Four decades of oppression where KMT found refuge

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 July, 2007, 12:00am

Taiwan imposed martial law soon after Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang forces were defeated by the communists at the end of the civil war in 1949 and fled to the island to set up a provisional government.

Martial law, which took effect on May 20 that year, was imposed to control the island and any activities deemed to jeopardise the administration of Chiang's KMT government.

In an attempt to silent dissent, in 1950 the Chiang government issued a statute declaring a 'Period of Mobilisation for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion'.

Thousands of people, including many innocent residents, were arrested and tried by military tribunals. Hundreds were executed, while many others were imprisoned. According to President Chen Shui-bian's government, as many as 200,000 were arrested and up to 8,000 executed, figures the KMT disputes.

KMT spokesman Yang Tu recently said that only 20,000 people, including Taiwanese natives and mainland immigrants, were arrested. Between 7,000 and 8,000 were 'executed or imprisoned', he added.

Noted political figures arrested and imprisoned in the early years of martial law included Lei Chen, founder of Free China, a magazine critical of the KMT; National Taiwan University political science professor Peng Ming-min, who issued a declaration calling for the island's independence and democratic development; and author and human rights activist Bo Yang.

Chiang died in 1975 and was succeeded by then vice-president Yen Chia-kan. In 1978, Chiang's son, Chiang Ching-kuo, became president. The following year, the KMT suppressed pro-democracy activists in Kaohsiung.

Perceiving that the democratic trend was unstoppable, Chiang told the Washington Post in October 1986 he had decided to lift martial law, nine days after activists formed the Democratic Progressive Party despite a ban on new political parties.

Martial law was officially lifted on July 15, 1987. Six months later, Chiang died.

He was succeeded by then vice-president Lee Teng-hui, who later issued a series of measures to free political restrictions and introduce democracy to Taiwan.