Impressions from Taiwan in the 1970s

Female soldiers in Taiwan in the late 1960s

Today I watched a short documentary about Taiwan from the 1970s with a quite charming selection of what could be called Asian elevator music, made by some Germans travelling around the northern part of the island.

At the beginning the viewer does get the false impression that the Chinese loyal to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) which escaped from the mainland that had fallen to Mao Tse-tung’s (1893-1976) henchman became the new elite, when in reality it was the old one, just transferred to Formosa after the lost civil war.

But considering the little objective information available back then, that seems like an excusable error which doesn’t harm the production’s quality, especially at a time when the international isolation of self-proclaimed “Free China” was at its height and few people cared about its destiny.

In 1971, Taiwan had lost its claim to solely represent all of China and the hated “Communist bandits” became members of the United Nations (UN). After Ottawa had recognized Peking in 1970, at the end Taipei didn’t even participate in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics.

The trip obviously took place in autumn, as there were demonstrations commemorating Retrocession Day on October 25th, 1945, when Japan’s 50-year colonial rule officially came to an end.

The Nationalist KMT was handed power by the victorious Americans and soon began to behave not like liberators, but as new alien masters of the Taiwanese people, which caused lasting animosities between newcomers and long-time residents that can still be felt today.

Until December 31st, 1978 the United States and the Republic of China, to date Taiwan’s official name, maintained diplomatic relations. The big American influence could be seen in the way mostly young people were marching through Taichung, nowadays the second largest city.

Wearing uniforms that immediately reminded me of large US parades, they carried countless pictures of Chiang and Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925). Sun, although Father of the modern Chinese Nation, in fact had very little to do with Formosa.

Probably the funniest moment of the documentary is the comment about Taiwan being known as “Switzerland of the Far East” (not because of its really impressive, almost unique mountain landscapes), but because of its cleanliness.

Well, in the late 1980s the pollution in the capital was almost unbearable and the whole country faced an enormous garbage problem, which luckily has improved a lot since 2000.

Seeing these old images only increases my desire to return to modern Taiwan as soon as I can, hopefully in mid-April, in company of my two cats! In any case, I shall soon be back again where I belong!



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