Passport to Taiwan Festival: A Brief History of Taiwan
The Passport to Taiwan Festival held annually in New York City near the end of May is a jubilant affair. Of the literally hundreds of street fairs in New York City, without a doubt this is my #1 Recommendation, personal favorite and the only one that stands out for me.
However, it is also one that reminds me of the steep challenges Taiwan still faces today.
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Considering my mixed and complicated feelings on this subject, in this article it is my intention to describe the exultant flavor of this wonderful annual festival, while also taking this as an opportunity to educate you the reader on the sad plight of Taiwan toward gaining its independence through its rather convoluted history.
Please read my latest article about the annual Taiwan march here at Keep Taiwan Free.
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Passport to Taiwan Festival
For over a decade held in Union Square, New York City every third Sunday of May, the Passport to Taiwan Festival has been one amazing event.
The goal the Passport to Taiwan Festival all along has been to create greater exposure through increasing mainstream awareness for a territory in Asia that has long been maligned with confusion and plagued with a suppression of its independence for many decades by the People’s Republic of China.
It is a joyous outdoor festival replete with the brightest bands and entertainers from Taiwan performing onstage, with long lines of hungry pedestrians anxiously awaiting on busy stalls of culinary chefs cooking the most delicious street food indigenous to the various regions of the country.
The olfactory smells and native sounds in the background truly amalgamate into a euphonious concoction of the senses. While the temperate late May breeze feels refreshing on the skin, and provides a cooling respite to the midday sun.
On a more sobering note, this annual celebrated occasion serves as a reminder to us all of the sad plight of Taiwan throughout its convoluted political history, throughout the 20th Century to the present.
However for most New Yorkers like me, this festival represents the tremendous resilience of its people, and an unwavering and incessant demonstrative pride that Taiwanese Americans continue to harbor for the motherland which are manifest through an ongoing proactive fight and continuous strides toward recognition of independence
Legalizing Gay Marriage
On May 24, 2017 there was jubilant news in Taiwan, as the High Court struck down the rule that marriage be strictly defined only between men and women. Hence, the LBGTQ community had won an inspiring victory, as Taiwan became the first nation in Asia to legalize gay marriage.
This should come as no surprise, as Taiwan has been the forerunner in Asia for the past 20+ years on a number of progressive fronts. The following is only to name a few.
Taiwan holds a progressive political agenda and is a small nation with a BIG impact on the world:
Yet for all of Taiwan’s enormous contributions to the world and the great pride of its people, their insensible relegation by the People’s Republic of China since the end of World War II by the lack of recognition of their independent sovereignty from China from most of the rest of the world has caused a tremendous indignity to their people.
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According to Wikipedia at the time this blog post was written, 22 countries or entities currently have full diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan).
Today, Taiwan is still not recognized by the United Nations Council as an independent sovereignty, yet Taiwan has had their own independent government, their own currency, their own military, and has had direct presidential elections since 1996.
A Brief History of Taiwan: Late 19th Century to Today
Since the end of the 19th century, the history of Taiwan has been a convoluted one mired in political controversy.
The Japanese governed Taiwan from 1895-1945 when Taiwan was ceded to Japan from China in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. This treaty was the end result when China was defeated by Japan during the First Sino-Japanese War from 1944-45. .
Taiwan would remain a colony of Japan until 1945. As a result, older generation native Taiwanese who were born during this period continue to speak Japanese in their households as a first language.
Here is a Brief History of Taiwan from 1945 to 1987:
The “228” Incident
The “228 Incident” remains a defining event in the political divide that exists in Taiwan today.
On February 28, 1947, there were large-scale protests by the native Taiwanese against the corruption and repression of Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Nationalist government, which was precipitated by the arrest of a cigarette vendor in Taipei.
Following the protests, Chiang’s government secretly sent troops from mainland China who rounded up and executed an entire generation of leading figures, including students, lawyers, and doctors.
Up to 28,000 people lost their lives in the turmoil.
Protesters in Taiwan still march today on February 28 every year to commemorate the anniversary of the 228 incident.
