Corruption and the Use of Technical Experts in Taiwan 1946

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:15 am

Corruption was one of the biggest target of complaints by supporters and sworn enemies of the Chinese republic in wartime and early postwar China. This was also true for the new Chinese regime in Taiwan after Japan’s defeat and contributed to the anger among Taiwanese who sparked the 2/28 incident in 1947. Here is one example of an investigation into corruption reported in this exchange between a council member and director of Inspection Bureau of the Department of Civil Affairs in Taiwan, May 1946:

“How many persons are in the Bureau?”

“There are 114 persons, of whom 23 are Japanese.”

“Are they employed on the basis of technical ability?”


“Is there a person named Fan Chin-tang in the office?”

“No. He has resigned.”

“Is there a person named Hsieh Chin-chiu in the office?”


“What qualification has this person?”

“This person is a graduate of Chekiang University.”

“What official rank does this person hold?”

“Technical expert.”

“Is she your concubine?”


“Fan Chin-tang, with thirty years’ technical experience, was dismissed. Why is his salary allotment still requested from the senior office?”

“Salaries for March have not yet been paid.”

“Yes. You requested the Finance Department to allot salaries for 186 persons, while in reality your staff consists of only 46 persons. The average salary is 1,200 old Taiwan dollars per person. Your total income from November through March has been 1,000,000 old Taiwan dollars.”1

  1. Tse-han Lai, Ramon H. Myers, and Wei Wou A Tragic Beginning: The Taiwan Uprising of February 28, 1947 (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1991), 74. Original source is cited as Formosa: Internal Affairs, 1945-1949, Reel 1, Enclosure no. 25 (Nov. 1, 1946, report), p. 35. Bibliography gives full citation as: United States State Department Central Files. Formosa: Internal Affairs, 1945-1949. Washington, D.C.: University Publications of America, 1985. Reel 1 (“Political Affairs Reports for 1946 and January 1947”) []


Red Star Over Edgar Snow

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 9:32 pm

Edgar Snow’s birthday is sometime this week but they can’t agree on which day it is. The 1972 obituary in the omniscient NY Times had it as July 19, 1905, as does his most careful biography1. But maybe it’s July 17 if you go with the University of Missouri Archives, which has his papers and should know. Wikipedia also has the 17th, unless somebody’s gone and changed it to the Fourth of July. 2.

Nowadays we can’t agree if Snow was a hero or a dupe — probably both — but all agree that Snow’s Red Star Over China and Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth were the two most widely read western books on China in the 1930s. They both still have some zip in them, never mind that they showed completely different Chinas. Buck portrayed a petty capitalist farm family which was age old and not in need of revolution. Snow dramatized “the intellectually sterile countryside, the dark-living peasantry….” to which the Communists, he said, “stirred to great dreams by their ‘scientific knowledge,’ ” had brought to the peasant millions, “by propaganda and by action, a new conception of the state, society, and the individual.” 3

Snow’s book went off like a bombshell. Mao’s “autobiography” was the scoop, but the redefinition of his revolution in Snow’s account was even more important. The only thing it didn’t have was sex. It was travel adventure in which Snow played the intrepid explorer going where no white man had gone before.

It was well timed: The London first edition came out in October 1937 just as the Japanese Army was advancing on Nanjing, linking the China war with the global resistance to Fascism. It sold 100,000 copies.

The book was engaged: Snow, whose Irish father implanted a hatred of the British in him, was as much excited by anti-imperialism as by social liberation. Snow had mentored students who mounted the famous December 1935 demonstrations against the Japanese and was reading up on Marxism and world affairs. He adopted Chinese patriotism.

The book was news: Mao was well enough known that Time magazine referred to him in 1935 as the “Chinese Lenin” who was so sick that he had to be carried on a stretcher. But foreign accounts of the Communist movement stressed radical land revolution and anti-foreign attacks which brought the Boxers to mind. Mao rose to the top level of leadership on the Long March by “resolving the contradiction” between radical politics and the politics of survival, that is, what American politicians call triangulating.

