The Taiwan Republic: The First Ever Taiwan Independence Movement?
（Associate Professor, Department of History, Tam-kang University ）
The national flag of Taiwan Republic– an amber tiger on blue ground
Taiwan was ceded to Japan in 1895 as a resultof the Ching Empire’s defeat in the Chia-wuWar. In the aftermath of this the TaiwanRepublic was proclaimed, which served to rallyresistance against Japanese colonization andwas heralded as Asia’s first democraticrepublic. Shortly after its establishment,though, the Taiwan Republic was to collapsedue to various historical factors. This weekwe ask Professor Lin Cheng-rong of theDepartment of History, Tam-kang University,to present a detailed account of the rise andfall of the republic and an in-depth analysisof its historical significance.
The 1894-95 Chia-wu War (or the Sino-JapaneseWar) was fought between the Ching Empireand Japan to settle their contest foreconomic dominance on the Korean Peninsula.Ching was soundly beaten and forced to signthe Treaty of Shimonoseki, in which itagreed to cede Taiwan, the Pascadores, andthe Liao-tung Peninsula to Japan.
Pervasive Panic Prior to the Cession
As word-of-mouth news of the island’scession was spread through foreign firmsand merchants, inhabitants in Taiwan wereovertaken by surprise and driven to atumult. They were dumbfounded by theseeming absurdity that, while all thebattles had been engaged in the north ofChina, the aftermath was regardless thecession of a southern territory. Since theimpending relinquishment was not formallymade public to the residents of Taiwan,representatives of the local gentry had toseek forits confirmation from Tang Ching-sung,then the Governor of Taiwan. At the same time,they expressed their resolution to fightagainst Japan to the bitter end. On the sly Tang had planned to sneak backto the mainland, but pretty soon he foundhimself in a tight spot as he was “abductedand detained” by the gentry. In the event,he telegraphed to the Ching court a reporton local conditions and a request for adviceon responding measures. Chang Chih-tung, theGovernor-general at Nanking, replied andordered Tang to follow several generalguidelines. The resistance should be conducted,it was emphasized, without implicating theChing government; whether the movement was forself-reliant deliverance or was to solicitoutside assistance, it should be attempted onlyin the name of Taiwan’s “self-protection,” orpursuant to the public’s “willingness to followor the lack thereof.”
The beheaded local soldiers
Intention for Independence Declared by theGovernor
After consultation with the local gentry,Tang sent a telegraph to the Ching court,proposing that the territory should endeavorfor self-reliance in the manner of an”independent nation.” ON May 23, 1895, the”Autonomy Declaration of the TaiwanRepublic” was announced, and thus was broughtinto existence the “Taiwan Republic”-heraldedas the first democratic republic of East Asia.Tang himself assumed the office of itsPresident, with Chiu Feng-chia as theVice-president and Militia Commander; YuMing-tsen the Interior Minister; Lee Ping-reithe Defense Minister;; Liu Yung-fu theBrigade-general of the South; and Lin Wei-yuanthe Chairman of the Parliament (although heslipped back to the mainland before taking theoffice).
An Independence Nation in Name Only
It was evident from so many straws in thewind that the “Taiwan Republic” was nothingbut a figment of the imagination, albeitself-styled as an independent nation. Thereign title “Yung-ching” (Forever Ching) usedto indicate that, even though an independentnation was declared, it would “forever be avassal of the Great Ching Emmpire.” Thenational flag depicted “an amber tiger on blueground.” Since the imperial ensign of Chingwas the “Dragon Flag,” this was intended as asymbolic homage to the dragon’s mightiness,and to underscore the point that the twonations had a singular amity as “between thesenior dragon and the junior tiger.” At hispresidential inauguration, Tang made therepublic’s subjects go through thefeudalistic court etiquette of “twicekneeling and six times bowing,” as ascaled-down version of the “thrice kneelingand nine times bowing” due to the ChingEmperor. What all this means is that, acoterie of people utterly ignorant ofdemocracy were using “democratic independence”as a pretext to thwart Japan’s annexation andgoverning of the territory. Be that as it may,the Ching court, looking at the matter formits standpoint, was not unconcerned about the”national independence” of Taiwan, theuppermost reason being the fear ofdisgruntling Japan in the event of Taiwanresistance, especially when this could leadto another Sino-Japanese war in which Chingwas likely to lose even more dearly.
