his political rise within the Kuomintang in 1978, the same year that Chiang Ching-kuo succeeded his father Chiang Kai-shek as president. Lee’s career was promoted by Chiang Ching-kuo, who saw him as an invaluable—and honest—middleman between the Taiwanese and the mainlanders. After a successful term as mayor of Taipei, and as “governor” of Taiwan in the Kuomintang-dominated structure that still claimed to govern the mainland provinces, Lee was named to the central Standing Committee of the Kuomintang, and chosen by Chiang as his vice-president in 1984. With Chiang Ching-kuo’s death in 1988, Lee succeeded peacefully to the presidency.

But President Lee symbolizes not only a younger, Taiwan-born group of political leaders who are presiding over the demise of the old mainland-based Kuomintang political machinery. He also reminds us of the extraordinary ideological eclecticism of Taiwanese society, in which traditional Confucian family values, Buddhist spiritual yearnings, and modern Western technological skills can all coexist. Lee Teng-hui is also a devout Presbyterian, who sought solace in the Christian church after his son died of cancer in 1982, and he often quotes the Bible in his speeches. His membership in the Presbyterian church is not without political significance, because the Presbyterians have long had a reputation for speaking their own minds on Taiwan and since the 1970s have been especially tenacious in urging Taiwan’s independence from the mainland, even though the expression of such views was completely forbidden by law. Thus their most natural allies, and many of their own congregations, are members of the Democratic Progressive Party which opposes Lee’s own Kuomintang Party.

Though Christians are not dominant in Taiwan—there are only some 300,000 Protestants and 275,000 Catholics out of a population of 20 million—they are still a significant force contributing to a more pluralistic atmosphere. Thanks to Murray Rubinstein’s new study we can get a closer view of the Protestants on the island, one that highlights the variety and complexity of social and religious structures that coexist with the “economic miracle.”

The variety of different Protestant evangelist sects on Taiwan is astonishing, and though Rubinstein writes without exaggerating their eccentricities, he shows how Taiwanese Christianity developed its own highly distinctive characteristics. One pioneer was the founder of the True Jesus Church, Barnabas Zhang, who traveled to the island with some fellow evangelists in 1926 and worked among the “mountain people” of Taiwan, that is, the descendants of the original inhabitants of the island. These people had been driven up from the plains into the hills by Chinese settlers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and then forced into reservation-like settlements, later surrounded with electrified barbed wire by the Japanese colonial administrators.

Another import to Taiwan was the Assembly Hall Church of “Watchman” Ni, which was founded in China in the early 1920s and preached a new brand of “Sinified Christianity,” that drew some of its inspiration from the Anglo-Irish “Exclusive Brethren” of the early nineteenth century, but also responded to the anti-imperialist fervor prevalent in the Chinese revolution by rejecting the forms of worship of Anglo-American Protestant churches. Deeply nationalistic, and also a shrewd businessman and entrepreneur, Ni founded a branch of his church in Taiwan in the difficult months of 1947 after the February 28 massacre. Though Ni himself stayed on the mainland after 1949, trying to keep his church afloat there under Communist rule, the Taiwan Assembly Hall Church flourished under Ni’s lieutenant, “Witness” Li. It came to be seen as the “Mandarin” church and was therefore particularly popular among the mainland Chinese who found themselves in permanent exile on Taiwan after Chiang Kai-shek’s flight to the island.

Within Taiwan’s swiftly changing economy and society, these and other Protestant churches found an unanticipated ally in the “Prayer Mountain Movement” founded by Pastor Daniel Dai who had been working for the “Campus Crusades for Christ” when his wife experienced a series of spiritual visions in the late 1970s. After consulting with local Lutheran missionaries, and studying the organizational techniques of successful Korean evangelists, Dai set up weekend retreats that would allow Taiwanese Protestants of all denominations to renew their spiritual lives. A generous gift of land from a Taiwanese farmer who had participated in one of these retreats led to the establishment of a prayer hall and dormitory complex not far from Taipei. During the 1980s thousands of Taiwanese Christians visited Dai’s Prayer Mountain in search of religious fulfillment. By their circumspect political behavior, Taiwan’s Presbyterians and several other Protestant groups managed not only to keep alive ideas that challenged the authoritarian ideology of the Kuomintang, but even to form an independent base from which formal political opposition could slowly grow and which now is central to the politics of the island.

Less fortunate were some smaller sects that got caught in the crossfire between their own religious goals and the government’s unwavering hostility to anything that smacked of sympathy for the banned Taiwan Independence Movement. One of these was the “New Testament Church,” founded in Hong Kong in 1962 by a popular singer and self-styled “prophetess,” Kang Duanyi. The church had as its goal the restoration of the biblical church of the apostles, and when, after her death, the church’s mantle passed to one of Ms. Kang’s former followers in Taiwan, Elijah Hong, the sect ran into trouble. Elijah Hong believed it was his mission both to lead his church in a “holy war” against all other denominations on the island, and to convert some property owned by his church in the mountains outside the southern city of Kaohsiung into “the holy mountain of Zion.”

