The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan and the Advocacy of Local Autonomy

by Christine L. Lin


On June 28, 1997, three days before Hong Kong's reversion to China, the Committee for the "Say No to China" Rally, comprised of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) and over fifty other grassroots political and social organizations, sponsored the "Say No to China" Peace Rally in the parking lot of Taipei's World Trade Center. The purpose of the rally was threefold:

  1. To protest the application of the Hong Kong formula of "one nation, two systems" to Taiwan;
  2. To emphasize that Taiwan is already an independent sovereign nation;
  3. To call upon China to use peaceful means to resolve disputes with Taiwan.

I was in Taiwan during this time and had the opportunity to attend the rally. As an outside observer, I was struck by the strong presence of the Presbyterian Church at a secular rally.

While over fifty organizations united at the rally to voice their concerns for Taiwan's future, the PCT appeared to have a proportionally larger number of representatives than the others. Out of a crowd of approximately 50,000 to 60,000 people, there were 20,000 Presbyterians. All 1300 Presbyterian congregations in Taiwan arranged for buses to transport interested members to the rally, and there were at least ten members present from each congregation. Prior to the rally, thousands of Presbyterians gathered near the site of the rally for an outdoor prayer service, despite the fact it was raining.3 During the rally itself, a Presbyterian minister led the crowd in singing several phrases to the tune of "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah." In Taiwanese, the participants sang, "Oppose China's annexation of Taiwan. Make Taiwan independent."

The strong presence of the PCT at the "Say No to China" Rally prompted me to take a closer look at the Presbyterian Church and its reasons for participating in the rally. I was interested in why the PCT, a Christian organization, would become entangled in highly controversial political affairs. Moreover, I found it intriguing that the PCT appeared to be the only church in Taiwan with such strong concern for Taiwan independence.

This book examines the role of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan in its advocacy of local Taiwanese autonomy and identity between the years 1865 and 1987. While identity and autonomy encompass a wide range of issues, my work focuses on the PCT's promotion of. Taiwanese language and human rights, two historically verifiable areas connected to local identity and autonomy. When using the term "native Taiwanese" or "Taiwanese," I am referring to the people who came to Taiwan prior to 1945: the Hoklo, from the Chinese province of Fukien, and the Hakka, from Kwangtung province. While there have been strong divisions between the Hoklo and Hakka, who have traditionally maintained separate identities, the invasion of the foreign powers prompted the Hoklo and the Hakka to set aside their differences and unite together as Taiwanese. Therefore, the Taiwan identity discussed in this book is the unified Taiwanese identity that formed in response to the island's foreign rulers.

Native Taiwanese are not to be confused with Taiwan's original inhabitants, the aborigines. There are nine aboriginal tribes in Taiwan that are both racially and linguistically related to the Malayo-Polynesian people. While Presbyterian missionaries did succeed in converting a large number of aborigines, this book deals only with their missionary work among the native Taiwanese. The people referred to as Mainlanders or waishengren (people born outside) are those who came to Taiwan with the Chinese Nationalists after 1949. Beginning in the 1970s, the PCT and opposition parties have used the term "people of Taiwan" to include all inhabitants of Taiwan.

In 1557, Portuguese sailors navigating in the Taiwan Strait saw a lush, green island, and exclaimed, "Ihla Formosa" (Beautiful Island). For the next several hundred years, people referred to the island as "Formosa." However, when the Chinese Nationalists invaded the island in 1945, they began calling the island by its Chinese name, "Taiwan." Some people who strongly oppose the Nationalist Chinese choose to identify themselves as Formosans rather than Taiwanese because the name Taiwan comes from the Chinese. While some sources prefer to use the words "Formosan" and "Formosa" over "Taiwanese" and "Taiwan" to express their concern with local consciousness, I have chosen to use "Taiwanese" and "Taiwan" unless I am quoting or citing from a source that prefers "Formosan" and "Formosa."

While this book mainly centers around the period after the 1960s, it is necessary to examine the historical background of the PCT to gain an understanding of why the PCT has become the church of the native Taiwanese. The PCT's history dates back to 1865 when the Presbyterian Church in England sent Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell to southern Taiwan. Even though the Dutch had sent missionaries to Taiwan in the 1600s, it was not until the Presbyterian Mission arrived in Taiwan that Christianity began to spread across the island. The Presbyterian missionaries introduced many modern institutions to Taiwan, including the first hospital and the first printing press. While various foreign governments colonized Taiwan from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, Taiwan was considered independent of China until the Ch'ing Empire made Taiwan a province in 1887. Because Taiwan has been politically separated from China since the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895, the PCT chooses to recognize Taiwan as a nation separate from China. Furthermore, the PCT supports the sovereign rights of the people in Taiwan to determine their own future without outside interference.

