April 17, 1995 marked the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, in which China ceded its sovereignty over Taiwan in perpetuity, and which ushered in a half century, ending at the end of World War II, during which Taiwan was an integral part of the Japanese Empire. The Shimonoseki Treaty was signed on 17 April 1895, at the end of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, in which the modernized Japanese imperial army defeated the antiquated Chinese Ching dynasty army.
At the time, China's hold on Taiwan was tenuous at best: it wasn't until 1887 that the Ching dynasty -- fearing Japanese expansion towards the south -- had declared the island a province of the Manchu Empire. Before that time, Taiwan had been a loose lying area, inhabited by aborigines, pirates and some traders, and had not been formally incorporated in any political entity since the period of Dutch rule (1624-1662).
For the people in Taiwan the Shimonoseki event is significant, because it marks a major milestone in Taiwan's evolution towards an independent nation state. In fact, shortly after the 1895 Treaty, a group of leading Taiwanese, aided by rebellious Ching dynasty officials, declared the formation of the Republic of Taiwan, Asia's first independent republic. However, the republic was short-lived: Japanese imperial troops crushed the movement within several months.
Still, the Shimonoseki Treaty holds symbolic significance for the Taiwanese, and to commemorate the event, the Taiwan Association of University Professors organized a "Farewell to China" march in downtown Taipei on 16 April 1995.
More than 10,000 independence supporters participated in the event. They wore T-shirts printed with Chinese characters saying "Farewell to China", and carried banners, calling for "Taiwan membership in the United Nations" and urging the Taiwan authorities to "Abolish the Unification Council" and "Enact a new Constitution."
The four DPP candidates competing for their party's nomination for the presidency (see following story) spoke to the marchers and called for Taiwan's independence, arguing that China had formally given up its sovereignty over the island a century ago.
A second commemorative event was the visit to the city of Shimonoseki in Japan by a bi-partisan delegation of 100 member led by Democratic Progressive Party legislator, Ms. Lu Hsiu-lien. The delegation visited the site where the treaty was signed 100 years ago and joined with Japanese scholars, writers and politicians in a series of commemorate events to focus attention on the fact that Taiwan has been separate from China for more than 100 years and China relinquished sovereignty over Taiwan as early as 1895.
A third event commemorating the centennial of the Shimonoseki Treaty was a three-day international conference, organized by Freedom Times, a daily newspaper in Taiwan and the Academia Sinica. It was held in Taipei beginning on 16 April 1995.
Scholars from Taiwan, Japan and the United States, who met to discuss the treaty's impact on Taiwan's history, pointed out the treaty that ushered in the Japanese colonial period marked the starting point of modern Taiwanese history that saw the emergence of a new Taiwan identity totally separate from China. They also pointed out that during the more than hundred years of separate development, the people of Taiwan have created their own political, cultural and national identity and value systems and no longer identify with a feudalistic, backward and repressive China.
Prof. Chiu Chuei-liang of Queensland University in Australia pointed out that Taiwanese people's most remarkable achievement in the past 100 years is the advancement of human rights, freedom and democracy that will culminates in the direct presidential elections taking place next year. Prof. Chiu also emphasized the contrast between Taiwan and China: in less than 50 years since the February 28 incident of 1947, the people of Taiwan have built a free and democratic country, while China under successive communist leaders remains a repressive, corrupt and backward country.
The scholars also concluded that the legal status of Taiwan is still undetermined, because the Peace Treaty of San Francisco in 1952 stipulated that Japan formally ceded sovereignty over Taiwan, but that the future of the island would be determined "in accord with the charter and principles of the United Nations" -- i.e. self-determination. It is therefore up to the people in Taiwan to determine their own future.
The conference also had an important message for the Kuomintang authorities: Dr. Chang Fu-mei, a DPP-member of the National Assembly, stated: "For people living on Taiwan who are constantly told by the authorities that their roots are in China, it is important to know that it was China that 100 years ago gave up Taiwan -- forever."
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