Hsieh Tung-min’s former residence, Ershui Township (謝東閔故居,二水)


The moon gate at the former residence of Hsieh Tung-min Ershui.

Today is the 68th anniversary of the 228 Incident, a dark chapter in Taiwan’s history. I thought I’d post something on Hsieh Tung-min (謝東閔), a former governor and vice-president of Taiwan under President Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). Because of his background and one defining incident in his life, he is an interesting figure when it comes to the nuances of Taiwanese identity.

Although some sources have his birthplace as Tainan, he was actually born in Guanghua Village (光化村) Ershui Township (二水鄉), Changhua County (彰化縣). I stopped at Ershui as part of a week-long cycling trip, which has reminded me of everything that is good about Taiwan, and passed by Hsieh’s old residence.

Ershui is not a big place and there’s just one hotel, right next to the station. The small town centre based around Guanwen Rd. (光文) is a pleasant little slice of Taiwanese country life. Across the tracks from the station, there’s a short, nondescript bike path down to the next small station at Yuanquan and, just past that, the Babaozheng (八堡圳) waterworks.

Every town in Taiwan has to be known for something. Ershui is inkstones. The Zhuoshui (濁水溪), which I had recently learned is Taiwan’s longest river, apparently spits them out by the dozen. I was confused by references on signs and by locals to “Luosishih” (螺溪石) – or Luo River stones – but eventually twigged that this was the old name for the river. There’s a museum in town run by a local master that I didn’t go to.

The major attraction for many visitors to Ershui is the chance to cavort with Formosan macaques around the hiking trails of Sanboling (松柏). I thought about going to see the monkeys but didn’t really have time.

One of the gang: Hsieh and Chiang Ching-kuo.

A couple of minutes walk from the station down Guanwen Rd., there’s a turning on right that leads you to the distinctive moon gate entrance to the courtyard.

The main three-sided building looks more like a school than an abode. The girl at the tourist info. office at the station told me it’s used as a kind of community centre for the elderly these days, which I suppose kind of fits the odd designation of “housekeeping centre” (家政中心) that it now goes under. I did see a youngster, school bag on her shoulder, darting up the stairs and making for an office on the second floor with mum lagging behind.

I’m not sure what this larger construction was used for in Hsieh’s day. There are small, separated rooms along the corridors of each of the three tiers, so I suppose it had some public administrative capacity in times gone by.

In the left-hand corner, there’s a small opening that takes you through to Hsieh’s small apartment. Apart from a young couple, there was no one about when I visited and I wasn’t sure if opening any door I came across was acceptable. (In fact, this was the first of several instances during my trip where I was left to my own devices and had the run of the place. Although it can be nice to have an informed guide to give you the low-down, poking about on your own is pleasantly liberating. It also makes you feel slightly rebellious, which is always good as a traveller.)

And with former president Yan Chia-kan, right.

Following the couple’s lead, I pushed open the cantilevered door and had a look about. There’s not an awful lot to see inside. In the living room there’s basic furniture, including a rocking chair. In the centre of the table, which is covered with a white lace tablecloth, was a vacuum packed sticky rice cake (年糕), a traditional Lunar New Year food.

A single orange occupied a similar position on a table in the adjoining room. I’m not sure if these were supposed to be offerings of some sort.

Like other residences of former dignitaries, the idea seems to have been to make the room look like its venerable occupant has just popped out for his daily constitutional.

The walls are where things start to get interesting. Pride of place, or at least size, is naturally given to a photo of Hsieh with Chiang Ching-kuo. Balding and bespectacled, they make for an avuncular pair, soft and jowelly like pallid walruses.

Between them are two enormous elephant tusks projecting from a Chinese woodcarving. Tea has been served, though only Hsieh appears to be partaking. Draped over his shoulder is a turquoise sash with red trim, doubtless an award for his services to the nation. Above them, the white-moustachioed Father of the Nation looks on in solemn approbation.  

Other photos include Hsieh with his predecessor as vice-president, Yan Chia-kan (嚴家淦) who was actually also officially president for a couple of years to complete Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣中正) “term” after he died; another with former KMT legislators Kao Yu-ren (高育仁) and Tsai Hung-wen (蔡鴻文); and a third with his brother Hsieh Nan-chu (谢敏初).

Elder statesman: Fun and games with Tsai Hung-wen, left, and Kao Yu-ren, right.

