Friday, July 22, 2016

A few comments on Hsiao-ting Lin's depiction of the White Terror

I wrote briefly a couple of months ago about Hsiao-ting Lin's book, Accidental State: Chiang Kai-shek, the United States, and the Making of Taiwan (Harvard, 2016)--see the bottom of this post. I'm closer to finishing the book now, and it has given some fascinating information about U.S.-Taiwan-China relations in the early postwar years. It also gave me some new information about how Thomas Liao tried to get the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP), MacArthur, to take over Taiwan at least temporarily before Chiang Kai-shek's retreat in 1949.

I do have an issue, however, with how Lin represents the White Terror, or the "white terror," as he calls it. A minor point is the use of lower case and quotation marks, which in my view seems to be an attempt to lessen its importance or seriousness. More importantly, he redefines the “White Terror” at one point, writing that in 1950, “secret police action was undertaken throughout the island against those who were potentially opposed to the Nationalist rule, generally labeled as ‘communist spies.’ … This marked the beginning of a decade-long “white terror” on the island” (p. 185, emphasis mine). (In an endnote to an earlier part, he suggests that the "white terror" lasted "from the 1950s to the 1970s" [p. 284, n. 84].) Every source I've seen about the period describes the White Terror as lasting for much, if not all, of the martial law period that ended officially in 1987. (I know some people who even disagree with the 1987 date and put it back into the 90s.)

Speaking of sources, Lin recommends two books in that aforementioned endnote, including (oddly) Kang-yi Sun’s Journey through the White Terror, a book that, though emotionally moving, as I wrote in a review of the Chinese-language original, is more of a memoir of her family's experiences during the White Terror than a comprehensive history of the period. Interestingly, as I mentioned in a comment to that earlier review, Sun seems to excuse higher-ups like Chiang Ching-kuo for their role in the White Terror (or at least her experience of the White Terror) more readily than many other victims might. I have not read the other source that Lin cites, Lan Bozhou's (藍博洲) 1993 book, White Terror (白色恐怖), so I can't speak to that book, though I wonder if there isn't anything more recent he could have cited.

These are perhaps minor issues, as are, perhaps, my issues with Lin's depiction of 228. Perhaps they add up to something more, and perhaps not. (Lots of "perhaps".) I do think Accidental State is a valuable and informative book, though, and it has given me some other perspectives on George Kerr's role in postwar U.S.-Taiwan relations.

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