Passport to Taiwan Festival: The Beginning of Marshall Law
By the end of 1949 when Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had defeated the KMT, Chiang Ki-Shek and the remainder of the KMT fled to the island of Taiwan.
Upon transplanting his Nationalist Chinese Party and its governing structure the ROC to Taiwan in 1949, ruler Chiang Ki-Shek would impose a strict Marshall Law that would last until 1987.
Under martial law the KMT ruled Taiwan with the stated goal of being vigilant against Communist infiltration and preparing to retake mainland China. Therefore, any political dissent was not tolerated.
After the Martial Law was placed into effect, many Taiwanese became victims of the political repression known as the White Terror. From 1947 to 1987, tens of thousands of Taiwanese were imprisoned and at least 1,000 were executed, most in the early 1950s, after being accused of spying for Communist China.
Taiwan Families Divided: The 1960’s through 1980’s.
During the period from the 1960’s through the late 1980’s, Taiwan families often became divided as family members - usually the best students from Taiwan universities who were offered full scholarships and internships abroad immigrated to the United States. These native Taiwanese seized the opportunity to leave Taiwan to better their lives.
As a result, the number of native Taiwanese students in the United States began to reach a critical mass by the late 1960’s, and this lead to small eruptions of dissent. Many such students who immigrated to the United States receiving such special visas and scholarships to universities formed special Pro-Taiwan student groups that were later spied upon by KMT informants planted at these universities.
One such group formed at Kansas State University at Manhattan, Kansas, the site of a successful struggle which formed a group from which many of the participants later would go on to become the founding force of the United Formosans for Independence.
An Excerpt from a Taiwanese Activist and Academic
Here is an excerpt written from an article by Linda Arrigo, a well-known and respected activist and academic on the migration of Taiwanese to America from the 1960’s-2000, explaining how one male student named N.H. in the 1960’s left Taiwan to pursue graduate studies at Kansas State University in the U.S.
N.H’s decision to leave Taiwan would forever separate him from his wife and family:
“N.H.”, born in 1933 in Nandze District of Kaohsiung City, became an abandoned child wandering the countryside for three years after his father, who fled China in 1912 (defeated Manchu supporters) and was registered as “Chinese”, was interred by the Japanese authorities during World War II. N.H. witnessed executions in Kaohsiung during 2-2-8. Despite the gaps in his education and inability to speak Mandarin Chinese, he was able to graduate from National Taiwan University in political science in 1959. His knack for taking tests brought him good positions in the post office and the customs service, but his experience as a native Taiwanese in the mainlander-dominated bureaucracy left him with deep resentment of the KMT’s discrimination and political control. He went to the United States in fall 1965, choosing Kansas State because it provided full scholarship and support.
N.H. arrived just in time to take up the task of demanding university recognition for the Formosan Student Association; the administration would provide subsidies for only one foreign student group from each country. After a formal hearing by the administration, the Chinese Student Association was displaced in favor of the Formosans, a cause for great celebration. In the winter of 1966, N.H. participated in the founding meeting of the United Formosans for Independence, in Philadelphia. The Taiwan authorities retaliated by revoking N.H.’s passport, and two years after arriving he was stateless and blacklisted, and unable to bring his wife from Taiwan, resulting in divorce some years later”.
Passport to Taiwan Festival: The Blacklist
Nearly 32,000 students had gone to study in North America by the end of 1974, yet less than 10% returned to Taiwan after completion of study. About 90% of National Taiwan University graduates in engineering fields went to the U.S., the vast majority with financial aid in the form of scholarships and research assistantships.
This is no surprise, as the cost of U.S. tuition was highly prohibitive. For a hard-working student from some country village, even an airplane ticket (US$400) was an enormous challenge barely met through pooling family and community resources.
Unfortunately, the majority of these tens of thousands students were later blacklisted by the KMT and thus never allowed to return back to Taiwan due to their political ideology.
Meanwhile, their wives, children, and relatives often were forced to remain in Taiwan.
Sadly, far too many times these families were never able to reunite.
