Chiayi is located at the central-south of Taiwan. It became the earliest foothold of the Chinese Han adventurers in the early 17th century. In 1624, Dutch merchants controlled the island and made it a transshipment center of their East Asia trading networks. Flows of raw silk, porcelain, gold from China; silver from Japan; spices from Jakarta; and rice, sugar, deerskins from Taiwan made enormous profit for the Dutch. A drinking well relic and an artificial lake (constructed for naval practices) remain in the downtown and suburb of Chiayi city to date.
The unrest of mainland China due to the Manchurian invasion drove waves of Chinese immigrants to Taiwan. Koxinga, a powerful admiral loyal to the faded Ming dynasty (1368-1644), led his 25,000 troops bringing the Dutch control to an end in 1662. His successors administrated and cultivated the island in hope of reviving the Ming dynasty by this remote base.
Their ambition fell in 1683, when the Manchurian force conquered Taiwan. The present Chiayi city became the seat of Chuluo county (one of the three counties in the island). In the following two centuries, the Manchurian authority (Ching dynasty, 1644-1911) was indifferent to developing this island for fear of the growth of this anti-Manchu stronghold. The government even banned the cross-strait sailing and immigration until 1875, though illegal immigrants from impoverished Chinese southeastern provinces continued to land on Taiwan. In this period, agriculture replaced overseas trading and the culture became continental-oriented. The corrupted administration galvanized more than 100 armed insurrections during the 212-year Manchurian ruling. In 1787, Chuluo residents defended the town from the siege of Lin, Shuang-Wen's revolt force by 10 months. As a result, Emperor Chien-Lung renamed Chuluo as Chiayi (meaning "praising the loyalty") in honor of their extraordinary bravery.
The invasions from Japan (1874) and France (1884) alerted the Manchurian government to the strategic importance of Taiwan. It became a province in 1885. The capable governor Liu, Ming-Chuan introduced western reformations, including the first railway and telegram services of China. The overdue efforts, however, could not reverse the fate of Taiwan. China lost the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and officially ceded Taiwan to Japan according to the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895.
It took half-year and one-third of the Imperial Japanese Army to suppress the fierce resistance of the native Taiwanese, which claimed the lives of 14,000 residents. The Japanese regarded their first colony as the barn of the empire and the gateway to Southeast Asia. For that purpose, infrastructure was laid down in parallel with harsh suppression. In 1897, the untouched forest was discovered in Mt. Ali (Alishan) east of the Chiayi city. The Japanese constructed a 72-kilometer-long railway connecting Chiayi city with the timber land (elevations are 30 meters and 2,200 meters, respectively) in 1912, resulting in an economic boom for the city at the cost of numerous red cypresses ("Hinoki" in Japanese) of millennia age. Another major economic construction was the "Chinan Irrigation Waterworks" overseen by civil engineer Hatta, Yoichi. The Chianan plains (where Chiayi is located) used to be troubled by draught, flood, and salt injury such that even the tough sugarcane refused to grow. Since its operation in 1930, the waterworks constantly channel water to 150,000-hectare farmland, 30 times larger than before.
The Japanese surrendered Taiwan because of its defeat in the Second World War. The mainland nationalist (Kuomingtang, or KMT) government took over Taiwan but did an awful job. The corrupted administration headed by Chief Executive Chen, Yi, ruled the Taiwanese by military power, instead of laws. Mainland carpetbaggers occupied most of the official and judicial positions. Mismanagement crippled the economy, making the inflation and joblessness soaring. The discontent of the Taiwanese turned to an island-wide insurrection (the 228 Incident) in 1947. The KMT authority ruthlessly suppressed the civilians after reinforced by the troops from Mainland China. A large number (10,000-30,000) of Taiwanese, mostly social elites, were brutally purged. Chiayi lost its most famous painter, Chen, Cheng-Po, along with other renowned doctors, writers, and local leaders during the incident and the following period of white terror. The horrible image of the execution of chained Taiwanese elites in front of Chiayi Railway Station remains a nightmare of many senior residents.
The KMT government together with two-million mainlanders retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after it lost the Chinese Civil War against the Communists. Once again, Taiwan became the "base of revival" of a group of political losers in the mainland China. President Chiang, Kai-Shek's ambition of "reconquering the mainland" proved illusive, but the KMT authority's land reform multiplied the agricultural production and decreased the poverty gap. His son and successor, Chiang, Ching-Kuo, actually relinquished the illusion and launched a series of public constructions in the 1960's to transform the island into a new economic power. Partly due to the stubborn tradition of Chiayi residents, who elected none of the KMT's candidates as their mayors for decades, the city lost many opportunities of industrialization sponsored by the central government. Though the timber of Mt. Ali continued to be logged until the 1970's, forestry revenue constantly diminished. Without the input of new industries, the development of Chiayi fell into a long-term stagnation. The municipal population stayed at 250 thousands for many decades, while the island's overall population has significantly grown (four times more than that in 1949).
The Taiwanese successfully earned their liberty without bloodshed. Chiang, Ching-Kuo, once ruthlessly suppressed the democratic movement (the Kaohsiung Incident) in 1979, came to realize the supremacy of minority mainlanders had gone. The record-long (38-year) martial law was finally lifted in 1987, followed by the permission of free media and political parties. The succeeding President Lee, Teng-Huy completed the peaceful democratization, and won the first presidency directly elected by all citizens in 1996. Accompanied with the democracy, the Taiwanese started to identify their unique history and culture. The beautiful Chiayi Park is located just 100 meters away from the author's home, where different cultural heritages coexist in harmony: military monuments of the Manchurian and KMT authorities, the Confucian Temple, the Japanese Shinto Shrine, the western cannons, and the newly built "Shoot the Sun Tower" (inspired by an aboriginal legend), ... etc. The park seems a miniature of the island's past. Today the forest railway still transports passengers to appreciate the famous divine trees, sunrise view, and sea of clouds of Mt. Ali. Hopefully, the harmony of this beautiful land will last eternally.
Chiayi City Government (English Version)
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