Articles

Another Red Pushover in Formosa?

On their last-ditch island off the China coast 700,000 of Chiang’s troops wait for invasion from the mainland. The Formosans hate them, graft and secret police still flourish, but their U. S. supporters say they’ll fight this time

BLAIR FRASER December 15 1950
Articles

Another Red Pushover in Formosa?

On their last-ditch island off the China coast 700,000 of Chiang’s troops wait for invasion from the mainland. The Formosans hate them, graft and secret police still flourish, but their U. S. supporters say they’ll fight this time

BLAIR FRASER December 15 1950

Another Red Pushover in Formosa?

On their last-ditch island off the China coast 700,000 of Chiang’s troops wait for invasion from the mainland. The Formosans hate them, graft and secret police still flourish, but their U. S. supporters say they’ll fight this time

BLAIR FRASER

ON THE SCENE, ASKS

TAIPEH, FORMOSA—Five weeks ago, amid the blaze and crackle of Korea, Formosa was

half forgotten, like a dry forest slumbering in the path of a prairie fire. On the island redoubt itself 620,000 soldiers and 80,000 sailors and airmen in cast-off U. S. uniforms gave every outward sign that they were ready to defend to the death the last stronghold of Chiang Kai-shek and Nationalist China. Two hundred miles to the west the militant Communist troops of Mao Tse-tung had temporarily turned their backs on the Strait of Formosa and struck northward across the Korea-Manchurian border and westward toward Tibet.

But no one who lived there could believe that anything that had anything to do with Formosa was settled. In the outer world the question they asked was: Can Formosa’s future be settled in the United Nations? Here the question was: When

Mao invades, will Chiang’s troops really stand and fight?

The Americans who outfitted and helped to train the remnant of Chiang’s army say the answer is “Yes.” The great majority of native Formosans, whose attitude toward Chiang’s troops is tinged with hate and fear, say “No.” Most of the British observers I have met believe that if an invasion comes the Nationalists will fight well in the early stages but fold up quickly.

All these views may be put to the test before this article appears. The intervention of the Chinese Reds in Korea obviously gives the Chiang regime new hope of general support from the democratic powers. The Nationalists are frankly longing for a third world war as their sole hope of regaining power on the Chinese mainland. If they become outright allies in Korea or in any military action that might follow Korea on the Asiatic mainland, the United Nations presumably will be committed to accept them and their long-range aspirations.

But sceptical observers still doubt the Nationalists’ worth if the going gets much tougher. They note that almost all Red Chinese prisoners captured in the early stages of Chinese intervention in Korea

were former Chiang soldiers who changed sides. In spite of recent reforms and new honesty at the top, there’s still plenty of evidence the Chiang regime below the top is pretty rotten.

When I arrived here from India the Nationalists were hard at work training their troops. Before dawn each morning I was awakened at the Friends of China Club by the sound of bugles. Old-timers turned over and went back to sleep. I got up and looked out the window at Chiang’s soldiers doing physical jerks in a park across the street.

From where I stood you might have taken them for G.I.s.

They go at P.T. with enthusiasm. You can hear them shouting “One, two, three, four” blocks away —at least I guess that’s what they were shouting as they stooped and stretched. At the end of it they march off singing a Chinese song to the tune of the “Marine Hymn.” Better fed and better dressed than they’ve ever been in the 13 years of China’s war, they’re a stout-looking lot.

The Brutality of Chen Yi

Veteran war correspondents who have seen them at combat exercises are impressed. One, an artilleryman himself in World War I, recently timed a battery taking down a gun and they did it five seconds faster than he’d ever seen it done before. In his view—and he has seen a great many soldiers this is a fit and competent army.

Formosans, whose hatred of these interlopers has cooled only slightly since the abortive rebellion against the Nationalists four years ago, are still inclined to sneer. They watch the Chinese marching in rather ragged columns, tin rice bowls clanking outside their kit bags, and compare them unfavorably with the Japanese who ruled them in the good old days l>efore the “liberation” of 1945. Formosans are Chinese by descent, but they have about the same regard for China as Colonel McCormick (Anglo-hating publisher of the Chicago Tribune) has for Great Britain.