With Snow seated on a backless stool, Mao lounged on the stone bed, once turning down his pants to scratch for an “intruder,” and in ten evening sessions told his story. The story was no more spontaneous than were FDR’s fireside chats, but it was no less masterly for having been carefully scripted and the transcript vetted and revised by Party leaders. 4

The story was a tour de force of political spin. Mao had to be both loyal to the international communist movement and a patriot, and both dedicated to China’s long term socialist revolution and an enthusiastic member of the bourgeois United Front, a move which Stalin ordered and the logic of domestic politics drew him into. He had to address the needs of his rural constituents but keep his eye on long run revolution. (more…)

  1. S. Bernard Thomas, Season of High Adventure: Edgar Snow in China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996). []
  2. http://www.umkc.edu/University_Archives/INVTRY/EPS/EPS-INTRO.HTM []
  3. Red Star Over China (Random House 1938): 106-107. []
  4. Anne-Marie Brady, Making the foreign serve China: Managing foreigners in the People’s Republic (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003): 46-48; Michael Hunt, The Genesis of Chinese Communist Foreign Policy (Columbia University Press, 1996): 236-237. David Apter and Tony Saich argue that Mao’s heroic story of Yan’an was “so powerful that it changed the way people acted, thought of themselves, and responded to others, at least for a time.” David Apter Tony Saich, Revolutionary Discourse in Mao’s Republic (Harvard University Press, 1994): 9 []


Intellectual property problems

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 10:30 am

India has recently leased a nuclear attack sub from the Russians. The last thing I rented was a roto-tiller, so I am starting to think I should be shopping in cooler places. More interesting is that the Chinese have apparently also been hot to rent these boats but have not been allowed to as the Russians are worried about China’s lack of respect for intellectual property.

I find this kind of significant, since I was in Taiwan in the early 90’s when they started to crack down on IP piracy in a pretty serious way. Supposedly the reason for this was that Taiwanese companies were finding it harder and harder to get really cool technology from foreigners as it was assumed the Taiwanese would just steal everything. Taiwan was much more controlled by the state than China is today, and its economy much more dominated by a handful of firms, so I assume that things will not play out in China just like they did in Taiwan.1 Still, if you are looking for example #1 of how lack of modern IP and rule of law is hurting China, this might be it.

Via LGM, who seem to like boats

  1. Not that I would really want that anyway, as I find much of the IP system wrong-headed []

Noted without comment

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:53 am

Some interviews with those involved here.


樂學書局: The Lexis Book Co.

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:47 am

Thanks to a tip shared by a fellow graduate student I met here yesterday, I learnt about another excellent academic bookstore here in Taipei which is, I’m told, a favorite among those “in the know.” Its owner, a legendary Ms. Huang (who was out when I visited today) is apparently well-loved among scholars all over East Asia as well as sinologists in the United States. This was confirmed by two elderly Korean philosophy professors I had a chat with, from two separate Korean universities, who said that they had been visiting and ordering books from the place for many years. One of these professors yelled the owner’s name affectionately as he disembarked the elevator and seemed very disappointed to see she wasn’t around.

樂學書局, or the “Lexis Book Co.” as it is known in English has one of the most unusual locations of any bookstore I have had the chance to visit. Whereas the 學生書局 is conveniently located on 和平東路 near the entrance of the Shida night market and 唐山書店 is just out of view in a basement locale near Taiwan National University, this book store is found in what looks like a converted residence on the 10th floor of an apartment complex on 金山南路 (Chin-shan S. Road), perhaps 10 minutes walk from Guting station.

There are no signs at the street level suggesting that this residential high rise houses a bookstore with one of the greatest collections of academic Chinese language works in Taipei. However, as I passed the security guard at the entrance to the grounds, he stopped me and immediately asked with a knowing smile, “樂學書局?” When I responded in the affirmative he told me to go to the apartment complex to the right and take the elevator to the 10th floor. The whole experience felt like that scene in the movie “The Matrix” where the band of adventurers go to visit the mystical “Oracle” in her hidden home.

