In November, Professor Thomas Gold gave a talk at Stanford University about “The changing field of power in post-martial law Taiwan.” Taiwan Insights caught up with Gold to ask him more about his research for his next book Remaking Taiwan: Society and the State Since the End of Martial Law.
When Gold first visited Taiwan in 1969, the power structure was clear and centralized under martial law. It rested on Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang (KMT). However, with the ending of martial law in 1987, a different set of rules, positions and players on the field began to emerge. “After lifting martial law, every power tried to get their voices heard,” said Gold. The shift meant that the status quo and emerging parties struggled to figure out the relevance of their forms of capital.
The lifting of martial law was a game changer since results were no longer predictable. Instead of a centralized form of government, the fields were more autonomous and horizontal, Gold commented. For so many years, people in Taiwan knew the rules and the “punishment” under martial law. However, starting from the 1970s, the punishment became unknown, leaving more uncertainty about how to strategize behavior to achieve desired results.
In the mid-1970s, Chiang Kai-shek passed away, and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo, assumed the leadership. Many have credited Chiang Ching-kuo for being a wise leader who abolished martial law because he realized that the system his father had built could not be sustained or reproduced by his successors. Others believed that the lifting of martial law was a direct result of the socio-political movements mobilized by the Dangwai (outside the party), the forerunner of the Democratic Progressive Party, which prompted Chiang Ching-kuo’s actions. Most agreed it was a little of both, concurring that if not for Chiang Ching-kuo, the transition would not have been peaceful and smooth.
Gold credits Taiwan’s institutions as the reason for no one saying they wanted martial law back. “One of the strong things is the institutions that have taken shape since the end of martial law.” He referred to Egypt’s recent multi-party elections and its quick change of leadership, only for some of the same protesters to overthrow its own elected president and turn its back on the newly established system. The consequence is violent civil uprisings, with neither side acknowledging the legitimacy of the other side.
Also, the reality of the cross-strait relationship is different. The China factor was cautiously controlled by the KMT in domestic politics before the lifting of martial law. China used to be an outsider in Taiwan. Nowadays, people from the mainland, from government officials, business people to tourists, interact with Taiwanese citizens directly or indirectly. And given that Chinese President Xi Jinping is still fairly new, there is still uncertainty about how much the China factor will further affect Taiwan’s domestic politics, according to Gold.