Taiwan’s White Terror Period 1949 – 1987


The murderous Nationalist regime came to power in China in 1911, over-throwing centuries of imperial rule. As it pursued a pro-Western policy of rapid modernisation (at the expense of traditional Chinese culture) it was a very popular regime with Western leaders who offered open support for its activities. These activities included the abandonment of the use of chop-sticks amongst the people and the forced imposition of the use of knife and forks. The abandonment of traditional Chinese studies, the mass importation of Western literature and science, and the importation of Christianity to replace Chinese forms of indigenous religion. Buddhist and Daoist temples were destroyed to make way for new buildings – usually schools that taught the ‘new’ pro-Western syllabus. In a rather sickening demonstration of its pro-Western leanings, the Nationalist Government attacked and destroyed the famous Shaolin Temple situated in Henan, in 1928. This Nationalist Movement was known as the Kuo Ming Tang (KMT) or ‘Country People’s Party’ and was originally founded by the very popular Sun Yatsen as an anti-imperial movement. In its early days, this party attracted support from both Western powers and the USSR – but the KMT’s association with the USSR began to wane following the death of Sun Yatsen in 1925 and the eventual emergence of the politically rightwing leaning Chiang Kai-shek as leader. This turn of events proved significant as Chiang immediately set to work driving a wedge between what would become the rightwing KMT and the leftwing Communist Party of China (lead by Mao Zedong). This led to around two decades of warfare between the two factions for control of Mainland China that was notable for the heroic resistance of the Communists against the tyranny and massacres carried-out by the Western-backed KMT.

Chiang Kai-Shek’s leadership saw the use of terror and murder more or less straight away after his ascent to power in 1927 (a time period also referred to in Mainland China as the ‘White Terror’), but in 1949 – as the KMT was on the brink of defeat in the Mainland – this highly destructive and murderous policy was applied to Taiwan and would last 38 years (finally ending in 1887). The period of the Taiwanese White Terror stemmed from the return to KMT controlled China, of the former Japanese colony of Taiwan in 1945. After 50 years of Japanese imperial rule, the Chinese citizens of Taiwan had been subject to Japanese cultural domination and indoctrination, and because of this situation, the Communist Movement had taken root amongst the Taiwanese populace as a means of resisting the oppressive Japanese presence. Chiang Kai-Shek – whilst facing certain defeat on the Mainland – had conspired with the West to use Taiwan as an island fortress in an attempt to hold-out against Mao Zedong’s victorious Communist forces. It was important for Chiang’s main ally – the USA – that the Chinese population of Taiwan were purged of any and all Communist elements. This was not a difficult policy for Chiang Kai-Shek to implement in Taiwan – as he was already carrying-out such a policy on the Mainland of China, whilst becoming ever more desperate to find a solution to Mao Zedong’s popularity amongst the Chinese people. Whereas the KMT regime brutalised and murder its citizens on the Mainland of China – the Communist forces fed and medically treated the same people. By the late 1940’s, the KMT was exclusively receiving financial support from the West and was perfectly willing to apply the preferred Western inspired anti-Communist policy. It is interesting to note in passing that the Taiwanese Chinese people suffered more brutality and killing under the KMT regime than they did under the period of Japanese colonial control.

The KMT rounded-up and murdered tens of thousands of intellectuals (and others) who were suspected of being Communists or Communist-sympathisers on the Chinese Mainland. This heinous policy was transported to Taiwan with the knowledge and support of the West in 1949. The distinction is that this murderous KMT policy was finally brought to an end on the Mainland in 1949 with the success of the Communist Revolution – but continued to be implemented on the island of Taiwan for the next four decades. The photograph above is of a KMT massacre carried-out in Shanghai in 1949 against suspected Communist sympathisers. The period between 1949 and 1987 in Taiwan is known as the ‘White Terror’ because of its persecution of political dissidents. This policy was known about, and actively encouraged by the USA who politically recognised the KMT-controlled island of Taiwan as the ‘Republic of China’ (ROC) in 1949 – ignoring the People’s Republic of China (PRC) until the late 1970’s. This condoning and encouraging of the politically inspired murders in China and Taiwan was part of a broader US anti-Communist Cold War strategy that saw the draconian suppression of the political left by the US and its allies. It is extraordinary to consider that Taiwan was packaged as an ally of the US despite the fact that it was a tyrannical and murderous one party state until the late 1980’s. It is believed that the US sanctioned the imprisonment of around 140,000 Taiwanese during the White Terror, and the murder of between 4000 to 30,000 (or more) political Taiwanese dissidents for allegedly holding leftwing political views.


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