National Museum of Taiwan History
If you did not know, I love history. It was the one subject I was good at in school. So when I visited Tainan I was excited to visit the National History Museum of Taiwan. The museum opened in 2011 and has about 60,000 artifacts. It covers Aboriginal, Dutch, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese influence on the island.
The museum is best viewed from the top floor and working your way down. On the top floor is the special exhibits. When I went the exhibits were on New Migrants, Food in Taiwan and on the 2.28 incident.
The 2.28 incident was a popular uprising against the Kuomintang government in 1947. It was violently put down and lead to martial law. A taboo subject for years the museum had a display of photos, audio, papers, and other artifacts. Like Chiang Kai-shek or many things from that time period, it’s complicated and contentious. In the US we are still squabbling over a civil war that was over 150 years ago.
The resulting martial law period lasted from 1947 to 1987 and led to between 2,000 and 3,000 executions. If you want to try an interesting video game set in that time period try Detention. Seriously it’s an amazing horror game.
The museum follows the history of Taiwan as you walk from floor to floor. Basically, Taiwan is one of those places where lots of different people came, lived, fucked, fought over, and died. So now for a short history lesson. AKA total nerd out
The Early Years
First, the Austronesian people, whose decedents are the modern aboriginals, paddled over. China most likely knew about the island but did not settle it. China was seen as a land confined by rivers, mountains, and oceans, not one of some islands. In 1544 a Portuguese ship passed by and named it Ilha Formosa “Beautiful Island” If you are familiar with history you will know that Portugal is good at naming stuff.
The Portuguese set up shop in Macau, and in 1622 the Dutch tried to take it over. They failed. So instead the Dutch took over Penghu. Then proceed to get kicked out and moved to what is now Tainan. In response, the Spanish took over northern Taiwan but this time the Dutch kicked the Spanish out [1 out of 3]. It was during this time that people from China started moving to Taiwan. Despite the claims of the PRC that Taiwan has always been part of China, a bunch of Europeans settled it and bickered over it first.
Now some Chinese
In 1662 the Dutch did what they do best, and lost their colony. Taiwan was taken over by remaining Ming forces led by the Zheng family. The Zheng family took over the island and proceed to raid and engage in piracy against the new Qing Dynasty.
Naturally, this pissed the Qing of and they invaded Taiwan in 1683. This left the Qing in charge of an island that they did not (major cultural difference). The Emperors’ ministers considered Taiwan a ball of mud beyond the sea and advised the Emperor to order the removal of all Chinese and abandon the Island. Instead, Taiwan remained a frontier state with the wilderness controlled by aboriginal tribes. Increased immigration after the 1760’s increased tensions and lawlessness. TLDR Taiwan was the wild wild east.
Japan wants some Colonies
The Qing Dynasty controlled about 45% of the island. The aboriginals outside Qing control had a nasty habit of taking the heads of any sailors unfortunate enough to get stranded on the island. Unlike the Americans, Japan was not satisfied with just shooting up the countryside when they lost a ship’s crew. They complained to the ambassador and as happens both sides heard different things.
The Chinese heard “It’s not your business, fuck off you Japs”
The Japanese heard: “Yes you control the Ryukyu Islands, no we don’t control Eastern Taiwan, go ahead send a few thousand soldiers”
Natural the Japanese did just that and spent a little time shooting the locals until the Qing paid Japan off. The Japanese liked it so much they came back and got Taiwan and Penghu in the first Sino-Japanese war. Japan engaged in a campaign to crush resistance and control all of the island. With Japans loss in WWII, it ceded its control of Taiwan and Penghu but not to any specific country.
The Republic of China
The Republic of China (ROC) took over Taiwan with the end of the war. They managed to quickly lose popular support and the 2.28 incident led to martial law. With the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) AKA the Commies victory on the mainland of China the ROC moved its capital to Taipei. It was meant to be a temporary move but we all know how that worked. Chiang Kai-shek’s plan to invade mainland China called Project National Glory never came to fruition. A series of military mistakes and disagreements between US and ROC forces sunk the plan and it was given up in 1972
Chiang Kai-shek set himself up as a dictator in a one party (KMT) state and politicized the military. Despite being a democracy according to the constitution the war and martial law were used as means to suspend democracy. Educated in the Soviet Union and suspicious of the USA Chiang Kai-shek believed the CIA was trying to overthrow him and create an independent Taiwan. Economic improvement along with the removal of UN recognition, the death of Chiang Kai-shek and other diplomatic setbacks set the stage for greater democratic reforms.
The early 1990’s saw more and more positions open to elections. In 1996 the president was elected. PRC attempts to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate into not voting failed and there was a 76% turnout. Lee Teng-hui’s victory led to the third strait crisis that ended when the US deployed two aircraft carrier groups to the region.
The last election was in 2016 and the PRC tried to intimidate voters into not voting for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). This helped the DPP win the presidency and have the first non-KMT majority in the Legislative Yuan. It seems that the PRC is not very good at influencing elections. [ 0/3 I am adding the Panchen Lama]