Published in 1946, the novel Orphan of Asia, by Taiwanese author Wu Zhou-liu, tells the story of Hu Tai-ming. Born in Japan-occupied Taiwan, brought up in the Chinese tradition, Hu is forced into the Japanese educational system. Eventually he finds himself excluded by the Japanese, and witnessing the horror of the war between China and Japan, he feels disowned by both and alienated from his home in Taiwan.
In 1983, when pop music had opened a critical space for political expression in authoritarian Taiwan, Orphan of Asia became a popular song. The lyrics tell of the orphan, with a “yellow face tainted with red mud” and “black eyes staring with white terror”. This continuing sense of sadness reflects the disillusionment among Taiwanese people – which is no surprise when you consider the island’s history after 1945.
In 1945, Taiwan became part of the Republic of China (ROC) under the Nationalist (Kuomintang, KMT) government, which had succeeded the Qing dynasty after the Xinhai revolution in 1912. By 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took power on the mainland after the civil war, the KMT fled to Taiwan, taking with them an entire class of civil servants, party officials and politicians, intellectuals, industrialists and troops as well as ordinary men and women escaping from a devastating war. The exodus was principally made up of men, who became known as “mainlanders” – who were apparently only taking temporary refuge in Taiwan.
After the CCP declared the foundation of a People’s Republic on October 1 1949, the KMT turned Taiwan into an anti-communist fortress. This was opposed by Taiwanese communists, independence advocates and liberal and leftist intellectuals, but Chiang Kai-shek, the KMT leader, and his government imposed martial law in May 1949. Ostensibly to guard against infiltration from the mainland, the measures closed the borders between Taiwan and China and restricted citizens’ constitutional rights. There followed the “White Terror”, which lasted until 1987. This was a period of severe repression during which thousands were arrested and many executed for opposition to the KMT’s authoritarian party-state.
The KMT‘s claim to represent the whole of China was initially backed by the US. The US also supported Taiwan’s occupation of the China seat at the United Nations, until October 1971, when a resolution by Albania that the People’s Republic should have the seat was passed by the general assembly. The following year the US president, Richard Nixon, visited Beijing as part of a process of normalisation of relations between Washington and Beijing.
But in Taiwan, citizens were still being indoctrinated to see China as their lost “homeland” that would one day be won back from the communists.