Lin Hsien-tang and the contemporary Taiwan democracy movement
Keelung personages welcoming Petition Committee members in 1925.
This first year of the new century marks the 80th anniversary of establishment the Taiwan Culture Association (台灣文化協會). Looking back on the early days of this milestone in the history of Taiwan, it was in large part due to the efforts of the Association’s first chairman Lin Hsien-tang (林獻堂), with his soaring ideals and gentle but firm motive power, and through such association-sponsored activities as “news reading clubs,” culture-related speeches, and special summer schools, that the Japanese government was given notice of the Taiwan people’s will to self-determination and self-rule. This chapter in history also serves to explain to the world the efforts and accomplishments of Taiwan’s people in the early stages of the contemporary Taiwan democracy movement. This Week’s “Window on Taiwan” invites Professor Tai Pao-Tsun of the National Central University Department of History to discuss the nationalist movement through focusing this nationalist leader combining wealth, prestige and moral power in one person, tracing the path of action his life took, and examining its relationship with the contemporary Taiwan democracy movement.
Lin Hsien-tang was born into a wealthy family in Wu Feng (霧峰) [in present-day Nantou County] on October 22, 1881. At the age of 7, he began his initiatory education in the village school established by his family, deriving great benefit from his study of classic Chinese writings. He was deeply influenced by his family environment and education. His father, Lin Wen-chin (林文欽) was gentlemanly and kind in his treatment of others and handling of affairs and was enthusiastic in working for the public welfare. He organized a militia to fight in the war of resistance against France and organized another force of volunteers to resist the Japanese. He routinely gave support for such public works as road repair, bridge and river ford construction, provision of community medical care and disaster relief. Lin Wen-chin’s love of learning and compassionate nature had a quite profound influence upon Lin Hsien-tang. Moved by other people’s suffering, and regarding the world’s problems as his own, leading him to play an active role in Taiwan nationalist movement over a long period of time.
In 1902, Lin Hsien-tang was invited [by the Japanese colonial government which ruled Taiwan for 50 years from 1895 to 1945] to serve as the Wu Feng regional chief. In the following year he resigned but was later prevailed upon to once again serve in that office. In 1905, he served as torishimariyaku(president) of the Taiwan seima kabushiki in Fengyuan. At this time his thinking was broadened through reading of such magazines as the “Pan-National Public Report”, “New People’sReport” and “People’s Report”. Further, after being introduced to the thought of Liang Ch’i-ch’ao [a major political and social thinker from mainland China] by his cousin’s son Lin Yu-chun (1880-1939), he began contemplating the concepts of nationalism and democracy as advocated by Liang, gradually setting the direction of development which the nationalism movement would later take.
Chance meeting with Liang Chi-chao sets foundation for moderate democratic approach
When Hsien-tang visited Japan for the first time in 1907, he had a rather dramatic chance encounter with Liang Ch’i-ch’ao in Nara. The two discussed how the people of Taiwan were the victims of unequal treatment [by the Japanese colonial government] and how they might struggle to attain freedom and equality. Liang told Lin that China would not be in a position to help the Taiwanese win freedom for the next 30 years; that the Taiwanese must not act rashly and make a meaningless sacrifice; and that it was best for the Taiwanese to emulate the tactics of the Irish toward the English government — making friends with prominent politicians in the Japanese central government with the aim of placing restraints upon the Japanese Viceroy office’s governance of Taiwan, keeping it from flagrantly oppressing the Taiwanese. [The non-violent strategy discussed in] this conversation became the principle underlying Lin Hsien-tang’s subsequent moderate approach in the Taiwan nationalist movement.
In 1911 Liang Ch’i-ch’ao came to Taiwan, residing in Laiyan (萊園) at the “Five Osmanthus Pavilion.” He discussed politics, economics, culture, education, and nationalist movements with Lin, urging him to do more reasearch readings in politics, economics, sociology, and general thought, and drawing up a list of about 200 books on these topics from East and West in order to broaden the horizon of Lin’s understanding. Besides the general effect of stimulating the development of Lin’s thought and learning, the deepest influence upon Lin from Liang’s sojourn in Taiwan was that it led him to adopt a nonviolent approach to nationalism.