Because the PCT already had well-established roots in Taiwan prior to Japanese rule, it continued to promote the use of the Taiwanese language even though the Japanese government strongly discouraged this practice. Although the Japanese provided elementary education for all children in Taiwan, they opposed secondary education for Taiwanese. The PCT felt it was necessary for all children to have educational opportunities and began to establish secondary schools for the Taiwanese in 1914. In 1931, the relationship between churches and the Japanese colonialists took a turn for the worse. As Japanese nationalism grew stronger, the government accused church-managed schools of being "unpatriotic" and "anachronistic" forms of education and forced them to use the Japanese language in their schools. Throughout this period of "Japanization," the Presbyterian Church became the guardian of the Taiwanese language until 1942 when the Japanese forced the churches to conduct services in the Japanese language. The Japanese continued to rule in Taiwan until they surrendered to the Allied Powers in 1945. The Chinese Nationalist government then took over Taiwan by military occupation on behalf of the Allied Powers.

The February 28, 1947 Uprising (2-28 Uprising) and subsequent March Massacre, which began when a Monopoly Bureau officer confiscated the cigarettes of a Taiwanese vendor and ended with the massacre of thousands of Taiwanese, gave rise to various movements for Taiwan independence. While historians often refer to these movements collectively as the Taiwan Independence Movement (TIM), there were actually many different independence movements that were not all necessarily connected with each other. In response to the 2-28 Uprising, Thomas Liao, a member of the PCT, began the first Taiwan independence movement in Hong Kong. While many participants in the first Taiwan independence movements were members of the Presbyterian Church, the PCT as an organization did not publicly support the independence movements during the twenty years following the 2-28 Uprising. Instead, PCT mainly worked on spreading evangelism and developing its ministry to support the changes in society under KMT rule. The PCT continued to grow stronger and succeeded in doubling both its number of churches and members during the Ten-Year Double the Church Movement between 1955 and 1965.

Because the Presbyterian Church came to Taiwan before both the Japanese colonialists and the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) government came into power, PCT has maintained a strong sense of social concern for Taiwan's inhabitants and for the future of Taiwan. In my book, I use the memoirs of Peng Ming-min, a Presbyterian Formosan independence leader, and Shoki Coe, a Presbyterian minister, as case studies to illustrate the complexities involved in understanding Taiwanese identity. Both men grew up in Taiwan under Japanese colonial rule and witnessed the change from Japanese to Chinese rule. At various points in their lives, they encountered problems with identity and had difficulties determining whether they were Taiwanese, Japanese, or Chinese. After watching the Nationalists destroy the lives of many native Taiwanese, both men came to the realization that they were indeed Taiwanese, and that, as Taiwanese, they needed to speak up for the rights of the Taiwanese people. Included in the identity issue is an examination of how KMT restrictions on the use of Taiwanese language violated the human rights of the native Taiwanese.

Before the Japanese colonialists came to Taiwan, Taiwanese was the colloquial language in Taiwan. While the literati learned to read and write in Chinese characters, the local Taiwanese did not have an established written language for the local vernacular until English and Canadian Presbyterian missionaries introduced them to the romanized Taiwanese alphabet. The missionaries wanted to build a literate congregation and chose to teach the locals to read and write in the romanized vernacular because it was easier to learn than Chinese characters. To promote communication through the romanized Taiwanese script, Rev. William Barclay published the Taiwan Church News in 1885. Barclay and the other missionaries also provided the local congregations with Bibles and hymnals in their native language allowing the local people to read and understand the word of God in their native tongue.

In order to fully understand and analyze the involvement of the PCT in promoting the human rights of the Taiwanese people, I found it necessary to look at the historical events which led it to issue three public statements and to examine the importance of the Taiwanese language at each stage of the PCT's development. At each interval of the PCT's history, the language issue is a recurring theme. Thus, the usage and representation of language is a central analytical focus for this work. While there is a divergence of views among specialists in linguistics as to what extent the dialects spoken in Taiwan -- Amoy, Southern Min, Hokkien, Hoklo -- differ, for purposes of this book, I do not get into the complexities of the linguistic issues and simply refer to the language as Taiwanese unless otherwise specified. There is also debate over whether Taiwanese is considered a dialect of Chinese or is its own separate language, but again, the linguistic aspect of language and dialect lie outside the scope of my book. Written representation of language is viewed as an identity issue that exists in the interface between the PCT and human rights in Taiwan: the PCT's legitimation of Taiwanese as a language has become closely related to the PCT's concern for Taiwan independence, self-determination, and the human rights of the Taiwanese people.