Inside the apartment/bookstore every room is filled with books, including the shelves above the kitchen sink. History books can be found in its own room in the back corner. There is a great selection of both pre-modern and modern history but look through all the shelves since their semi-sorted nature can be deceiving. While almost all the books are in Chinese, there was a series of shelves with dictionaries and publications in everything from Manchu to the various languages of Central Asia. Another one of the rooms also has a good collection of the English language publications of SMC Publishing.

If you are in Taipei and have an interest in history or literature, especially, this bookstore is definitely worth the visit:

(02) 23219033
lexis at ms6.hinet.net

Pictures of China

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:21 am

opium burning

Opium burning, 1917-1919. Beijing

Duke university has put the entire Sidney Gamble archive on-line. Some of these have been published already (Gamble is pretty well known) but this is the entire archive and it is searchable. Well worth looking at.


Between Nanjing and Chongqing

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 6:48 pm

I posted a piece on Asia Media (July 10 2008) which reviews Steve MacKinnon’s new book, Wuhan, 1938: War, Refugees, and the Making of Modern China (University of California Press, 2008). Steve is a friend, but I think anyone would find this book not only a good read but also quite informative on a neglected turning point in modern China. It’s also a good introduction to the work in military history which has quietly transformed our understandings of China before 1949.

Steve makes the point that in this period the United Front worked and that the staggering losses were part of a heroic and in some ways quite successful military strategy. Chiang Kai-shek presided over an energetic coalition and had widespread support. The move upriver to Chongqing was heroic in much the same way as the Long March. It’s a page turning story, though quite horrifying in the descriptions of refugee life and battlefield realities. There’s also a section of photographs which do not merely illustrate but actually develop the themes of the text.

Asia Media, by the way, is run out of the UCLA Asia Institute, and is one of the useful sites for keeping up with breaking news in Asia. Every day they post links to dozens of stories in newspapers around Asia, but also the occasional commentary or review such as mine.



Asian History Carnival #20

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 11:20 pm

The Asian History Carnival #20 is now up at Jottings from the Granite Studio! It comes in three parts:

Asian History Carnival #20 Part I

Asian History Carnival #20 Part II

Asian History Carnival #20 Part III

We are looking for volunteers to host the September and November installments. Read more on the carnival homepage.

Taiwan 1946: Asking, “What is Democracy?” – in Japanese

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:30 am

Over on Frog in a Well – Japan I wrote a posting about a 1946 Taiwanese pamphlet written in Japanese put out by 臺灣新生報 that may be of interest to readers of this weblog.

Like so many things I find interesting and worth posting about, I’m never quite sure which Frog blog to put it on! I do try to keep my postings to one blog though, just to keep the comment stream in one place. I wish, however, a few years ago when I started the Frog in a Well project, that I had set up this project so that it would be possible for people to view everything as one channel or feed of postings about East Asian history – not broken up into China, Korea, and Japan weblogs. Since the original goal was to have each weblog bilingual, however, with roughly half postings in each language, with categories for language to filter out languages a reader didn’t want to be exposed to, it seemed to make sense to split it. Now, with transnational and international history really taking off, I sometimes doubt the wisdom of that choice. It makes me wonder how many readers are only reading the feeds of one out of the three weblogs?


Are the Chinese fascists?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:45 pm


Jed Perl has a piece up attacking Chinese art at TNR. As any number of people have pointed out Contemporary Chinese ArtTM is booming. For Perl, however, it’s all totalitarian crap. I would actually agree with Perl that a lot of the stuff being produced by Chinese artists and purchased by China’s new ultra-rich (and their foreign buddies) is kinda questionable, and I certainly think that a lot of Chinese young people seem to be buying into a pretty sanitized view of Mao and the Communist period. The nostalgia for communist-period idealism you sometimes hear I always find hard to figure out.