Formosans don’t forget February, 1947, when Nationalist brutality and dishonesty provoked open rebellion. Governor Chen Yi had been Japanese-educated and had a Japanese wife. He took over the Jap machinery for administering Formosa—and ran it to his own advantage. The tobacco monopoly, the sugar monopoly, all state trading trusts were transferred intact. Reserve stocks of these institutions soon began to appear on the black market in Shanghai. Officials were stealing and selling them.

Formosans still had to deal through these monopolies at state-fixed prices and each monoply had its own police force lo see they did. One day in that February a constable of the tobacco police found an old woman selling smuggled cigarettes.

He proceeded to club her to death. A group of students saw him and tried to stop him; he shot two of them dead. The rest went back to the university and soon 2,000 angry students marched on the governor's office—shouting protest. The governor turned out troops with machine guns; several hundred boys were killed.

That set off rebellion over the island and there weren’t enough troops lo stop it. Formosan mobs ransacked houses, dragged out anyone who couldn’t speak the island dialect. Hundreds of mainland Chinese were beaten to death. Chinese shops were looted. Finally a group of leading Formosans, feeling the situation had got completely out of hand, called on governor Chen Yi with a set of demands and an offer. Let him grant these reforms and they’d restore order.

Chen Yi asked for 10 days to think it over; they agreed and also agreed to get the mob under control in the meantime. Within a day or two all was quiet. But Chen Yi used his period of grace to import an army from the mainland. Instead of reforms he gave them reprisals.

Soldiers roamed the streets shooting every man, woman or child who showed up for the first few days. Then when the people were thoroughly cowed

they went at it systemat ically.

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All who could be identified as leaders, including the 14 who had parleyed with Governor Chen Yi, were shot. those named by informers as participants in the rebellion were shot (one was the president of Taiwan University, a scholar of some note). In one village every able-bodied man was taken out and shot, just by way example. It was reported 30,000 Formosans were killed.

Just last summer ex Governor Chen Yi liimself was shot by the Chiang government in Formosa. But he wasn’t shot for what he did in putting down the rebellion. He was shot for trying to make a deal with the Communists.

You can see why Formosans today are afraid to talk. You will notice this •article contains very few direct quotations. I was warned not to quote people—not only to withhold names but to conceal the faintest hint where I got mv information. One Formosan talked to an American reporter not long ago and was quoted as “a professor who spent years in the U. S.” That was enough to identify him. The professor disappeared.

Formosa under the Nationalist regime has five police forces—the socalled Peace Preservation Corps, military police, provincial police, municipal police and (most importanti secret police. Until this fall the secret police could arrest anyone without warrant and without notifying anyone else, hold him incommunicado at their pleasure, try him in secret without counsel. Governor Wu has now managed to stipulate that the secret police must get the concurrence of the provincial (uniformed) police before making any arrest—so at least their relatives can find out what’s happened to people who disappear. He hopes soon to get them the right to have counsel at secret military trials.

Flections for Racketeers

Everyone in Formosa has the feeling he is being spied on. Correspondents believe that four or five secret police agents are stationed at the Friends China Club where most foreign reporters live. At lunch one day my companion was joined by a woman he introduced as another correspondent. remember noticing that her lacquered fingernails projected a full inch beyond her finger tips and thinking they must be an impediment in typing.

After lunch another friend tapped me on the shoulder. “I hope you didn’t talk too freely to that dame,” he said. “She claims to be a reporter, hut she hasn’t filed a line in three months. We think she’s working for the secret

Premier Chen Cheng admits that “more than 5,000” political prisoners are now being held in Formosa. Other estimates run as high as 15,000. Nobody knows how many of these have been tried or what goes on at the trials, but sentences and executions are being announced at a rate of 30 to 40 a week.

All this gives you a queer feeling when the Nationalists refer to their island territory as “Free China.” Formosa is a little freer than Alcatraz hut not nearly as free as a well-run Borstal-type jail. You can’t get into the country without the direct permission of the Chiang Government: consuls or ambassadors don’t issue visas until they have cabled Formosa for permission. And to get out again you have to apply to two police forces, have your passport scrutinized three times and supply five pictures before

you get an exit visa. For Europeans this is all a matter of form; for Chinese or native Formosans it is not.