The Turbulent Period in Taiwan from 1970’s through the late 1980’s
Until the early 1970s, the Republic of China (ROC) was recognized as the sole legitimate government of China by the United Nations and most Western nations, refusing to recognize the People's Republic of China (PRC) on account of the Cold War.
However by the early 1970’s, Taiwan faced setbacks in the international sphere. In 1971, the ROC government walked out of the United Nations shortly before it recognized the PRC government in Beijing as the legitimate holder of China's seat in the United Nations.
The ROC had been offered dual representation, but Chiang Kai-shek demanded to retain a seat on the UN Security Council, which was not acceptable to the PRC. Chiang expressed his decision in his famous "the sky is not big enough for two suns" speech.
In October 1971, Resolution 2758 was passed by the UN General Assembly and "the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek" (and thus the ROC) were expelled from the UN and replaced as "China" by the PRC. In 1979, the United States switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing.
It was the late 1970s and early 1980s that represented a very turbulent time for the Taiwan-born as many of the people who had originally been oppressed and left behind by economic changes became members of the Taiwan's new middle class.
Taiwan Makes Transition to Democracy
With the death of Chiang Kai-shek in April 1975 at the age of 87, the new leadership of Taiwan succeeded the presidency to Yen Chia-Kan, who elected his son Chiang Ching-Kuo as the successor to the leadership of the KMT.
Formerly the head of the feared secret police, Chiang Ching-Kuo recognized gaining foreign support to securing the ROC's future security required reform. His administration saw a gradual loosening of political controls, a transition towards democracy. As a result, opponents of the Nationalists were no longer forbidden to hold meetings or publish papers.
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However, with the demise of the KMT single-party system and the democratization movement during the 1980s, the martial law was eventually lifted by President Chiang Ching-Kuo during the summer of 1987 and provisions were eventually rescinded in 1991.
Taiwan became quite a dangerous place during the years when martial law was first lifted. The lifting of Martial Law meant opposition political parties could be formed legally for the first time, giving Taiwan's fragmented but increasingly vocal opposition a new chance to organize.
Prior to this lifting of martial law, a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was illegally established in September 1986 and won 21.6 percent of the vote in the December legislative elections of that same year. However even after the law was lifted, tight restrictions on freedom of assembly, speech and the press remained in place, having been written into a National Security Law which had been passed a few days before the lifting of Martial Law.
As a result, violence ran amok between newly formed and established opposition political parties during the early years after the lifting of martial law.
The following excerpts below were taken from the Taiwan Communique No. 31:
“One example happened on June 12, 1987, when the DPP sponsored a rally in front of the Legislative Yuan to protest the National Security Law. The gathering drew more than 3,000 DPP-supporters. The police had set up a cordon around the building, but inside the cordon a small group — by most accounts some 100 persons — of counter-demonstrators of the right-wing extremist Anti-Communist Patriotic Front (APF) and People’s Patriotic Society (PPS) moved around freely”.
“At several times during the 14-hour standoff the right-wing provocateurs broke through the police lines, attacked the DPP-followers with wooden poles, and retreated again to safety behind the police lines. Immediately after the incident, the DPP became a target of a media smear campaign. The two major newspapers China Times and United Daily News — both owned by members of the Kuomintang Central Committee — and the government-controlled radio- and TV-stations carried strongly-biased reports and tried to portray the DPP supporters as “violent demonstrators.”
“However, the more objective and neutral Independence Evening News and The Journalist, reported that the members of APF, who stationed themselves at the gate of the Legislative Yuan, initiated the violence by breaking through the police cordon and attacking DPP-supporters. The Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review also reported that “The violence began around noon that day when members of the rightist contingent broke through a police line separating the two groups, wielding broken-off flagpoles as clubs.” Such violent outburst became quite commonplace during the early years after martial law abolition”.
Although a transition toward a constitutional democracy was first put into place by the ROC in 1987, it would take 9 more turbulent years until 1996 before a full constitutional democracy eventually would be restored by the ROC with its first direct presidential election.
