In a league of their own

The following article appeared in today’s Taipei Times:

Taiwan’s history is full of three-digit numbers indicating the month and day of major events: there’s 228 denoting the pivotal White Terror incident in 1947 and 921 for the devastating Jiji earthquake of 1999. Not quite as well remembered are 823, which represents the start of the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1958 or, 524, the date of an attack on the US Embassy in Taiwan by rioters the year before.

One date that is now forgotten by all except the staunchest Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) nostalgists is the snappiest of the lot: 123.

On Jan. 23, 1954, over 14,000 Chinese prisoners of war arrived at Keelung aboard US ships following an 88-hour voyage from Incheon, South Korea. Incarcerated for up to three years, these men had decided — often under severe duress from fellow inmates — on resettlement in Taiwan. A further 7,000-plus chose repatriation to China.

It was a huge PR coup for former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石). To maximize the propaganda, his government devised World Freedom Day (WFD). The event began under the auspices of the Asian Pacific Anti-Communist League, cofounded by Chiang, South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee and Philippines President Elpidio Quirino that same year. As rightist regimes worldwide got on board, the organization was renamed the World Anti-Communist League in 1966 (though the Asian Pacific league continued as a separate wing). In 1990, it rebranded as the World League for Freedom and Democracy (WLFD, 世界自由民主聯盟總會).

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