Kaohsiung Incident

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The Kaohsiung Eight arrested. From left to right: Chang Chun-hung, Huang Hsin-chieh, Chen Chu, Yao Chia-wen, Shih Ming-teh, Annette Lu, Lin Hung-hsuan [zh].
Kaohsiung Incident
Formosa Incident
Traditional Chinese美麗島事件
Simplified Chinese美丽岛事件

The Kaohsiung Incident, also known as the Formosa Incident, the Meilidao Incident, or the Formosa Magazine incident,[1][2] was a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations that occurred in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on 10 December 1979 during Taiwan's martial law period.

The incident occurred when Formosa Magazine, headed by released political prisoner Shih Ming-teh and veteran opposition legislator Huang Hsin-chieh, and other opposition politicians held a demonstration commemorating Human Rights Day to promote and demand democracy in Taiwan.[3] At that time, the Republic of China was a one-party state and the government used this protest as an excuse to arrest the main leaders of the political opposition.

The Kaohsiung Incident is widely regarded as a seminal event in the post-war history of Taiwan and the watershed of the Taiwan democratization movements.[4] The event had the effect of galvanizing the Taiwanese community into political actions and is regarded as one of the events that eventually led to democracy in Taiwan.


From 1949 until the 1990s, Taiwan was effectively a one-party state under the rule of the Kuomintang (KMT). During the late 1970s many opponents of the KMT seeking democracy gradually organized themselves as an opposition camp, following the establishment of the magazine Taiwan Political Review by Kang Ning-hsiang in 1975. These opponents called themselves "Tangwai", literally meaning "outside the party".[5] In its fifth edition on 27 December 1976 it published an article entitled "Two States of Mind — An Evening Discussion with Fou Cong and Professor Liou" which resulted in the revocation of the publisher's license. In the 1977 election, Tangwai expanded support significantly and won more seats than ever before. The outcome of the election demonstrated the potential of Tangwai as a quasi-opposition party to the ruling KMT and laid the ground for the ensuing mass movement.[4]

On 16 December 1978, U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced that the U.S. would sever its official relationship with the Republic of China as of 1 January 1979. It was the most serious challenge to the Taiwan government since it lost its seat at the United Nations to the People's Republic of China in 1971.[6] President Chiang Ching-kuo immediately postponed all elections without a definite deadline for its restoration. Tangwai, which had won steadily expanding support, was strongly frustrated and disappointed about Chiang's decision since it suspended the only legitimate method they could use to express their opinions.[4][6]

Tangwai leader Huang Hsin-chieh and his comrades soon petitioned the KMT government for the restoration of elections, but were rebuffed. On 21 January 1979, the KMT arrested Yu Teng-fa, another tangwai leader, and his son with the intentional false accusation of propagandising for the Chinese Communist Party.[4] Tangwai regarded the arrest of Yu as a signal of complete suppression and decided to make a last-ditch effort by holding radical demonstrations on the street,[4] resulting in the escalating conflict between the conservative KMT and tangwai.[7]

In May 1979, Formosa Magazine was established by Huang Hsin-chieh aiming at consolidating tangwai membership. On 16 August 1979, the first edition was published under the title "Joint Promotion of the New Generation's Political Movements".[8] The initial issue sold out all of its 25,000 copies, the second and third issues sold almost 100,000 copies, and the fourth issue sold more than 110,000. On 17 October 1979, a meeting of 22 Kuomintang security agencies adopted a proposal to ban the magazine after a protest from the South Korean Embassy over an article in the second issue titled "Unveil the Myth of the Korean Economic Miracle" (揭發韓國經濟奇蹟的神話).[8] Tangwai held many public gatherings and protests, without official permission. The KMT response was limited, such as sending police in riot gear but not suppressing the gatherings. This low-level reaction gave tangwai confidence in its own power and it stuck to the radical approach.[7]

Gushan Incident[edit]

The magazine's Kaohsiung service center applied for a permit to hold a human rights forum on 10 December 1979 at an indoor stadium, and after that was denied it applied for a permit to hold the event at the Rotary Park (扶輪公園), which was also denied. In response, it was decided to hold the demonstration at the Kaohsiung headquarters.[8]