To realize this dream, Elijah and his followers began to plant forests in their rather barren stretch of land as well as grow crops, dig fish ponds, build a prayer hall, and in practical gestures to the modern needs for security in Zion, they constructed guard towers and a cable car lift. Unfortunately, this burst of sectarian activity coincided with the 1978 riots in Kaohsiung, in which the Kuomintang government claimed that members of the Taiwan Independence Movement were deeply implicated. The Kuomintang destroyed Elijah Hong’s Zion and evicted its members. For close to a decade the members of the beleaguered community fought for their survival through an international advertising campaign and by direct confrontations with Taiwanese authorities; in 1987 they won back their right to exist as a church and to reoccupy their sacred mountain in peace.

* * *

Each of the five books under review helps us fill in part of the story of modern Taiwan, but even when they are considered together they still don’t give us the coherent view of the present that would also help us guess intelligently at the future. The book of essays edited by Denis Simon and Michael Kau, Taiwan: Beyond the Economic Miracle, goes further than any previous volume in doing so. Successfully avoiding the kind of pro-Kuomintang puff-pieces that have marred some previous collections, while also avoiding simple-minded criticism of the Kuomintang and skewed parallels with the People’s Republic, the collection raises difficult issues and suggests that the next few years are not going to be easy ones.

The lead essay by Hung-mao Tien goes beyond the arguments he presented in The Great Transition, and takes a careful look at the “emergency provisions” that have been so central to Kuomintang rule. He considers the efforts of the opposing Democratic Progressive Party to gain support, and suggests four major tasks that may prove extremely difficult for Taiwan’s leaders. Now that the old-guard Kuomintang with their vision of a reunified anti-Communist “one China” are fading from the scene they will have to create a new national identity based on consensus. They will have to work out a valid system for conducting elections for all the principal political offices and encourage the broad participation in politics that still does not take place. They will also have to alter the prevailing “corporatist” system of government in which the heads of the judicial system, the armed forces, and many university presidents are still members of the Central Committee of the Kuomintang Nationalist Party. Finally, they will have to protect citizens from criminals whose numbers (and violence) have grown alarmingly in the years since 1987 when martial law was lifted. Many well-to-do Taiwanese, Tien notes, now employ their own security guards and the level of lawlessness is “undermining the business and industrial communities’ willingness to invest in Taiwan.”

Parris Chang deepens the sense of the difficulties facing the government when he examines the power of the military within the political system, and shows how the so-called “academic” debates over Taiwan’s political structure and electoral process in fact provide no more than the veneer for deep power struggles which can erupt in financial scandals and nuclear plots. Chang describes, for example, how the anti-Kuomintang writer Henry Liu was murdered in Daly City, California, by members of the crime syndicate known as the “Bamboo Gang,” which worked in complicity with the Intelligence Bureau of the Ministry of National Defense.

A strong “ethnic” element has emerged just below—or even on—the surface of Taiwan’s political, economic, and social life, as the essay by Marshall Johnson makes clear. People don’t like to talk about this on Taiwan, where the government encourages the view that the common “Chineseness” of all citizens produces social harmony and ideological unity. But the historical patterns of both jobs and marriages on the island, as analyzed by Johnson, suggest a very different interpretation, that the members of the Kuomintang who came to Taiwan after 1949 created a “settler society” that was imposed by coercion over the island’s inhabitants, who were firmly excluded from the dominant companies and dominant family networks. Michael Hsiao, in a study of Taiwan’s small but growing labor movement, also points out that the “economic miracle” has been “not without great human costs.” State corporatist control over labor organizations was thorough and authoritarian, allowing an average of only thirty-six labor disputes per year in the 1960s. By the 1980s this number had risen to over a thousand a year, though the scale of each incident remained small. Hsiao reminds us that “the current liberalization can only be considered a necessary precondition for fostering further democratic development” and should not be confused with democracy itself.

As Jack Williams argues in his essay on environmentalism in Taiwan, the many small industries on the island are hostile both to organized labor and pollution control. Taiwan now ranks with the most highly developed nations in the amount of garbage it creates per person per day—1.2 kilos—and as the air quality grows worse and worse, around 50,000 Taiwanese are leaving their island each year. One response has been to move Taiwanese industries “off-shore” to countries that need cash more than they care about air pollution; thus, after years of strident protest from Taiwanese environmentalists, one of Taiwan’s major petrochemical companies decided to build its new plant at Batangas in the Philippines. In response to rising pollution Taiwan’s own Environmental Protection Agency, founded in 1987, has launched imaginative and highly publicized programs that the Bush administration might do well to consider. In “Project Eagle” the agency used helicopters with infrared sensors to locate polluters and then swooped down from the sky to impose fines on the spot. “Project Nightingale” was dedicated to locating and punishing of noise polluters. “Project Rambo” was designed to stop the illegal nighttime dumping of toxic wastes.

