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In the 1950s and 1960s non-Kuomintang candidates could run for local positions in Taiwan, but were effectively barred from national or provincial posts because of a lack of resources and a government-controlled press that always supported the Kuomintang dictatorship. In the 1970s they began to coalesce into what came to be known as the Tangwai movement (literally "outside the party") though martial law under the Kuomintang prevented the formation of a unified opposition party. The movement gained strength from gradual emergence of a sense of Taiwanese identity and was emboldened by steps taken by Washington and Beijing toward normalization of diplomatic relations, undermining the Kuomintang's claim to be the legitimate government of all of China, including Taiwan. During local elections in 1977, the Kuomintang lost ground to Tangwai candidates.
In 1977, the loose group of opposition candidates won 34% of the vote in the elections for the Taiwan Provincial Assembly. The growing opposition began to have an effect inside the Kuomintang. One popular figure, Hsu Hsin-liang, left the party and ran as a Tangwai for a local county magistrate's position in November 1977. Hsu Hsin-liang was an unpredictable political figure, self labelled as a "socialist", who wanted to maintain the Taiwanese economic base while humanising its class structure. He vigorously advocated parliamentary democracy and Taiwan independence, and frequently attacked the state's political corruption and systematic violation of human rights. Hsu commonly spoke Hakka at public rallies, in defiance of the Kuomintang's insistence on Mandarin Chinese.
Believing there was election fraud, 10,000 of the protesters rioted, burning down the Zhongli police station. The Kuomintang called in soldiers (some 90% of whom were Taiwanese youths) to suppress the riot. The protesters chanted that they were "beating their fellow Taiwanese."
The riot became known as the "Zhongli incident". It was the first significant political protest on the streets since the 1940s.
After the event, the regime's policy of riot control was to use police and military police for such purposes. The incident galvanised dissidents with a surge of hope.
Two years later (in December 1979) the Kuomintang arrested all of the leaders of the anti-Kuomintang movement who had organised a gathering at Kaohsiung on International Human Rights Day. The purge is known as the Kaohsiung Incident. The entire leadership was sentenced to long prison terms, including DPP politician Chen Chu, and Shih Ming-teh, labelled as Taiwan's Nelson Mandela, who was handed a life sentence. Shi was later released with the arrival of democracy.
Notes and references
- Han Cheung (13 Nov 2016). "Burning down the establishment". Taipei Times. p. 8. Retrieved 13 November 2016.