On 9 December 1979, the Kaohsiung branch of Formosa Magazine dispatched two campaign wagons to broadcast the "Human Rights Forum". The wagons were held up by police and two volunteers were arrested and beaten, which roused Tangwai and its supporters to protest at the Gushan branch of Public Security Bureau. This incident caused many outraged Tangwai members and supporters who had not planned to attend the forum the next day to do so.[4][9]

The event on 10 December 1979 started out as the first major Human Rights Day celebration on the island. Until that time the authorities had never allowed any public expression of discontent.[citation needed]

Between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. that afternoon (four hours before the demonstration commemorating Human Rights Day started, and before any irregularities had taken place), the military police, the army, and the police had already taken up positions when the demonstrators arrived.[citation needed]

When the event took place during the evening, the military police marched forward and closed in on the demonstrators, then they retreated again to their original position. This was repeated two or more times. The battalion commander explained that the purpose of this exercise was to cause panic and fear in the crowd and also to provoke anger and confusion. Political demonstrators clashed with troops sent by the KMT.[1]

Arrests and imprisonment[edit]

The KMT authorities used the incident as an excuse to arrest virtually all well-known opposition leaders. They were held incommunicado for some two months, during which reports of severe ill-treatment filtered out of the prisons. The arrested groups were subsequently tried in three separate groups.

Lin family massacre[edit]

In February 1980 Lin Yi-hsiung, a leader of the democratic movement, was in detention and beaten severely by KMT police. His wife saw him in prison and contacted the Amnesty International Osaka office. The next day Lin's mother and twin 7-year-old daughters were stabbed to death. Lin's oldest daughter was badly wounded in his home. The authorities claimed to know nothing about it, even though his house was under 24-hour police surveillance.[10]

Major groups[edit]

In March–April 1980, the eight most prominent leaders "The Kaohsiung Eight" were tried in military court and were sentenced to terms ranging from 12 years to life imprisonment. The trial was also publicized.[10]

In April–May 1980, another group of 33 people, "The Kaohsiung 33", who had taken part in the Human Rights Day gathering were tried in civil court and sentenced to terms ranging from two to six years.[10]


A third group of 10 people were associated with the Presbyterian Church for hiding Shih Ming-teh, who feared torture and immediate execution. Most prominent among this group was Kao Chun-ming, the general-secretary of the Presbyterian Church. Kao was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. The others received lesser sentences. Shih was given a life sentence, and his wife, Linda Gail Arrigo, a United States citizen, was deported.[10]

Fifteen of Taiwan's most important political leaders, writers and intellectuals, all associated with the Formosa Magazine, were arrested.[1] Fifteen publications were closed down, including Meilidao (Formosa Magazine).[10] After the event, newspapers reported that the ensuing confrontations led to civilian and police injuries.[citation needed]

After the incident, four Tangwai participants were arrested and imprisoned on trumped-up charges of sedition, including Huang Hsin-chieh, Yao Chia-wen, Chang Chun-hung and Lin Hung-hsuan.[11]

News reports[edit]

Mainstream media had long been controlled by the authoritarian KMT government. The contemporary domestic newspapers were biased about the Kaohsiung Incident and framed it as a violent mass event. China Times, United Daily News, and KMT-owned Central District News also incorrectly stated that the Tangwai protesters were motivated by a pro-independence mindset. It also stated that they were working to subvert the Republic of China in cooperation with the Chinese Communist Party.[12] Such news reports caused negative public opinion. This negative public opinion was used by the media as further proof to attack and condemn the Tangwai.[6]

The incident caused international attention around the world, which pressed the KMT government to hold an open trial on the accused.[9] Even though there were pressures from the U.S. and reports from the international media such as New York Times,[13] the mainstream Taiwanese media refuted what the larger international media reported as biased rumors regarding the incident.[14]


The time period experienced a rising middle class, and a more open-minded Kuomintang (KMT) ruling regime that allowed some fostering of political opposition.[1] Taiwanese citizens were becoming weary of mainlander authority, and were eager for a more democratic society. The event turned into a series of political protests that led to public trials and arrests. It is considered a turning point for pro-democracy groups/KMT political oppositions.[1]