You hear a good deal about the recent “free elections” for local municipal councils. They really were free in the sense that they were cleanly run with secret ballots. A great many Kuomintang (Government) candidates were defeated. But I was amazed to discover that among the men actually elected were several notorious renegades who had been informers after the 1947 rebellion.

“The answer is simple,” a friend said. “No decent man of any stature would run in those elections. The candidates were renegades, racketeers or nonentities.”

On the other hand this undeniable hatred of so many Formosans for the regime, plus Communist skill at subversion and infiltration, can be argued as justification for the lack of civil liberties in Formosa. No government can be too finicky about civil liberties in time of real emergency.

The Chiang Government has had plenty of cause to fear treason. Not long ago the deputy chief of staff, a man privy to all official secrets, was executed as a Communist agent. So was the president of the Taiwan power company. So were four chiefs of police, three of them Chinese and Kuomintang

members. No wonder the government fears a knife in its back.

But this brings up a fundamental question: How much reliance can

put in this regime? What good will be as an ally?

Englishmen are fond of saying that American Far Eastern policy is unrealistic. Washington won’t recognize Red China, they say, because so many Americans go into hysterics at the very word “Communism.” They won't face the cold fact the Reds are in power stay whether we like it or not.

There’s some truth in this but it’s not the whole story. Intelligent Ameri cans who support U. S policy are just as realistic as the English; events may prove them more so. Their case is brief and blunt: “We’ll be at war with Red China any time now. Why throw away 700,000 troops, trained and the spot?”

At Taiwan golf club one afternoon, where several hundred troops are billeted, I watched a platoon get evening rations. The men squatted around i huge iron tub full of boiled

rice, digging in with chopsticks and occasionally spooning more rice from the tub with a long-handled garden trowel. An American friend beside me said: “You can see it’s a lot cheaper

to feed these boys than 700,000 G.I.s. And they thrive on it too.”

Better the Devil They Know

As for the government itself, most observers agree the men now in control are honest: certainly they have brought in real reforms.

There has even been an attempt to cut down graft or “squeeze” as the Chinese call it. In the army, competent officers like Marshall Sun have made a real clean-up. Nationalist publicity handouts tell you 150,000 men have been dismissed from the army. Actually most of the 150,000 never existed. They were the “paper soldiers” with whom grafting generals padded payrolls. Today generals don’t pay their troops: each man is paid directly on photographic identification. Generals no longer buy the rice and sell half of it on the black market; the food is actually getting to the men for a change. Also there really have been some people fired from the army — including a number of generals.

These reforms have not made the Chiang regime popular with Formosans

hut they have made it less unpopular. Old residents tell me that today most people would rather have the devil they know than the devil they don’t know rather Chiang than the Communists. Two years ago they would have welcomed the Reds.

Maybe some of them still would The Nationalists have a lot to live down here and some memories die hard.

But all agree on two basic facts:

1 For its first three years the record of Nationalist occupation was unspeak ably bad. Soldiers looted, officials stole, . ormosans were brutally treated and nothing was done well.

2. In the past two years there has been a great improvement. It began early in 1949 after General Chen Cheng, now premier of the Nationalist Government, took over as governor of Formosa. It has been especially marked during 1950 since brilliant, honest Dr K C. Wu replaced Premier Chen as provincial governor. Chen introduced many needed reforms; Wu has carried them out.

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First move was to get the army under control. No longer were armed men allowed to come ashore and raid the hapless towns. Each troopship was met at the dock by a party carrying machine guns: the soldiers were disarmed and marched to a waiting train. They went immediately to rural camps.

Next came an overdue land reform. Farm rents were limited to a maximum of 371 2% of the crop. They had run as high as 70% , and the average was about 50%. But actually land reform is less effective than official spokesmen pretend. While farmers got some relief in rents they still are afflicted by the rapacious and unscrupulous tax collectors.

