Comparative Terror and Regime Consolidation on the Two Sides of the Taiwan Straits in the 1950s: Suppression of Counterrevolutionaries and White Terrors
Julia Strauss/ 朱莉
Early Draft: Not for Circulation without the Permission of the Author
The case for thinking comparatively about China and Taiwan
My current research considers the formation and institutionalization of the modern
thChinese state in the 20 century; and I explicitly try to consider the concerns of two quite different “audiences”; comparative political sociologists as well as China scholars. In order to
do so, I focus on comparing regime consolidation in the two Chinese regimes on both sides of the Taiwan Straits in the 1950s as a way of understanding different trajectories of state building.. One might well ask, why the 1950s rather than any other decade (such as now), or better yet, why compare China and Taiwan at the same point in time rather than across time periods (e.g. Taiwan in the 1950s and 1960s with the People’s Republic of China now?).
China on the two sides of the Taiwan straits in the 1950s offer an excellent, but non-Western case study that enables one to work through some of the “big questions” of
1comparative historical sociology first flagged by Charles Tilly: what are the strategies by
which states effectively consolidate? What is the relative importance of such key variables as ideology, cultural values, leadership, resource extraction, and the inclusion or marginalization of key social groups in the process of regime consolidation and state building? And, perhaps most important, how does variation in these variables lead to what Thomas Ertman calls
2different “paths” to statebuilding? For a more China studies audience, there are in addition
a large number of outstanding questions about the two Party-states that evolved on the
1 Charles Tilly, The Formation of States in Western Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975) 2 Thomas Ertman, Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Harvard: 1997)
thopposite studies of the Taiwan Straits in the second half of the 20 century. Now that there
is a veritable explosion in the availability of sources on this period, we can reconsider a set of empirical issues: How truly different were the two regimes? And what accounts for their very significant differences in political evolution over a longer term? Was this a function of systemic factors such as party ideology and the absence or presence of elections (as Ramon Myers suggests), or of situational and exogenous factors such as the strong United States presence in Taiwan (as argued by Paul Cohen)? Investigation of these questions for China and Taiwan at mid-century can address the concerns of two different audiences: it can reconsider key issues of statebuilding and regime trajectory for China itself; but can also suggest “global” answers about a number of the “big questions” of state building at large,
which until up to now have been largely focused on European cases, or at least implicitly taken European models as the standard against which other experiences are measured.
Second, and no less importantly, now it is for the first time possible to look at the 1950s Cold War decade in China and Taiwan as history rather than as politics, polemics, or
personal feelings. Enough time has elapsed for passions to sufficiently cool to make it possible to begin to evaluate the 1950s decade on its own terms. This temporal distance has been accompanied by a.veritable explosion of available sources in terms of both archives and memoirs. I would go even farther: the present is a unique “research moment” when it is
both possible to look back more neutrally on the events of some 50 years ago through newly available written sources and still be able to interview at least some of the individuals who participated in the events and processes of that time.
Third, although still rare, there are now some scholars at least beginning to make a start engaging with China-Taiwan comparisons. There is very little in print that explicitly compares China and Taiwan. With the exceptions of Bruce Dickson’s Democratization in
China and Taiwan: The Adaptability of Leninist Parties (1997), the introductory essays by Ramon
Myers and Paul Cohen in Ramon Myers’ Two Societies in Opposition: The Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China After Forty Years (1991), thorough comparisons of China and Taiwan
are still very rare.. There are good methodological and historical reasons for this: scholars have been put off by the differences in geographical scale, and have been reluctant to become mired in the politically motivated passions that continued to dominate most discussion of China and Taiwan through the 1980s and beyond. China-Taiwan comparisons were the sort of thing that scholars would quietly offer off the record comments about in the coffee breaks at conferences, they most empathically were not the kind of topic that merited full length scholarly monographs.
