Category Archives: History

10 Years of democracy

By my reckoning, today marks the 10th anniversary of Taiwan’s democracy. On 20th May 1996 Lee Teng-hui gave this speech at his inauguration. The election (two months previously) was the first time that Taiwan’s president had been democratically elected. Of course, there was some democracy before this – there had been increasingly democratic elections for the legislature and the national assembly in the years before it, but this marked the final point when Taiwan could finally call itself a democratic country.

Lee’s speech is hardly a classic, but there’s one interesting aspect that runs through the speech. Number of times China/Chinese mentioned: 44. Numer of times Taiwan mentioned: 21. His emphasis on the election being a victory for Chinese people, his explicit dismissal of Taiwan independence and his focus on China make for interesting reading given what we now know (and many people suspected back then) about his real feelings on the issue. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
Note: I’m on holiday for 3 weeks from today, so things will be quiet here for a while.


February 28th is a national holiday in Taiwan to remember the events of 1947. As I mentioned last year, the definitive history of this (for English speakers) is Formosa Betrayed by George Kerr – which is available online. Kerr was an American diplomat in Taiwan who was an eye-witness to it all:

From an upper window we watched Nationalist soldiers in action in the alleys across the way. We saw Formosans bayoneted in the street without provocation. A man was robbed before our eyes – and then cut down and run through. Another ran into the street in pursuit of soldiers dragging a girl away from his house and we saw him, too, cut down.

This sickening spectacle was only the smallest sample of the slaughter then taking place throughout the city, only what could be seen from one window on the upper floor of one rather isolated house. The city was full of troops.