After the Kaohsiung incident, a decade of political struggle continued between the mainlander-controlled KMT and the other political parties.[1] The importance of the incident is that both Taiwanese people in Taiwan as well as the overseas Taiwanese community were galvanized into political actions. The movement which grew out of the incident formed the basis for the present-day governing Democratic Progressive Party.[1] While political opposition at the time was not yet calling for Taiwanese independence, the event called for self-determination.[10] An overseas support network of Taiwanese organizations was also formed in North America and Europe. Virtually all leading members of the present-day democratic opposition had a role in the event, either as defendants or as defense lawyers. By 2000, DPP successfully ended KMT rule. After losing the 2008 and 2012 presidential and legislative elections to the KMT, the DPP successfully contested and won both elections in 2016.

Chen Shui-bian, who was later elected to two terms as ROC president, was one of the defence lawyers, while his running mate, Annette Lu, was one of the "Kaohsiung Eight". She was sentenced to 12 years, of which she served five and a half.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Chang, Sung-sheng Yvonne (2004). Literary Culture in Taiwan: Martial Law to Market Law. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. ISBN 9780231132343.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  2. ^ Copper, John (2003). Taiwan: Nation-State or Province?. Boulder, Colo.: Westview. ISBN 9780813339559.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  3. ^ "DPP releases book commemorating the Kaohsiung Incident". Taipei Times. Taipei: Central News Agency. 8 Dec 2004. p. 4.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Tang, Chih-Chieh (2007). Taiwanese Sociology, 13, 71-128. "勢不可免的衝突:從結構/過程的辯證看美麗島事件之發生" (in Chinese)
  5. ^ Feng, Chien-san (1995). The Dissident Media in Post-War Taiwan: From Political Magazine to "Underground Radio". Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies, 20, 177-234. "異議媒體的停滯與流變之初探:從政論雜誌到地下電台" (in Chinese)
  6. ^ a b c Chen, Fupian (2007). The development of public opinion during "The Formosa Arrest"—With an Analysis of the Main-stream [sic] Print Media. Taiwan Historical Research, 14(1), 191-230. "美麗島大逮捕”前後國內輿論情勢之發展―以主流平面媒體爲主的分析"
  7. ^ a b Cheng, Tun-jen. 1989. Democratizing the Quasi-Leninist Regime in Taiwan. World Politics, 61(4), 471–499.
  8. ^ a b c Huang, Fu-san (2005). "Chapter 8: The First Democracy in the Chinese World: The Kaohsiung Incident and Taiwan's "Political Miracle"". A Brief History of Taiwan – A Sparrow Transformed into a Phoenix. Taipei: Government Information Office. Archived from the original on 2009-10-01.
  9. ^ a b New Taiwan Foundation (1999). 暴力與詩歌 : 高雄事件與美麗島大審 [Violence and Poetry-Kaohsiung Incident and Formosa Trial] (in Chinese). China Times Publishing. ISBN 9571330329.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Roy, Denny. Taiwan: A Political History. [2003] (2003). Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-8805-2.
  11. ^ "Taiwanese opposition leaders on hunger strike" (PDF). Taiwan Communiqué (15): 1–2. April 1984. ISSN 1027-3999.
  12. ^ Weng, Shieu-chi and Chen, Huei-min (2000). Social Structure, Linguistic Mechanisms and Construction of Identity: How Mass Media "Wove" the Kao-hsion Incident and Constructed Ethnic and National Identities of People in Taiwan. Communication Research Monographs, 4, 1-162. "社會結構、語言機制與認同建構--大眾媒介如何「編織」美麗島事件並構塑民眾的族群與國家認同"
  13. ^ Ying, Diane (January 24, 1980). "Taiwan Is Planning Open Trials Soon for Dissidents". New York Times.
  14. ^ Pang, Ming-Fui (2001). The Editorials of the United Daily News toward the Magnificent Political Events during the Postwar Taiwan. The Journal of History, 18, 277-308. “《聯合報》社論對台灣重大政治事件的立場與觀點(1950-1995)”