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Taiwan in time: bloody unrest in Yunlin


Local Japanese authorities perpetuated two massacres in 1896 and 1902 in response to local resistance, which took seven years to suppress

  • By Han Cheung / Staff Reporter

May 23 to May 29

After resisting for seven years, more than 250 Yunlin-based resistance fighters were finally persuaded to surrender in six separate ceremonies on May 25, 1902. The Japanese had subdued most of the Taiwanese Han within six months of their arrival in 1895, but intermittently. unrest continued – in Yunlin the Tieguoshan (鐵國山) guerrillas caused the new regime much headache until at least 1901.

These surrender ceremonies were common and usually conducted peacefully, but the Japanese had different plans for these troublemakers. After the event ended, they shot every participant with machine guns.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Only Chien Shui-shou (簡水壽) survived because he left early, but he was arrested and executed along with several other leaders three months later.

The remaining commanders fled to China or went into hiding, ending this chapter of anti-colonial resistance in the region that included the bloody Yunlin Massacre of 1896, where countless fighters and civilians were killed indiscriminately and thousands houses were burned down. . The event was reported in Hong Kong and British newspapers, causing an international outcry, and the head of Yunlin sub-prefecture, Yunoshin Matsumura, was stripped of his honors and sent back to Japan.

The Japanese took a more tempered approach after this, preferring to force the fighters to surrender so they could help fight other rebels, but as the massacre shows they were still ruthless against anyone who pushed them too far.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


The Japanese arrived in Taiwan in May 1895 after the Qing Empire ceded the island to them through the Treaty of Shimonoseki. After taking Taipei without a hitch, they encountered heavy resistance as they moved south, with the biggest clash occurring three months later at Changhua, just north of Yunlin.

There were already many armed militias and bandit groups in the Yunlin area, as the Han settlers frequently fought among themselves and against the native warriors, and they constituted the bulk of the local resistance. Wu Te-kung (吳德功) writes in his early 1900s account of the resistance that Yunlin strongman Chien Yi (簡義) and several others participated in the defense of Changhua before retreating south.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

After recuperating in Changhua, a contingent of Japanese troops passed through Yunlin without too much trouble—sometimes even being greeted by locals—before stationing in the Dalin (大林) area of ​​Chiayi. However, the soldiers’ misconduct soon caused local resentment, and the people rose up and attacked them.

With the help of Liu Yong-fu’s (劉永福) Black Flag Army, as well as various local armed groups recruited by Liu’s subordinate Wang Te-biao (王得標), they managed to push back the Japanese in Changhua.

Japanese reinforcements soon arrived, and after a few weeks’ rest pushed south again on 5 October, clashing with the brigades of Wang and Chien. The Japanese easily prevailed and reached Tainan on 21 October. Like the two previous rulers of the Republic of Formosa, Liu fled to China without a fight.


The resistance was far from over, however, as revolts broke out intermittently across Taiwan over the next two decades. Chien joined forces with Ko Tie (柯鐵) and retreated to the Dapingding (大坪頂) mountains of western Yunlin, forming the Tieguoshan guerrillas.

Nicknamed the “Iron Tiger”, Ko was a young farmer from Dapingding who had a reputation for being violent. He joins Chien’s army and helps defend Douliu (斗六) before heading into the hills with him. Ko knew the local terrain well and made a name for himself as a sneaky fighter who seemed to appear and disappear at will and shoot at the Japanese.

On June 12, 1896, a Japanese-owned store near the Douliu police station was robbed in the middle of the night. Matsumura was furious. The police arrested more than 20 people suspected of having links with the Tieguoshan rebels and found out where they were hiding.

After half of the unit they sent to investigate Dapingding was wiped out, the Japanese began amassing troops at Douliu in preparation for a major assault. Convinced that the locals were in cahoots with the rebels, Matsumura declared that “there are no good citizens in Yunlin” and launched a bloody and indiscriminate campaign in the villages near the mountain. Thousands of homes were burned in a week and the death toll ranged from 700 to tens of thousands.

The Japanese thought this would scare the rebels into giving up, but instead it drew more fighters to their side. They launched an offensive on June 28, reaching Douliu in three days as their numbers grew, many of them civilians armed with agricultural tools. Matsumura fled to Chiayi and the rebels entered Nantou and pushed as far north as Taichung.

The Japanese quickly returned fire, this time with strict instructions not to harm anyone unarmed. On July 25, the resistance is crushed.


Due to international pressure, the government decided to employ loyal Taiwanese elites such as Koo Hsien-jung (辜顯榮) of Lukang to persuade the rebels to surrender. Chien answered the call on October 5, 1896, after which Ko became the leader of Tieguoshan.

Chien received a medal of nobility and a minor local official position. He died of illness a year later.

Ko refused to give up and continued to attack the Japanese over the next year. After losing four more battles, he also surrendered in March 1899. However, unrest continued in Yunlin over the next two years and the Japanese authorities finally had enough. On May 25, 1902, they rounded up over 250 rebels and officially surrendered them in six ceremonies across the sub-prefecture.

Ke Kuang-jen (柯光任) writes in “Matsu Legends in the 1895 Anti-Japanese War and Structural Amnesia” (乙未抗日媽祖傳說與結構性失憶) that in addition to the continuing unrest, local officials were annoyed that those have surrendered. the “bandits” received all sorts of privileges. After seven years, two of Yunlin’s top rebel commanders were still at large, and sub-prefectural officials decided to once again revert to extreme measures.

The surrendering fighters each wore a white flower on their chest, the size of which indicated their rank in the resistance army. At the end of the ceremony in Douliu, officers arrived under cover to look for weapons. The rebels tried to retaliate one last time, but soldiers and police were already in a position to open fire.

It seems that there were no consequences for this act. The Taiwan Daily News (台灣日日新報) claimed that the rebels tried to start a riot, and that was it. It wouldn’t be the first time they used this tactic either.

Taiwan in Time, a chronicle on Taiwan’s history published every Sunday, highlights important or interesting events in the country that have anniversaries this week or are related to current events.

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