Last summer they were ordered to pay their year’s taxes before the harvest when they had no money. They had to borrow from the government bank at interest rates up to one per cent per day. In some cases the loans were called after ten days with the harvest still unreaped and new loans were floated covering previous tax bills plus interest. The result was some farmers had their actual tax burden increased up to 30%

Then came stabilization of the currency. China’s inflation had been the worst in the world (in Shanghai a few years ago you paid $6 millions for lunch, then found by dinner time the meal had gone up to $14 millions). Chen Cheng called in the old Formosa currency and exchanged it for new at the rate of $400,000 for $1. The new issue was pegged to the U. S. dollar, $5 Formosan for $1 U. S. They haven’t been able to hold that ($1 U. S. will get you $10 Formosan today) but at least it hasn’t run wild again.

How to Retire With a Fortune

But below the top the regime is still pretty rotten. Not long ago a friend of mine here got a gift from home which had to go through customs. He asked how much the duty would be; the customs man said $135 (that would be about $13 in our money).

“I haven’t got $135,” said my friend.

“All right, how about $90?” said the customs man.

“No, I haven’t got $90.”

“Well, how much haue you got?”

“My friend said, “I’ll give you $40.” So the customs man pocketed the $40 and handed him the parcel.

That kind of thing goes too high to be ignored. Judges, police, all kinds of officials get their “squeeze.” In a way the Government has encouraged this by rigorous economy: civil servants

get such low pay they have to “squeeze” in order to live.

Even though they happen to be led for the moment by honest men, these are not the kind to die in a hopeless cause. Too many examples prove the opposite.

At the time of the collapse on the mainland a year ago one of Chiang’s ministers turned up in Hong Kong looking for a visa to “visit” Canada. Ottawa turned him down. For one thing Canada didn’t want him; for another they’d had word from the Chiang Government that this man would “better serve his country by coming to Formosa.’

Next thing Canadians heard about this would-be tourist he had got a Portuguese visa in Macao (a Portuguese colonial town about 70 miles down the coast from Hong Kong) and entered the United States as a Portugués«; immigrant. He’s living on Long Island now, retired on a fortune of $1,800,000.

Honesty aside, the Chinese are realists too. They know the minute U. S support is withdrawn the Chiang regime will collapse.

They talk of balancing their budget next year but that’s with ECA grants of $40 millions gold. Meanwhile, even with that help, their deficit is averaging 25% of their $100 million budget and 86% of the budget is for defense. In other words the armed forces alone are costing 811 millions more than the Government’s entire revenue.

Even that is a paper figure. The army wears American uniforms, uses American over-age ammunition. Probably half its requirements are obtained free or at nominal prices. Moreover it is not fighting, not using ammunition, not losing weapons or men. It couldn’t supply itself for the briefest campaign without U. S. help.

Not long before Chinese Reds marched into the Korea war, George Yeh, Chiang’s foreign minister, told

me quite frankly: “I think the L^nited States will recognize Red China before long.” He went on with the customary assurances about fighting to the end whatever may happen. But if he thinks U. S. policy is about to shift, surely he is making some plan for that!

Here’s a story I heard in Hong Kong from a man who’s been 20 years in China and speaks the language fluently:

“The Nationalists are already trying to make a deal with the Communists about Formosa; messengers have been shuttling back and forth. They’ve been in touch with some old friends in Canton now big shots in the Communist Government. These Canton Reds don’t really care about Formosa and they don’t care about Stalin either.

“They think it’s mostly a matter of saving face all round, so here’s what they’re trying to work out: First of all Chiang Kai-shek will retire. That’ll remove the figurehead of the hated enemy— from the Reds’ point of view. On the other side it will release a lot of men who have to be personally loyal to Chiang.

“Then the Left Wing of the Kuomintang will break «>ff as a ‘third party’ (they’ve even g«rt the leader picked out, an old historian and scholar who lives here in Hong Kong). That party will make a proposition to the Communists. They’ll ask to have Formosa turned over to the U. N.

“They say the Communists will accept this once they’ve been accepted as UN members themselves. For one thing it’ll keep the Russians from taking it over, which the Chinese don’t want any more than we do. So there will be an interim p«;riofl before the island is absorbed into the People’s Government of Red China. Kverybody’s face will b«r saved and the problem will lx; settled.”

I don’t know whether this man’s story is right and neither does he. But if we go through the Korea war without plunging into a new world conflict, and if Red China returns to her pre-Korea role, then this solution to the Formosa problem seems to make most s»-nse it