Times change for veterans of the civil war

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 January, 2012, 12:00am


In the lead-up to today's presidential election in Taiwan, residents of villages long dedicated to former military personnel in Kaohsiung - the power base of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party - are keeping a low profile.

'My wife and I are diehard advocates of President Ma Ying-jeou because he is the Kuomintang candidate, but we can't declare our political stance outside our village because [Kaohsiung] is a DPP stronghold,' said Chen Ya-fu, an 88-year-old former lieutenant of the Republic of China (ROC) Navy, who lives in the village in Zuoying district.

Asked why they had not moved to the KMT's power base in northern Taiwan, Chen said: 'Because we love Kaohsiung - where I have lived for more than six decades.'

The military built hundreds of villages for military personnel and dependents in key Taiwanese cities when it retreated to the island after being defeated by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949.

The villages were designed as isolated communities where military officers and their families could settle down and avoid possible harassment from locals.

'People in my generation are the scapegoats in the civil war between the KMT and Communist Party before 1949,' said Chen, who came from Hefei city in Anhui province. He compared himself and other military dependents to gypsies in Europe.

'Local Taiwanese say I'm not Taiwanese, while the Hefei government called me a Taiwanese compatriot when I returned home,' he said. 'I don't know who I am now.'

Chen's 76-year-old wife, Hsu Hui-fung, a Shanghai native, said they had suffered hardships when dealing with pro-independence DPP advocates in the city for nearly 16 years, since the island started electing its president through universal suffrage on March 23, 1996.

'It's very difficult for us to communicate with local people, as I can't speak the local dialect,' Hsu said, adding that she had lived in the isolated village since her family was brought there by the ROC naval fleet in 1949, when she was 13.

'My father was the team leader of a fire brigade in Shanghai's Jiangnan Shipbuilding Bureau before it was moved to Taiwan,' she said.

Families in these military villages have strong memories of the civil war, and those memories make much of the older generation wary of Ma's cross-strait policies.

Chen said he agreed with Ma's acknowledgment of the so-called 1992 consensus - under which both sides of the strait agreed to recognise 'one China', even though their definition of that China differed - because at least it means 'Beijing authorities recognise the existence of the ROC'.

Hsu, who volunteers as her village's community head and had decorated the small area with many ROC flags in the lead-up to today's election, said she 'will definitely vote for Ma'. 'We appreciate Ma's clean hands ... because we hate corruption,' she said.

However, the couple said they would not push their middle-aged children to support Ma.

'My two daughters can both speak the Min Nan dialect [Taiwanese] because they have integrated with the local community,' Hsu said.

Some younger residents in these villages said they felt neglected by Ma, that he had overlooked them and their families in these isolated communities, even when it came to handing out compensation when the villages were razed to make way for urbanisation.

James Wu, a freelance writer and designer in his 50s who also lives in Zuoying village, complained that 'our village will be dismantled in six months under the Kaohsiung government's urban-renewal project, but each household has received just NT$970,000 (HK$250,000), while households in other villages received up to NT$1.2 million in last year's urban-renewal plans'.

Wu said he did not like Ma, saying the president neglected military veterans and their families because he did not want to open himself up to criticism from his rivals if he helped the families.

However, Wu's neighbour, Wang Shou-chen, a Kaohsiung native in her 50s who married a veteran in the village, said almost all of her generation and younger in the village would still vote for Ma, even if they were not happy with all of his policies.

She noted that Ma faced a tough challenge in the election, as James Soong Chu-yu, the People First Party candidate, had swayed some voters towards his camp from Ma's.

Hsu said she feared that the KMT's diehard supporters would vanish as more and more old military villages were razed.

There are currently a few dozen such villages remaining out of hundreds originally established.

'It's a pity that the number of KMT veterans is decreasing as many have passed away, while the numbers of Hakka and local people are increasing,' she said. 'I think our party has to come up with some new measure to consolidate and cultivate new party advocates.'


The approximate percentage of the electorate who are swinging voters, according to various opinion polls