During the twenty years that the PCT concentrated on developing its ministry, the social and political situation in Taiwan continued to worsen. The KMT declared Mandarin the national language of Taiwan and set about "Mandarinizing" the island by restricting the use of Taiwanese and forcing schools to conduct all courses in Mandarin. When the PCT realized that the KMT was not going to stop intruding into the lives of the Taiwanese, it decided that the Church needed to uphold its Christian duty to protect the Taiwanese people and issued three public statements during the 1970s: "Public Statement on Our National Fate," "Our Appeal -- Concerning the Bible, the Church, and the Nation," and "A Declaration of Human Rights." When U.S. President Richard Nixon announced his intentions to visit China, the PCT responded with the "Public Statement of Our National Fate" on December 29, 1971 which stated 1) all inhabitants of the island, whose human rights are guaranteed by God, must determine the future of Taiwan and 2) a general election must be held in Taiwan. In 1975, after the KMT confiscated romanized Bibles and prohibited the printing of romanized texts, the PCT issued "Our Appeal -- Concerning the Bible, the Church and the Nation" which asked that the government respect religious freedom and carry out political reform. This was followed by the "Declaration on Human Rights" in 1977 which stated that the government should take effective measures "whereby Taiwan may become a new and independent country." According to the PCT, "human rights and a homeland are gifts bestowed by God," and, therefore, the residents of Taiwan had the right to self-determination, independence, and freedom.

After the PCT issued its first public statement, the Nationalist government increased surveillance of Presbyterian activities and openly accused it of taking a political stance against the government. The PCT emphasized that it did not intend to make these statements political, and stated that its purpose for issuing them was to protect the God- given human rights of the Taiwanese people, not to overthrow the Nationalist government. Since God had given the inhabitants of Taiwan their own language, culture, and identity, the PCT wished to preserve these gifts from God which the Chinese Nationalists wanted to eradicate. Although the PCT initially wanted to stay out of political affairs, the nature of the issues it supported became highly politicized, and the PCT could not help but become involved in the political realm. The Nationalists continued to accuse the PCT of attempting to overthrow the government, and tried to pass regulations and laws to inhibit the actions of the PCT.

Beginning in the 1970s, the Nationalists branded the PCT as a "terrorist organization" that supported the allegedly hostile tactics of the Taiwan Independence Movement (TIM), but historical evidence does not support the KMT's assertion. Rather, the PCT sought to resolve matters in a peaceful, non-violent, Christian way and did not have any intentions of using violence to make its voice heard; it practiced "politics of love" rather than "politics of violence." Moreover, in later years, many of the "terrorist acts" that the KMT blamed on pro-independence activists were later traced to the KMT itself. Since the KMT held all the power, it was able to exculpate itself and convince the people of Taiwan and the international community that anti-government "terrorists" were responsible for these actions.

The 1979 Kaohsiung Incident was an example of a government ploy to frame opponents of the KMT .The staff of Formosa, a political magazine, planned to hold a peace rally in Kaohsiung on December 10, 1979, International Human Rights Day. What was supposed to be a peaceful event turned into one of disaster and chaos when police used riot trucks and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Although the police had started the rioting, the government arrested many prominent opposition leaders, including the staff of Formosa magazine and members of the PCT. By enlisting the help of the police, the government had succeeded in framing a number of individuals who publicly spoke out against the government. The KMT used the Kaohsiung Incident as an excuse to arrest Rev. C .M . Kao, the General Secretary of the General Assembly of the PCT, and nine other Presbyterians who were involved in the hiding of Shih Ming-teh, the General Manager of Formosa and organizer of the Human Rights Day Rally. A military court tried the Kaohsiung Ten for violating "the seventh provision of the first item under the fourth clause of the regulations governing crimes of rebellions, which deals with crimes of hiding rebels," and sentenced them all to prison. The KMT hoped that the imprisonment of Rev. C.M. Kao, a major force behind the PCT, would put an end to the PCT's advocacy of self- determination and independence. However, to the dismay of the KMT, the PCT not only persevered, but also managed to gather international support for the release of Kao and the other prisoners. No matter how hard the KMT has tried to suppress the PCT, the PCT has still continued to stand firm in its beliefs and has not been afraid to express its views.

The 133-year history of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan and its strong support of local community interests against the Japanese and Nationalist governments have allowed the PCT to become influential in recognizing local identity. Since the PCT has used romanized Bibles and hymnals before Japanese colonial rule and before the KMT established the ROC on Taiwan, the Taiwanese vernacular has become an inherent part of the Church. Moreover, the PCT views the restrictions on the Taiwanese language as a violation of basic human rights. As an organization, the PCT has upheld a strong interest in the native Taiwanese community and, in its advocacy of local autonomy, has made the preservation of the Taiwanese language and the promotion of human rights two of its major goals.