My current research tries to take advantage of the present “research opening” to engage with the 1950s both historically and comparatively. As its point of departure, my project, tentatively entitled “Order, Land and Rice: A Comparative Study of Regime
Consolidation on the Two Sides of the Taiwan Straits in the 1950s”, starts from a set of
assumptions that until recently were either unrecognized or unmentionable in public: that at the outset of the 1950s China and Taiwan were infinitely more similar than either was prepared to admit. The two regimes’ respectively differing ideologies, near hysterical hostility to the continued existence of the “Other” across the Taiwan Straits, and choices of international alignment on the opposite sides of the Cold War have all obscured much more fundamental morphological and structural similarities. Both the PRC and the ROC shared in a common institutional legacy in a dominant Leninist Party-state that brooked no open opposition and saw its mission as forcing educational tutelage (jiaoxun) on an
3unreconstructed and recalcitrant society. Both were characterized by a recognizably
common zhengdang political culture. In addition both went through the same unrelenting militarization and nearly constant warfare in the thirty-five years immediately prior to 1949. Both tended to produce cults of personality in the Supreme Leader. Both had overwhelming military superiority in the territories they possessed, but weak roots in their respective local societies in the early 1950s. Both were unusually successful at rapidly establishing themselves, quashing dissent, and pushing through key programs. And both launched a series of radically transformational, indeed “revolutionary” policies as part of regime consolidation (and beyond). Yet by the end of the 1950s, China and Taiwan were on clearly different developmental trajectories and had increasingly less in common. The purpose of my wider project is to explore the origins and evolution of what turned out to be “different paths” through looking at key arenas of regime consolidation: 1) domestic security (coercive dominance) over local society through campaigns to suppress counterrevolutionaries and the White Terror, 2) land reform, and 3) food (particularly rice) provision to urban areas unable to grow their own.
In order to get around the obvious methodological problem of difference in geographical scale, the PRC component of the project is confined to regime consolidation in the lower Yangzi region (primarily Shanghai and its surrounding suburbs and counties). Although the Jiangnan and Taiwan are obviously not identical, there are nevertheless enough points of similarity for the comparison to be a useful one: the scale, population and level of infrastructural development are roughly, although not perfectly, comparable. More importantly, in both the Jiangnan and Taiwan, the ruling party-state came in as an alien regime of conquest and occupation, with overwhelming coercive capacity but shallow roots
3 John Fitzgerald, Awakening China: Politics, Culture and Class in the Nationalist Revolution (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1996)
in local society. In both Taiwan and the Jiangnan, much of what was done in terms of regime consolidation was aimed at institutionalizing that raw force and sinking roots in local society through a mixture of closing off exit options, hitting hard at presumptive fomenters of disorder and internal insecurity, wiping out or at the very least cowing social and political competitors, and appealing to key social groups by proferring a range of material and ideological incentives.
Empirically, this project focuses on three paired comparisons: security/ suppression of internal disorder, land, and food, and of these, unpolitically correct though it may be, internal security issues took first order of priority as the critical first step in establishing a real regime consolidation.. Following Tilly and Weber, I take it as given that the core of any state
is an implicitly coercive one, and that in the early phases of regime consolidation, these coercive elements of the state are likely to be much more obvious and explicit than they later become. But while coercion and the establishment of domestic security provide the necessary foundation of successful regime consolidation, coercion and the provision of domestic security are by themselves never sufficient. The state also needs to appeal to the groups it deems most critical, and garner their active support while actively lowering the bar
4of the “zone of acceptance” of a working majority of the population. Thus while “the stick”
(coercion and the role of force) is indispensable for the establishment of the regime, “carrots” also have to be held out consolidate that early establishment. Force and coercion are expensive; garnering active support from society (or at least minimizing social resistance) is infinitely less so. Both China and Taiwan in the 1950s made active efforts to demonstrate the benevolence of their respective regimes, get important social groups on board, and win over at least the passive acceptance of the majority. Therefore the three case studies of
4 The idea of the “zone of acceptance” comes from Chester Barnard’s classic of organization theory, The
Functions of the Executive (Harvard, 1938/1968)
security, land and rice were all arenas of activity in which the state mixed “hard” coercion
and “softer” claims to benevolence and paternalist care in varying proportions. Anti-
subversive campaigns were the most obviously coercive and least benevolent; subsidizing urban areas with grain was the most obviously benevolent and least coercive, and land reform came somewhere in between. But my preliminary research indicates that even in anti-subversive campaigns so obviously coercive that hundreds of thousands lost their lives, an accompanying rhetoric of benevolence was surprisingly developed, and that even grain provision to starving cities contained latent elements of coercion for the disadvantaged countryside from which the grain was extracted.
The Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries and the White Terror Compared: Issues of Background and Scale
Both the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan launched vicious and bloody campaigns against potential subversives and enemies of the state via the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries (for the PRC) and the “White Terror” (for Taiwan) at
exactly the same point in time – between 1950 and 1953 – at a critical early stage in regime
consolidation. Both the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries and the early stages of the White Terror were similar along a number of dimensions that are surprising, given the self proclaimed ideological and normative differences in the two regimes; in terms of the campaign mentality, targets, and ways in which paranoia and terror against potential subversives was deliberately linked to the expansion of state power. But there were real differences between the two; some surprising and others entirely predictable. Oddly, the White Terror was, if anything, even more thorough and possibly more vicious than the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries. And entirely predictably, the way in which
the campaigns unfolded were very different, and revealed substantially different ethoses about the nature of the Party-state, as well as future contradictions within those ethoses.
The first commonality shared by the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries and the early stages of the White Terror was temporal. Although the Republic of China cranked up its engines of repression and peaked in repression roughly a year earlier than did the People’ s Republic, both were unleashed in a context of deepening Cold War and hardening of alliances, and were inseparable from the outbreak and unfolding of the Korean War. The importance of the international environment in general and the Korean War in particular cannot be underestimated. For both China and Taiwan, the leadership’s perception
of fundamental geopolitical insecurity was filtered by the combination of the implacably hostile “Other” across the Taiwan Straits, the outbreak of the Korean War, and the overnight recasting of US security policy in East Asia. This temporal matrix made each party-state’s hysteria against potential subversives and Fifth Columns made it possible for
each to mobilize the commitments of large numbers of repressors within the state, and rendered the state’s insistence on the “necessity” for repressiveness and crackdown at least
plausible to society at large. Indeed it is very difficult to imagine such vigorous prosecution of subversives without this wider regional background of Cold War turned hot. The Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries was almost exactly coterminous with the China’s involvement in the Korean War (autumn of 1950- through winding down in mid-
51953); while the exact dating of the “White Terror” is a subject of some disagreement, the
5 One way to date of the onset of the “White Terror” in Taiwan is the promulgation of martial law on May
20, 1949 (see 戒嚴時期臺北地區政治案件相關人士口述歷史？上，白色恐怖事件查訪！臺北市，北
市文獻會民88！P.iv. Another is by the slightly earlier “April 6”  incident, when a student protest at Taida and Shida was viciously suppressed (. 臺灣省立師範學院4-6事件！ 吳文星採編！南投市，省獻
會2001). Any number of works on the 2-28 Incident see the “White Terror” as a contiguous and natural
extension of the repression of the 1945-49 period. [get references]. But I would argue for a dating that is
consistent with the government’s own records keeping and methods of suppression. The key institutions of
point at which the party-state mobilized sufficiently to prosecute subversives in a systematic campaign ere campaigns unleashed by the Party-state was a good year earlier than in the People’s Republic. Both were campaigns, and as such blurred at the borders with other state sponsored campaigns (land reform and the Aid-Korea/ Resist America campaigns in the People’s Republic and the Guomindang Party rectification in Taiwan).
The scale of the terror in each case is hard to measure in absolute terms, as the statistics kept on each are a combination of inaccessible, inconsistent, and only partial. But where we have numbers, those numbers turn up some unexpected findings..Of course, in absolute terms, the terror was greater in the People’s Republic than in Taiwan, with
suggestions from top political leaders in the PRC that the Campaign to Suppress
6Counterrevolutionaries executed anywhere between 700,000 and two million. But when we
consider Shanghai and its immediate environs (population 5,400,000 in 1950) , internal statistics available in the Shanghai Municipal archives put the totals for 1951 at 14,391 counterrevolutionaries sentenced and 2,916, or roughly one fifth of the total, given a death sentence. The vast majority of counterrevolutionaries were apprehended and dispatched in the spring and summer of 1951, when the campaign reached its height; virtually all action on
suppression in Taiwan, notably the Taiwan sheng Bao’an Siling Bu, only began to keep systematic records, logs, and statistics on subversive cases at the end of September, 1949, and this suggests that repression, while it certainly existed prior to the autumn of 1949 for particular incidents and individuals, began to intensify as a systematic and widespread campaign almost exactly a year before the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries, which was launched in early October 1950, at roughly the point of China’s
intervention in the Korean War. See “臺灣警備總部工作報告？三十八年，,in 臺灣地區戒嚴時期五0
年代政治案件史料彙編？-，！臺灣省文獻委員會編印！1998！p. 12-13。 6 The 800,000 figure was released at the Eighth Party Congress in September, 1956. Cited in Jürgen Domes, The Internal Politics of China (New York: Praeger 1973) p. 52. The figure of 2,000,000 was mentioned in
a work report of 1952, also cited by Domes, who “conservatively” estimates the total numbers executed to be upwards of 3,000,000. The reasons for this significant difference probably stem from a) inconsistencies in the way that statistics were assembled at local levels of government and b) regional variation. In the still unsecured southwest, for example, “banditry” and ongoing civil war made for very large numbers of dead,
some of whom would have been “counted” as counterrevolutionaries, others probably not.