For Perl, however, the only possible reason to think about China is to denounce Mao and the Cultural Revolution (which are of course the same thing.) Thus it becomes impossible for Chinese to be anything other than toadies unless they are in jail. The theme of “Revolution” comes up a lot in the art Perl is talking about, in part I think because he is talking about western collectors, who probably don’t know much about China but do know there was a revolution and in part because lots of Chinese artists do use Communist iconography and themes from the past. Some of them are probably toeing the official line, some are subverting the official line, some are doing both, some think they are doing both but actually are not.1 For Perl though it is pretty easy. If you see anything that looks “China-y” it’s crap.

I have studied the catalogue of this collection, The Revolution Continues: New Art from China, and I am pretty confident that it is the most hateful art book published in my lifetime. For the revolution that is continuing is none other than the Cultural Revolution.

Really? The modern smiley-face authoritarianism of China is the same as the Cultural Revolution? One begins to suspect he does not know much about the CR, which is pretty rapidly confirmed as he scoffs as a curator for suggesting that

“reprising the Red Guards’ antiauthoritarian stance to art, sought to bring down the institution of art itself through Dadaist strategies”?

Perl asks

In what sense, pray tell, was the Red Guard anti-authoritarian?

“Pray tell” suggests that he has no clue what the Red Guards were. The first thing a youth was supposed to do after strapping on the red armband was to “bombard the headquarters” and attack the authorities that actually controlled their lives, teachers, party bosses, etc. Everyone in China over a certain age knows this, which is why it is always so hard to figure out what Chinese artists might be doing with Mao images or CR images or whatever. Not everybody in the world needs to know (or can know) all the things Maoist references can mean in China, but if you are going to write about Chinese art it helps to have some idea what you are talking about. One can imagine touring the Louvre with Perl and having him be stumped by why there were all those pictures of a lady holding a baby. The only tool Perl has for understanding Chinese art is “Radical Chic” which may be useful for understanding why Westerners are buying this stuff but does not help much for understanding the art. After all, the main market for Chinese art is China. Why are wealthy Chinese (many of whom did not have much fun in the Maoist period) buying this stuff?

At the top of this post is a painting by Zhang Xiaogang. Perl..

His paintings are said to reflect the tensions of the Cultural Revolution, when children were known to turn their parents in to the authorities. In the Louisiana catalogue, this schlock is described as showing people “isolated in their own emotional universes” or shaped by, “mysterious, unknowable forces.” The only mysterious force from which Zhang is isolated is the art of painting.

I actually find it an interesting piece, in part because the isolation from family and others is a theme that always comes up in Cultural Revolution memoirs. Maybe Zhang is a hack, but I’m pretty sure I am not going to take Jed Perl’s word on that without something to back it up. Perl again

By aestheticizing historic catastrophe, the art world’s unholy synthesis of Maoism and kitsch enables people to blur their own memories.

That’s pretty bold for an American. What should Chinese people do? Commit mass suicide to prove they are free of the Maoist taint? Abandon art for a few centuries? There are lots of ways for Chinese artists and people to deal with the past, including ignoring it, but lumping every Chinese artist from Wang Guangyi to Cai Guoqiang in with the Red Detachment of Women is just sloppy.

I suppose what is particularly depressing is that with a minimal amount of effort Perl could have found lots of Chinese artists denouncing the people he talks about as talentless hacks and sell-outs. Had he been writing about British art or French art or maybe ever Japanese art he probably would have done so, or his editor would have sent him back to do it. He then could have written something interesting and informative.2

  1. I think things like this have happened in other authoritarian societies. Maybe someone who knows art can give Perl some references []
  2. Perl is also dismissive of the originality of Chinese art, claiming that pretty much all of this has been done before. Some of this I buy (lots of hacks out there) and some I don’t. The dividing line between being influenced by someone and copying them is always a tricky thing, but apparently for Perl any vague link to a western work of art renders anything a Chinese does completely derivative. I remember being struck by the “defiance in the sunset” scene in Red Sorghum and realizing that at least in 1987 the visual world of Zhang Yimou was different than mine. He could use a scene like that and not be referring to Gone With The Wind in any meta-critical way. He was, as I took it, just pinching a visual from a foreign film only artsy types would have seen. []

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