Passport to Taiwan Festival: The Sunflower Movement and Taiwan’s Future
What I have discoursed here is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Hopefully one can now understand how Taiwan’s convoluted political history has affected both native Taiwanese and Taiwanese Americans, causing so many to experience such deep feelings of indignity from the world, and a continued feeling of marginalization from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
To this day, both the native Taiwanese and Taiwanese Americans although saddened by the past, have become emboldened through successive generations, and have developed a feeling of great empowerment and sustainability for their cause.
The Sunflower Student Movement of April 2014 in the Legislative Yuan in Taipei is a testament to the fight of young Taiwanese for the cause. To this day, both Taiwanese and Taiwanese Americans continue to fight for the recognition of Taiwan.
Let’s Salute the Passport to Taiwan Festival
The Passport to Taiwan Festival in New York City’s Union Square salutes the Taiwanese American community’s inner strength and intestinal fortitude to these continual challenges. It provides us all a reminder of the strength of the human spirit.
So let’s salute the Passport to Taiwan Festival, because it reminds us that no matter how much adversity we face we must never give up the fight for our independence.
The Passport to Taiwan Festival 2019 will be held at Union Square in New York City on Sunday May 26th from 12 Noon to 5:00 PM, EST.
If you are in New York City on that weekend, this should be on your bucket list.
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Thank you for reading, and any of your comments regarding this article would be greatly appreciated.
For further reading on this topic, go to http://www.taiwandc.org/hst-1624.htm.
Fascinating educational history of Taiwan. As a small country I was totally unaware of how progressive they are, and how much they contributed to the U.S. economy.
I can understand why this festival must be one of the most popular in NYC, and why it is important to support other countries as they fight to establish democracies for themselves.
Thanks for sharing this interesting and important information!
Thank You Kyle Anne for being the first to comment on the history of Taiwan, it is indeed a very complicated one.
But the Taiwanese are very strong people who want their independence to be recognized by the United Nations, not marginalized.
Thanks for the well sourced and very informative article on this key NYC festival and the history of Taiwan.
Although I have lived for over 33 years in New York and part of it in Flushing, Queens which has a large Taiwanese population [Korean as well] and having had friends of Taiwanese descent, I never got to learn as much as I did by reading your post.
Once again, thank you for your continued focus on providing information, education, and value to your loyal existing and new audience.
I feel grateful and privileged that you have read this entire article Gabriel about this wonderful festival and overall important topic.
As depicted in the article, the history of Taiwan’s relationship to Japan, China, and the USA is a very convoluted one.
It was an great honor to have given this history lesson to the masses:)
That was a very interesting article Kaju, I was very much into it. Very strong country and from what I can see it’s a very beautiful country. We Americans complain about everything, having no idea what other countries have been through and still are going through many hardships.
I wish I would have read this post before the festival took place, I would have loved to be there, I hope it was a successful one. Great, informative post and I still want to make it to NY sometime this summer, so don’t forget about me.
Fantastic, I’m thrilled that you enjoyed and learned something from this article on Passport to Taiwan, Florencio.
You know I won’t forget about you my friend:)
Hoping to meet with you in NYC:)
This is a test comment from WA, on a very interesting and informative article!
Thank You WA!
What a remarkable history Taiwan has had! I knew they had been through struggle, but did not realize how intense that struggle was. Thanks for bringing to light a summary of their history. We here in the U.S. are so lucky because we have not been subjected to such a turbulent history.
The Passport to Taiwan festival sounds like an interesting and entertaining event. That’s certainly your advantage for living in a big city like New York. You are exposed to so many opportunities for educational celebration. It is certainly one of the strong points of city life.
Thank You Fran, I appreciate your acknowledgment of the Passport to Taiwan story, a remarkable one. I will get back to you with more details.
The march for recognition of independence continues for Taiwan to the present day. Until they are recognized as a sovereign country by the United Nations Council, they will always feel marginalized.
The Taiwanese are so passionate for their cause, there are new independence advocate groups popping up regularly. Every year the 3rd week of September there is a march in New York City called “Keep Taiwan Free” which begins at the China Embassy.
These marches are going on in countries all around the world.
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Thank You WA, I hope this will be resolved.