7the campaign after the summer of 1951 involved the final resolution and tallying of cases.
Publicly accessible statistics on the scale of the White Terror in the 1950s are even harder to come by. Unlike the leaders of the PRC, the leadership of the Guomindang party-state was unwilling to publicly acknowledge the scale of the terror with even inconsistent numbers at the time, and for years thereafter either shunted aside embarrassing questions on the repression or simply refused to answer. The Foundation for Compensating Improper Verdicts on Sedition and Communist Espionage Cases during the Martial Law Period (財團
法人戒煙時期不當叛亂暨匪諜審判案件補償基金會) has a sample of 2555 cases that is
useful for proportional breakdown by presumptive offense and eventual sentence, but this sample is not broken down by year, does not distinguish between individuals (名) and cases
that could well include tens of individuals (案), and covers the entire period from 1949 until
81987. Some estimates of the scale of the White Terror at the high end run to upwards of 10,000 [get reference]. The archival statistics from the Ministry of Defense Internal Security Headquarters’ own documents (臺灣省保安司令部), reprinted in the 臺灣地區戒嚴時期
50年代政治案件史料彙編, are publicly available, but not internally consistent; as both the categories to designate “sedition” and methods of statistical compilation shifted from year to
year. For example, one set of statistics compiled by the Internal Security Headquarters gives the totals of sentenced subversives as 1,151 cases (案 )and 3,942 individuals (名) for the
9period between September 1949 and the end of 1952. But these “final numbers” do not add
7 Shanghai Municipal Archives (hereafter cited as SMA), B1/2/1339. “反革命罪犯處刑分類統計表”,
(Statistical form on classification and punishment of counterrevolutionaries) 1951. 8 戒煙時期政治案件之法律與歷史探討！1949-1987！蔡清彥et al, 財團法人戒嚴時期不當叛亂暨飛
碟審判案件補償基金會(臺北，2001) p. 255. Hereafter cited as ZSZA. 9 “臺灣省保安司令部三十九年九月至四十二年十二月審理 終結案件處理情形統計表“！in 臺灣地區戒煙時期五0年帶政治案件彙編？一，, ？南投，臺灣省
文獻委員會！1998，p. 128. Hereafter cited as 50 NZASH。
up. At a minimum, the total of seditious (叛亂) individuals reported by the Internal Security
Headquarters totaled 633 in the last quarter of 1949, 1506 in1950, 1,895 according to one table and 1,180 according to another for 1951, and 1,925 in 1952, of which only 798 were handled by the Internal Security Headquarter’s own cases. The numbers only began to tail off significantly in 1953 to 607. For the period between September, 1949 and December 1954, the lower of these numbers is 5856, and the higher 6565. But even the higher estimate is probably on the low side, as it is simply not clear which organization’s statistics were included in the final tallies. Investigation of subversives, their arrest and subsequent processing was handled in Taiwan by four different organizations in the early 1950s: the Taiwan provincial police bureau, the Constitutional Military Headquarters (憲兵司令部) ,
the Ministry of Interior Investigation Bureau (内政部調查据), and the Ministry of Defense
Internal Security Bureau (國防部保密侷), as well as Internal Security Headquarters (臺灣省
保安司令部) itself. But other than 1952, when a clear breakdown is given by each organization that arrested and handled cases of subversion, it isn’t clear whether the final statistics include the totals for all, or whether only the cases that the Internal Security Headquarters itself handled were counted. If one assumes that 1952 was a typical year in the proportion of cases handled by the Internal Security Headquarters, (798 of 1,925, or in round numbers 41%), then the given totals for 1950, 1951 and 1953 have to be increased by roughly 116%, for a crude final estimate of 11,672. Thus as absolute totals, the absolute scale of anti-subversive terror in Taiwan in the early 1950s was significantly smaller than in the greater Shanghai area, with somewhere between one third and one half as many individuals “suppressed”. When taken as a proportion of the population, those numbers seem smaller