The Republic’s President on the Lam
Yet, even as the republic’s president, Tangwas secretly planning a quick escape to themainland as soon as the opportunity presenteditself. Only ten days after the inauguration,on the pretense of inspecting the frontglines, he boarded a German merchant ship atTam-sui and departed for Amoy-hence the”Ten-day President” epithet. With “PresidentTang” on the lam, the Taiwan Republic plungedinto a leaderless anarchy. This was furtheraggravated by the ravaging and plunderingperpetrated against island inhabitants by therecently recruited Kwang-tung soldiers(commonly referred to as Kwang-yung, i.e.,Kwangg Braves), who had become worried aboutthe prospect of ever receiving their salariesfrom the republic. In the meantime, Japan hadjust gone through the cession ceremony onboard a ship off the Keelung harbor-thisunusual arrangement being the request fromChing’s plenipotentiary, Lee Ching-fang, andconsented to by Japan. Between late May andearly June, Japanese troops landed at Ao-ti(presently Kong-liao, Taipei County), andproceeded from there through San-tiao-ling toKeelung. The Kwang Braves they encountered enrout were not bale to put up any resistanceand soon crumbled to pieces. This eventualitywas mainly due to the fact that the Chingcourt had prohibited local residents toorganized their own defense forces, andinstead recruited these battalions fromoutside, who, as it turned out, wereunwilling to sacrifice their lives forTaiwan.
Arrival of Japanese Troops and the Republic’sDisintegration
When the republic’s soldiers began to ransackcivilian residences, foreigners and local gentryand merchants living in the welled city ofTaipei started to fear for their lives andproperties, so much that they conferred amongthemselves and decided to dispatch someone toKeelung for the purpose of ushering Japanesetroops to Taipei, hoping that this would bringabout clam and order in the city. To everyone’scontent, Ku Hsien-rong, an employee off theHe-tung-tsan Trading Company who was approaching”the age of independence” (i.e., the age of 30),weent to Keelung and conducted the Japanese troopsto Taipei on June 14. Owing to Ku’s effort, theJapanese soldiers were able to encamp in Taipei.After “entering the city without shedding anyblood.” Following Tang’s sneak getaway to Amoy, theremaining officials of the republic also madetheir clandestine exits one by one, leaving LiuYung-fu alone entrenched in the Tainan area forthe last-ditch struggle. At all events, he wasto realize the futility of it all five monthslater and made haste for Amoy form An-ping onboard a British merchant vessel. The TaiwanRepublic thus officially dissolved.
The Taiwan Republic as a Means against Rule
When we ponder anew the history of the “TaiwanRepublic,” we are puzzled by an enigma: howcould a group of people totally unschooled inthe idea of democracy want to establish a”democratic republic” as a means to accentuateTaiwan’s autonomy and resolve its dilemma? Inanswering this question a key may be providedby Wang Chih-chuen, the Ching court’s ImperialEnvoy to France at the time. When Chang Chih-tung,the Governor-general at Nanking, was borrowingmoney from the major world powers with Taiwan asmortgage, or with “mining concession” and “taxconcession” in Taiwan in Exchange, this flirtingwith them with the uncertainty of Taiwan’s”ownership” to curb Japanese ambition; and whenall this was to no avail, it was Wang who suggestedthe following: “China should follow westernprecedents and let the Taiwanese have what theywant.” In a telegraph sent to the Tsungli Yamen(Office of Foreign Affairs) by Chang on April 20,Wang was gusted as saying: “It is a consensus inthe west that after the France-Prussian War, Francehad to concede to Prussia’s annexation of Alsaceand Lorraine. But according to western precedents,in the process of annexing a neighboring territory,the willingness of that territory’s populace must betaken into consideration. This is a universal rule.Till now in Alsace and Lorraine the French andGerman peoples have commingled without trouble,their properties separately and distinctly owned.China can use this example in dealing withJapan….” Western observers were surprised byWang’s utilization of western ideas in the effectof establishing a new government to counterJapanese rule. But the principal officials of theTaiwan Republic headed by Tang were only concernedabout averting Japan’s takeover; they were notreally devoted to establishing a new government.Therefore, the so-called first democratic republicof Asia was like a flash in the pan, collapsing inno time. Afterward, in face of Japanese takeoverand colonial rule, all was to depend on Taiwanesepeople’s continual strong resistance, whetherovert or covert.
Edited by Kurt Huang / Translated by Huang Dao-Lin
黃政淵編輯 / 黃道琳翻譯