26 October 2011

Book Review: Formosa Betrayed, by George Kerr, *****

Island of Tatan, off Quemoy with Nationalist flag
By way of background...

"Our experience in Formosa is most enlightening. The Administration of the former Governor Chen Yi has alienated the people from the Central Government. Many were forced to feel that conditions under autocratic rule [Japan's rule] were preferable.

The Central Government lost a fine opportunity to indicate to the Chinese people and to the world at large its capability to provide honest and efficient administration. They cannot attribute their failure to the activities of the Communists or of dissident elements. The people anticipated sincerely and enthusiastically deliverance from the Japanese yoke. However, Chen Yi and his henchmen ruthlessly, corruptly, and avariciously imposed their regime upon a happy and amenable population. The Army conducted themselves as conquerors. Secret police operated freely to intimidate and to facilitate exploitation by Central Government officials. . . .

The island is extremely productive in coal, rice, sugar, cement, fruits and tea. Both hydro and thermal power are abundant. The Japanese had efficiently electrified even remote areas and also established excellent railroad lines and highways. Eighty per cent of the people can read and write, the exact antithesis of conditions prevailing in the mainland of China.

There were indications that Formosans would be receptive toward United States guardianship and United Nations trusteeship. They fear that the Central Government contemplates bleeding their island to support the tottering and corrupt Nanking machine, and I think their fears well founded."

--Lieutenant General Albert C. Wedemeyer to the Secretary of State, August 17, 1947. (United States Relations With China, p. 309.)


This book is a phenomenally detailed documentation of the blunders of American policy in Taiwan after WWII. Obsessed by the (quite understandable) need to keep the communists out, Washington gave Chiang Kai-Shek virtual carte blanche to do as he pleased in Taiwan, an island he considered less than occupied territory, to be exploited in order to cultivate his illusory dream to reconquer the mainland.

The massacres following the 28 February 1947 episodes, well told in detail here, should have made it clear to the U.S. administration that the KMT was not up to standard when it came to ruling Taiwan, which it had just recovered to China from 50 years of Japanese occupation.

Instead of promoting democracy and freedom for the people of Taiwan, the Americans were interested first of all in keeping the Communists out (a noble cause no doubt) and, no less importantly, keeping KMT from making trouble against the PRC (also necessary in light of the dictator's unrealistic ambitions). Thus, initially America betrayed Taiwan, even though, in the coming decades, there is no doubt that Taiwan would not have become the success story that we know without the American presence and protection.

Almost fifty years after its publication, this remains a must read for understading Taiwan.

PS: This book has nothing to do with the 2009 film by the same title...

This book has been made available for free by the publisher. You can download it here.

In the same website "Pinyin.info" you can find more books about Taiwan and China.

If you prefer the beautiful original hardcover edition, you can buy it on Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. Quite right!! General 'Cash-a-Cheque' was a hideous, down-market, inefficient criminal with pretentious military aspirations! Typically, the Americans were led by the nose. As usual.


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