Kabayama was too optimistic that Taiwan would fall easily
One hundred and twenty years ago today, Admiral Sukenori Kabayama inaugurated his government of Taiwan amid festivities in Taipei. Japan’s first governor-general of Taiwan was confident that the organized defense of the new colony would soon subside after Tang Jingsong, president of the Republic of Taiwan, had fled Taipei with his family for Fuzhou in mainland China 12 days before and the main body of the Japanese invasion army was in the capital city ready to march southward to pacify the island. Kabayama used Tang’s yamen (administrative office) as the office of the governor-general.
Kabayama was wrong. Taiwan’s war of independence went on.
The invasion army under the command of Prince Kitashirakawa-no-Miya Yoshihisa, commander of the First Imperial Guard Division, which had arrived in Taipei three days before Admiral Kabayama did, captured the district seat of Hsinchu on June 22. Elsewhere, on the East Coast an auxiliary force composed of Osaka Fourth Division reserves staged landings at Suao on June 21, and peacefully entered the main towns of Luotong and Yilan on June 22 and 23 respectively.
The thrust to the south of Prince Kitashirakawa’s Imperial Guards was then stalled in Hsinchu. They were bottled up by newly formed resistance groups of Wu Tang-hsin and Hsu Hsiang. The resistance forces put up a more spirited defense, while the supply columns along the route from Taipei to the south came under the attack of local guerilla bands.
The fighting in the Hsinchu district turned out to be the severest of the war. There was another fierce battle at Baqua Mountain that guarded the northern approaches to Changhua, the most important city in Central Taiwan. The Imperial Guards routed the defenders and occupied Changhua on Aug. 28. Finally, the Second Division under the command of Lt. Gen. Maresuke Nogi landed near Kaohsiung to fight the Black Flag forces of Liu Yung-fu, who set up a government in Tainan after Tang’s flight for mainland China.Soon, Liu fled like Tang. After Liu’s flight, the Rev. James Johnston of the Tainan Presbyterian mission and his assistant Thomas Berkeley, together with a delegation of 19 leaders of the city, went to meet the advance party of the Imperial Guards to propose a surrender. On Oct. 27, Admiral Kabayama said to the people of Taiwan that, with the surrender Tainan, the island of Taiwan had been pacified.
Later, on Nov. 18, after control had been gained over the southernmost district of Hengchun, Kabayama issued one more formal pacification announcement. But it was premature, for areas to the south of Kaohsiung as well as regions in the central highlands had not yet been occupied. Moreover, the Japanese were to encounter further armed resistance from Hakka bands in the south, then soon afterward to experience desperate partisan attacks near the end of 1895 and during the first part of 1896. But he was correct in assuming that the main work of pacification had been completed with the surrender of Tainan and the demise of the Republic of Taiwan founded on May 23.
June 17 was celebrated as Memorial Day for Inauguration of the New Administration during the 50 years of Japanese colonial rule of Taiwan. It was a holiday in Taiwan until 1945.
Taiwan’s war of independence had been doomed before it started. There were no true leaders. No assistance of any kind came from abroad. Qing China, fearful of becoming embroiled in a Taiwan incident with Japan, took steps before to ensure that any such armed resistance to the impending Japanese takeover would remain a separate conflict isolated from China. No countries in the world extended diplomatic recognition to Tang’s Republic of Taiwan. There was no cohesion and harmony among the inhabitants of Taiwan. Tension prevailed between the minority Hakka and the Hoklo majority, while the Han Chinese were in fear of armed indigenous peoples as their neighbors. It was simply impossible to make a concerted war effort based on widespread popular support.
Yet the whole island professed allegiance to the republic, at least outwardly, while no less than 150,000 armed men fought the war they knew they could never win and in which many of them laid down their lives in order just to keep their newly founded country. They wrote an emblazoned page in the history of Taiwan. No one can dispute Taiwan’s claim to be Asia’s first republic.