While I don’t know an awful lot about Hsieh, his name crops up in quite a few books on modern history and politics in Taiwan, usually in relation to the infamous incident to which I alluded at the beginning. Hsieh is also known for championing education and setting up the first private university in Taiwan, the highly-regarded Shih Chien (實踐大學) in Kaohsiung in 1958 (which also has a campus in Dazhi, Taipei).

In 1976, the then vice-president received a parcel sent from the United States 1  When he opened it, it exploded, severely wounding his hands, one of which had to be amputated to prevent gangrene from setting in. Hsieh was one of three politicians to receive mail bombs. The others, Lee Huan (李煥), premier under Lee Teng-hui and Huang Chieh (黃杰), like Hsieh a former governor of “Taiwan Province” and defence minister, escaped almost unscathed.

The perpetrator was current DPP caucus whip (nothing like an ex terrorist to ensure party discipline) Wang Sing-nan (王幸男), who ended up serving 14 years on Green Island for the crime, before he was released in 1990.

Wang, who was then part of the U.S.-based Taiwan independence group World United Formosans for Independence headed by the late Chai Trong-rong (蔡同榮), said that Hsieh had been targeted as “the number one traitor of Taiwan and puppet of the Chiang family” 2. This was clearly a reference to Hsieh’s status as the most prominent of the “half-mountain” officials, those Taiwanese who “patriotically” left the island under Japanese rule to join the KMT.

The living room of Hsieh’s place.

Interestingly, in 2007, Wang was prominent in the ridiculous tabling of a bill to have relatives, including descendants, of KMT officials made culpable for White Terror abuses. At the judicial committee meeting for the proposed bill, Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑), the one KMT official who even bothered to attend the session, cheekily asked whether Wang’s family might be liable for some compensation to Hsieh Tung-min’s relatives. Although Wang had already served his time, unlike almost all of the KMT culprits, you can’t help but feel the KMT legislator had a point.

Back to Wang’s victim. The KMT had been implementing a gradual, inevitable nativisation strategy that was to see Taiwan-born officials rise to positions of power. This culminated in the ascension to top spot of that snake-in-the-grass destroyer of (blue) worlds Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who succeeded Hsieh as Chiang’s final vice president, before he was left with the reins when Chiang died in 1988.

Most commentators accept that Chiang basically saw the writing was on the wall pretty early and therefore tried his best to cultivate a loyal, dependable foundation of “native” Taiwanese for the party-government. These included able technocrats in industry and agriculture (where Lee got his start with the Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction) who were eventually given considerable liberty to put together the policies that spurred Taiwan’s unparalleled economic development.

Hsieh’s story was a little different, though. While a young Lee Teng-hui was toying with communism, Hsieh was in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, completing his studies and working as a journalist. During the tail-end of the war, he was involved in the KMT’s anti-Japanese drive (for what it was worth), and, as a Taiwanese, was a natural choice for involvement in planning their retreat to Taiwan. By the time he returned to his homeland in 1948, he’d been away for 20 years.

The courtyard and main building.

Hsieh passed away in 2001 at the age of 93 after spending the last portion of his career as an advisor at the Presidential Office. Wang was elected as a Tainan representative a few years later. I don’t know whether the pair ever met or whether there was any closure over the incident.

Either way, it often amazes me how Taiwanese who were personally affected by the trauma and tragedy of Taiwan’s martial law era have just got on with things and managed to live side-by-side with former “enemies”.

As one of the first Taiwan-born KMTers to enjoy a senior role in the admin, Hsieh Tung-min played an important role in contemporary Taiwanese history. If you happen to be in Ershui, it’s worth passing by his old house. It won’t take more than a few minutes. Then you’re free to enjoy some monkey business up in the hills nearby.

Note: If you’re thinking of staying in Ershui, as I mentioned, the only option is the Asia Hotel (二水亞洲旅社), which is reasonably priced at NT$800 for clean rooms but no Wi-Fi. There are

There are homestay options available, which are also decent value at NT$1,500 for two people. They’ll pick you up from Erhsui Station, which is seven stops south of Changhua City on the southern branch of the Taiwan Railways Administration Western Line. See here for more info.


Housekeeping Centre/Hsieh Tung-min’s Former Residence (家政中心 / 謝副總統東閔故居)

Lane 1, No. 2, Guangwen Rd., Guanghua Village, Ershui Township, Changhua County (二水鄉光化村光紋路12)

NB: Guanghua Village is basically Ershui town centre.



  1. In some accounts, Wang Sing-nan mailed the bombs while visiting Taiwan.
  2. Marks, T. Counterrevolution in China: Wang Sheng and the Kuomintang, Frank Cass Publishers, London. p.246.

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