In 1913, together with two older cousins, Lin Chi-tang and Lin Lie-tang, Lin Hsien-tang enlisted the aid of central Taiwan gentry Ku Hsien-jung, Wu Te-kung, Tsai Lien-fang, Lin Hsiung-cheng and others to petition the office of the Japanese Viceroy to fight forf the establishment of Taichung High School, which formally opened in May 1915. Subsequently the school united the gentry and wealthy families all over the island to fight for the right to education. With its nationalist coloration, this was the first instance of the nationalist movement
On December 20, 1914, the “Equalitarian Association” was established in Taipei with branches subsequently established in Taichung and Tainan. Its 3,000-plus membership struggled in the name of “culture” to realize equal treatment [between Japanese and Taiwanese]. In response the Viceroy’s office mobilized its officials in a coordinated attack upon itagaki. On January 26, 1915 the Japanese government dissolved the association on the pretext of its “harm to public security.” Lin Hsien-tang nevertheless continued to energetically fight for the establishment of a representative assembly in order to win the right to self-rule. Between 1921 and 1934, the assembly movement sent a total of 15 petitions to the Japanese Imperial Assembly. After 1927, the Taiwan nationalist coalition became fragmented [as the result of] dramatic changes in internal and external conditions. Subsequently, the petition drive came to an end in 1934.
The rise and fall of the Taiwan CultureAssociation
The Petition Movement for the establishment of a Taiwan representative assembly was popularized throughout the island by the Taiwan CultureAssociation. The Taiwan CultureAssociation was established on October 17, 1921. Though established by Chiang Wei-shui, Lin Hsien-tang served as its general director due to his strong support for it. From 1923 to 1927, Lin actively took part in the association’s activities, which included among other things the establishment of “news reading clubs” and sponsoring of symposia throughout the island, in order to awaken the public’s political consciousness. Beginning in 1924, the Association sponsored summer schools at Laiyuan in order to develop a Taiwan-nationalist consciousness among the Taiwan’s youth. The Association’s sponsoring of lectures on culture all over the island was the core work of this consciousness-awakening movement.
The 1920s was marked by social and political foment. Following upon the arisal of a fervent farmers’movement, conflicting ideologies of communism, anarchism, etc. gradually began to have an influence upon the thought and action of movement activists, with new labor, student, and farmers’movements arising, finally resulting in divisiveness with the nationalist movement. On January 3, 1927, the Taiwan CultureAssociation was formally dissolved, followed by confrontation between the leftist New Culture Society and the rightist Taiwan People’s Party. In face of this breakdown of the nationalist movement, caused by contending leftist attempts to gain power and rightist counteractions, Lin felt deeply hurt and discouraged, withdrawing from participation in either camp.
The Japanese government’s final enticement
By 1935, political and social movement activities in Taiwan had come to a virtual standstill. Sino-Japanese relations had become increasingly tense as the consequence of the ascendancy of Japanese nationalistic militarism. In 1940 Taiwan entered into the “imperial citizenization” period, in which, in order to “Japanify” the people of Taiwan and induce them to support Japan’s World War II effort, Japan gave enticements to Taiwan’s political movement leaders. On November 6, 1941, it recruited Lin Hsienh-feng to serve as ombudsman for the Viceroy’s office; in 1944 he was appointed as daiton gun jimuho by the Taichung Adminstrative Department of the komin hokokai; and in 1945 he was appointed councillor by kizokuin. Upon the conclusion of World War II in August 1945, Taiwan came under the provisional control of the Republic of China government, which, on behalf of the Allies, accepted the surrender of [the Japanese on] Taiwan, 50 years after it was been ceded to Japan by Ch’ing Dynasty China.
Frustrations in the era of KMT rule
In May of 1946, when the Taiwan Provincial Assembly was established, Lin Hsien-tang was elected as assemblyman and had the best chance of being elected as Assembly Speaker. Due, however, to the competition for that position by Huang Chao-chin who was favored by many in government officialdom, and at the urging of Chiu Nien-tai to withdraw from the race in consideration of various conditions in and out of officialdom, Huang was ultimately elected as Assembly Speaker.
On September 23, 1949 [the year the mainland failed to the Chinese revolutionaries], Lin traveled to Japan for treatment of an ailment causing him dizziness. While this was indeed one reason for the trip, there were other reasons which he could not conveniently reveal. Though having been born into a wealthy family and having long served as a Taiwan nationalist leader, the KMT government had come to look upon him as a “traitor in Taiwanese” and had subjected him to intimidating rice-harvest levies by the military, in addition to which the financial base which his family landholdings had provided him had been severely effected by the government’s land reform program. Adding to this his feeling of disappointment with politics owing to the government’s failure to give attention to his suggestions and his criticisms of the government, Lin decided to extricate himself from the whirlpool of political contention to become an expatriate, homeward-yearning recluse. On September 8, 1956 he passed away in Tokyo at the age of 76.
Edited by Tina Lee/ translated by Elizabeth Hoile