George H. Kerr Exhibition at City Hall

My last post featured a man I ran into at the 228 commemoration event in Taipei a few weeks back. In this dipstick’s revisionist version of events, Taiwanese thugs started the whole thing by targetting Mainland Chinese. His placard branded these alleged miscreants rapists and murderers.

It’s easy enough to counter such ludicrous claims, but should anyone remain in any doubt as to what occurred in Taiwan beginning in late February and early March 1947, they would do well to read George H. Kerr’s Formosa Betrayed.

It is the preeminent account of the 228 Incident and its aftermath, and one would have to be seriously deficient in compassion not to be moved by some of the descriptions.

To take just one example, Kerr writes:

 

We saw students tied together, being driven to the execution grounds, usually along the river banks and ditches about Taipei, or at the waterfront in Keelung. One foreigner counted more than thirty young bodies – in student uniforms – lying along the roadside east of Taipei; they had had their noses and ears slit or hacked off, and many had been castrated. Two students were beheaded near my front gate. Bodies lay unclaimed on the roadside embankment near the Mission compound.

 

I happened to be stalking the corridors of City Hall last week and noticed that there was an exhibition on Kerr on the second floor of the Special Exhibition Hall at the Discovery Center Taipei, which is on your right as you go through the main entrance of the building.

It’s not great, and there are some annoyingly pointless, cutesy features, but it gives you a brief insight into Kerr’s life. There’s not much on the actual atrocities and, strangely, the only text that refers to the killing is an Associated Press cutting referencing a report from the China Weekly Review by John William Powell, who later became famous for a high-profile sedition trial (based on his assertion that the US and Japan had used germ warfare during the Korean War).

Powell, was perhaps the only (professional) foreign correspondent to witness the violence and file a report on it. “Bloodbath in Taiwan” ran the headline of his article. This was not hyperbole. 

Other elements of the exhibition include personal correspondence between Kerr and his Taiwanese and Japanese friends and former students (he taught at high schools and universities in Taipei from 1937-1940 before he returned for a fateful second stint from 1946-47, during which he served as U.S. Vice Consul in Taipei), and first editions and drafts of his works on Taiwan and Okinawa. One of these, entitled Formosa: Licensed Revolution and the Home Rule Movement, 1895-1945, reveals the preoccupation with Taiwanese independence that Kerr was to maintain throughout his life.

There is also information about Kerr’s interest in local folk culture and his friendship with Kaneiseki Giobu, a Japanese professor of medicine, with whom Kerr shared an interest in anthropology and archaeology. The pair were apparently part of a group of collectors who curated artifacts and valuables that repatriating Japanese were forced to leave behind. What happened to these “treasures” is not mentioned.

Kerr’s insistence on presenting the facts on the uprising and crackdown unembellished meant he was never going to last long in his post. Thanks to a concerted propaganda campaign by the Machiavellian Stanway Cheng and his cohorts at the Central News Agency, foreigners such as Kerr and the Kiwi Allan J. Shackletonwhose account of events Formosa Calling can also be found online, were smeared as imperialists “plotting to annex, exploit and ‘enslave’ Formosa”.

These attacks continued after Kerr’s return to the U.S., with Chiang Kai-shek’s personally conveyed antipathy towards Kerr said to have cost him his position as a lecturer at Stanford in 1950. Still, Kerr was not to be bullied and continued to lobby the State Department on Taiwan’s behalf and push for a U.N trusteeship for Taiwan.

A Chinese-language version of the book finally became available in 1974 thanks to a translation by exiled Taiwanese academics in the U.S. In 2013 an updated, revised version was published by the Taiwan Association of University Professors.

“This book had a tremendous influence on Taiwan’s democracy movement,” said TAUP President Lu Chung-chin (呂忠津). “When overseas Taiwanese students read Kerr’s original book in English in the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of them were thoroughly shaken up. They turned around to embrace the Taiwan independence cause.”

The exhibition runs until May 22. Meanwhile, I would urge anyone who is even vaguely interested in Taiwan’s modern history to read Formosa Betrayed, especially foreign residents who have been here for more than a couple of years. I would even go so far as to say that if there’s one book you should read about Taiwan, this is it.

You can find it here: http://www.romanization.com/books/formosabetrayed/

 

 

  

 

 

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