* * *

The most vivid essay in the collection is certainly Hill Gates’s “Small Fortunes: Class and Society in Taiwan,” which starts with a beautifully presented sketch of the “Gao family,” whose members she first met in a busy Taiwan side street during 1970 and whom she revisited at five-year intervals, following their economic fortunes, their jobs, their births and marriages and deaths.

The Gaos, in their capacity for hard work, their shrewdness, their political practicality, their limited social goals, are presented by Gates as typical representatives of the “petty capitalists” who have been the key to Taiwan’s success during the last decades. Mrs. Gao is both a housewife and an entrepreneur in businesses including a grocery shop, a restaurant, and an atelier for making boots for the Chinese operas that appear on TV; she runs her family and acts as an “investor-manager” in a vast “underground economy” which often evades official attention including taxes but which, if it could be monitored, would doubtless add 30 or 40 percent to the official figures we have for Taiwan’s GNP. “Much of the wealth that enables people like the Gaos to fix their teeth, buy apartments, and educate daughters, has been seized from the flows that officials want to direct to the state, and capitalists want to send to corporate headquarters.” The Gaos and millions of other petty capitalists, in Gates’s elegant pun, “ultimately steal the show.”

Always present in the background of Hill Gates’s essay are the larger issues of Chinese behavior and politics. The local interests and needs of the Gao family may seem specific: “They want to be left strictly alone by officials, not bothered by tax agents or policemen…. They also want a ‘strong leader’ who will eliminate street crime (though not tax evasion), and manage society with benevolent despotism.” But, as Gates suggests in an elaborate metaphor, the Gaos and other petty capitalists of Taiwan are inescapably part of a larger drama. It is mainland China itself that is “the vast theater” in which this drama will be played out. And even if for a brief time after the 1989 Beijing demonstrations and massacre “the Chinese audience became an orchestra pit full of poor relations,” that will not be the case indefinitely.

In their various ways all the other essays in the volume edited by Simon and Kau speak to the problem of how Taiwan should—or will have to—adjust and react to the enormous country they claimed for forty years to rule. For running through the essays that deal specifically with the economy and with foreign policy is a sense of Taiwan’s limitations—limitations within the world of diplomacy, limitations on further economic expansion, limitations even in their ability to defend their own territory. “Taiwanese independence” is thus not just a political movement or an ideological statement, it is a moral and economic conundrum of the most complicated kind. What is long term and what is short term in Taiwan’s success? What is fundamental about recent political changes and what is superficial? Is there a common destiny with the mainland, or was it the period of unification from 1683 to 1895 that was the anomaly?

Clio’s flexibility lets us approach these questions with a measure of information and a dash of common sense, after years of dismissal or exaggeration. Taiwan, as we can see from these studies, is clearly very much a part of modern Chinese history, but that is not the same as saying it is a part of China. In the next decade both China and Taiwan are going to have to confront the anomalies of their situation, and decide what it is that they really want from each other. One of Bo Yang’s fictional mainland refugees expressed the paradox and the pain of this predicament with enigmatic vigor: “Illusions vanish when a man wakes up. But lunatics never wake up. Their eyes see a beautiful vision that never ends, a fulfillment of all their wishful thinking that never stops. The people who are really pitiful are the ones who aren’t crazy, like us.”

  1. Both stories were given lengthy coverage in The New York Times, October 27, 1991. Further documentation for such abuses is presented in enormous detail in Anthems of Defeat, Crackdown in Hunan Province 1989–1992: An Asia Watch Report, 1992.
  2. See "China Allowing Ailing Dissident to Leave for US," The New York Times, August 20, 1992.
  3. For some recent and darker analyses of the rise and growth of the Chinese Communist Party, see especially Edward Friedman, Paul G. Pickowicz, Mark Selden, with Kay Ann Johnson, Chinese Village, Socialist State (Yale University Press, 1991); David Bachman, Bureaucracy, Economy, and Leadership in China: The Institutional Origins of the Great Leap Forward (Cambridge University Press, 1991); Hung Yung Lee, From Revolutionary Cadres to Party Technocrats in Socialist China (University of California Press, 1991); Tony Saich, The Origins of the First United Front in China: The Role of Sneevliet (alias Maring), two volumes (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1991).
  4. On Lai Tse-han and the review panel, see the China Post, February 11, 1992.
  5. In a fact-filled paragraph on page 160 of A Tragic Beginning, the authors state that "0.012 percent of the elite were killed." Since they estimated those killed in the massacres at 8,000 Taiwanese and 4,000 of those victims as being members of the elite, with a total elite population being 325,000, one assumed there is a misprint in the text. If 4 out of every 325 members of the elite were killed, that would be somewhat over 1 percent.
  6. On other aspects of foreign policy and economic strategy, see especially the detailed studies by Yu San Wang, editor, Foreign Policy of the Republic of China on Taiwan, An Unorthodox Approach (Praeger, 1990), and Chi Schive, The Foreign Factor: The Multinational Corporation's Contribution to the Economic Modernization of the Republic of China (Hoover Institution Press, 1990).