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The Kaohsiung Incident (traditional Chinese: 高雄事件) also known as the Formosa Incident (traditional Chinese: 美麗島事件), the Meilidao Incident or the Formosa Magazine incident [1][2] was the result of pro-democracy demonstrations that occurred in Kaohsiung, Taiwan on December 10, 1979.

The incident occurred when Formosa Magazine, headed by veteran opposition Legislative Yuan Legislator Huang Hsin-chieh, and other opposition politicians held a demonstration commemorating Human Rights Day in an effort 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 event however had the effect of galvanizing the Taiwanese community into political actions. Today, it is regarded as one of the events that eventually led to democracy in Taiwan.



In 1975, a magazine entitled the Taiwan Political Review (臺灣政論) was first published.[4] In its 5th edition it published an article on December 27, 1976 titled “Two States of Mind—An Evening Discussion with Fou Cong and Professor Liou” which resulted in the revocation of the publisher’s license. December 25, 1979 Huang Hsin-chieh recommended during a press conference the creation of a group to promote "democratic activities" consisting of Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良), Chang Chun-hung (張俊宏), Yao Chia-wen (姚嘉文), Lin I-hsiung (林義雄), and Shih Ming-teh (施明德). On August 16, 1979, the 1st edition was published under the title "Joint Promotion of the New Generation’s Political Movements".[5] The initial issue sold out all of its 25,000 copies, the 2nd and 3rd issues sold almost 100,000 copies, and the 4th issue sold more than 110,000. On October 17, 1979, a meeting of 22 Kuomintang security agencies adopted a proposal to ban the magazine after a protest from the Korean Embassy protested over an article in the 2nd issue titled "Unveil the Myth of the Korean Economic Miracle" (揭發韓國經濟奇蹟的神話).[5]

The magazine's Kaohsiung service center applied for a permit to hold a human rights seminar on December 10 at an indoor stadium, and after that was denied applied for a permit to hold the event at the Fu Lun Park (扶輪公園), which was also denied. In response, it was decided to hold the demonstration at the Kaohsiung headquarters.[5]


The event on December 10, 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.

Between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon of December 10, 1979 (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.

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

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

In February 1980 Lin Yi-hsiung, a leader of the democratic movement, was in detention and beaten severely by KMT police. His mother 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 older 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.[6]

Major groups

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.[6]

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 2 to 6 years.[6]


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. Dr. Kao was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. The others received lesser sentences. Shih got life sentencing, and his wife Linda Gail Arrigo, a United States citizen was deported.[6]

15 of Taiwan's most important political leaders, a group of writers and intellectuals, associated with the Formosa magazine were arrested.[1] 15 publications were closed down including Meilidao/Formosa magazine.[6] Newspapers after the event reported that the ensuing confrontations led to civilian and police injuries.

Four Tangwai participants were arrested and imprisoned on trumped-up charges of sedition after the incident including Huang Hsin-chieh, Yao Chia-wen, Chang Chun-hung and Lin Hung-hsuan.[7]


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 opposition Democratic Progressive Party.[1] While the political oppositions at the time was not yet calling for Taiwanese independence, the event called for self-determination.[6] An overseas support network of Taiwanese organizations were 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 the year 2000, DPP successfully ended KMT rule.

Chen Shui-bian who was elected ROC president had been one of the defense lawyers, while his running mate, Annette Lu had been one of the “Kaohsiung Eight.” She was sentenced to 12 years, of which she served five and one half. Both were re-elected to a second term in 2004.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Chang, Sung-sheng. [2004] (2004). Literary Culture in Taiwan: Martial Law to Market Law. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231132344.
  2. ^ Copper, John Franklin. [2003] (2003). Taiwan: Nation-State Or Province?. Westview Press Taiwan. ISBN 0813340691.
  3. ^ "DPP releases book commemorating the Kaohsiung Incident", Taipei Times (Taipei: Central News Agency): 4, 2008-12-08,  
  4. ^ Huang, Fu-san (2005), "The Transformation of Taiwan under the Republic of China", A Brief History of Taiwan – A Sparrow Transformed into a Phoenix, Taipei: Government Information Office,  
  5. ^ a b c Huang, Fu-san (2005), "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,  
  6. ^ a b c d e f Roy, Denny. Taiwan: A Political History. [2003] (2003). Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801488052.
  7. ^ Taiwan Communique

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