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The Japanese Occupation of South Formosa


James Davidson was the Consul of the United States for Formosa after the island was ceded to Japan on April 17, 1895, at the conclusion of the year-long “First Sino-Japanese War.” His 650-page general book on Taiwan, published in New York in 1903, was intended to cover its “history, people, resources, and commercial prospects,” especially for American investors.

The present selection covers the expansion of Japanese authority from northern to southern Taiwan after the cession of the island from China to Japan with the Treaty of Simonoseki on April 17. (A copy of the official English version of that treaty is available on this web site. Link) Japan had successfully seized control of the Pescadores archipelago (modern Pénghú 澎湖 County) on March 20 of 1895, about a month before the treaty was signed, bringing home to people in Taiwan the imminent threat that China might lose the war with Japan. Probably nobody anticipated that Taiwan would be a pawn in a peace treaty.

Once the cession actually occurred, limited Japanese capacity to take control, combined with local resistance to the change, meant that Japanese forces did not actually land on northern Taiwan until the end of May, and Japanese authority was not extended fully to southern Taiwan until the surrender of Táinán 臺南 on October 21, six months after China had given up claim to the island.

Between the treaty of Simonoseki and the surrender of Táinán great confusion reigned, with some former Manchu officials trying to continue as though nothing had happened, with the Republic of Taiwan (Táiwān Mínzhǔguó 臺灣民主國) being established and dismantled, and with widespread warlordism, banditry, looting, and general chaos. The following selection describes the situation in southern Taiwan as the Japanese moved southward, but with flashbacks to the last days of the Sino-Japanese war that officially ended at Simonoseki.

It is clear that the author believes that the Chinese forces were ill-recruited, ill-led, and ill-trained, that many of the Chinese leaders were venal and corrupt, and that the citizenry were the victims of gross abuse. Particularly interesting —even amusing in a morbid way— are the unrealistic Chinese news reports of glorious victories over the Japanese, victories that, of course, were not happening.

To facilitate on-line reading, I have added occasional clarifications, have broken up many paragraphs and have inserted numbered subtitles. One very long footnote has been moved into the text itself.

For an expansion on the colorfully opportunistic career of Liú Yǒngfú 劉永福 (Black Flag Liú), click here.



1903 The island of Formosa past and present. New York: Macmillan. Chapter 22: The Japanese Occupation of South Formosa. (This web version contains only pp. 346-349.)

By way of experiment, this page is downable in a format that should be optimized for a Kindle or other Ereader. If you try that, please let me know how well it works. Among the known issues I have identified is a failure of some Ereaders to follow style instructions.

The Island of Formosa, Chapter 22:

The Japanese Occupation of
South Formosa

James W. Davidson

Page Outline

  1. Black Flag Liú Is Assigned to Southern Taiwan
  2. Commendant Wàn Prepares for Black Flag Liú
  3. Japanese Victories in Northern China
  4. Japan Captures the Pescadores (March, 1895)
  5. Press Releases Falsely Claim Brilliant Victories Over Japan
  6. Falsified Reports Complete With Pictures
  7. Falsified Reports After the Treaty of Simonoseki
  8. Foreigners

1. Black Flag Liú Is Assigned to Southern Taiwan

In the previous chapter, we dealt exclusively with affairs in the north of the island. The Japanese gave little or no attention to the south until possession of the whole north of the island had been obtained. However, events in the south during this period were no less interesting. While thrilling scenes like those witnessed in the north, during the three days previous to the arrival of the Japanese at Taipehfu [Táiběi 臺北], were not duplicated, still exciting events occurred at frequent intervals for a longer period, and the “Butterfly Republic,” interesting and amusing as it was, existed in full splendor for several months. The war between the two empires [before the treaty of Simonoseki] was quite as disturbing a factor in the south as it was in the north of the island, and the Chinese government recognized the necessity of giving that part of Formosa its full share of attention from a military point of view. Accordingly, the famous “Black Flag” pirate chief Liu Yung-fu [Liú Yǒngfú 劉永福] was appointed to the command of the military affairs in the south, and great hopes were entertained as to his ability to hold the island against all comers!


Liu Yung-fu was originally chief of a large band of pirates, rebels and freebooters, known as the “Black Flags,” from their banners, which were black. They had established themselves on the Tonkin frontier [in northern Vietnam, considered by China to be its tributary], and there carried on bold and daring deeds of outlawry. When the French commenced hostilities against China in 1884, the celestial empire was not averse to accepting the pirate’s assistance; and, by carrying on guerilla warfare, he was able to greatly harass the enemy, although it has not been found that he accomplished any great feat of bravery!

Still, he was credited with courage and military ability, and when the war was ended it was necessary for the Chinese government to dispose of him in some way, for fear that he might be tempted to turn his much feared hand against the government. To destroy him and his followers was a task too huge to be even thought of, and to leave him on the frontier to continue his piratical raids might lead to a reopening of the war with France just closed [with the cession of all of Vietnam to France].

It was, therefore, decided to engage. him in official employment. He was given a high military title and was permitted to tale with him 1,100 picked men of his band, who, together with a portion of the Imperial troops of the Kwangtung [Guǎngdōng 廣東] province, were placed under his command. With the commencement of the Japan and China war, Liu was ordered by Imperial edict to go to the defence of. Formosa, where he arrived towards the end of the year 1894.

2. Commendant Wàn Prepares for Black Flag Liú

Liu, whatever may have been his other faults, was a strict disciplinarian, and his presence in Formosa was not especially welcome to several officials who had reason to fear an investigation into military affairs. Among these was the commander of the Takow [Dǎgǒu 打狗 modern Gāoxióng 高雄] forts —Wan [Wàn ] by name— who rightly or wrongly had established for himself a somewhat unfavorable reputation both from a military and moral point of view.

In consequence of this, Liu declined to accept the transfer of the forts until all arms, ammunition, and buildings had been inspected and found to minutely tally with official inventories. This demand created some consternation in the mind of the retiring commander, and much activity was displayed by him in ransacking the various magazines and. casements in order to bring out everything that could pass muster as an arm or as ammunition.

This was all well enough in itself, but unfortunately while soldiers were engaged in the work, about a ton of native made powder exploded in one of the magazines. Just how it was ignited is unknown. The only survivor, however, reported that the soldiers were as usual smoking while moving about in the magazine. The various rooms in the forts were used indiscriminately as magazines and dwellings. Thus, in the Saracen’s Head fort, where the explosion occurred, upwards of 35 tons of foreign pebble powder, which fortunately was not ignited, were stored in rooms adjoining those occupied night and day by officers and men, some of whom were at all times smoking opium or tobacco.

The scene on entering the fort just after the explosion was said to be appalling. Human fragments were met with everywhere, not only in the fort itself, but over the whole hill, and in the village on the spit at the back; while the smell of burning flesh was sickening in the extreme! It was estimated that about 100 lives were lost, but the exact number could never be ascertained, as the commandant [Wàn] did all he could to minimize the extent of the disaster.

For some minutes after the explosion took place, both the village and lagoon were bombarded with showers of human and animal remains; amongst which latter, the heads of dogs and pigs figured largely. One man was blown high up in the air, falling through the roof of a house in the village below in the midst of a woman’s gambling party, of course creating tremendous consternation. A big piece of masonry was projected for a distance of about a quarter of a mile, and falling on board a junk fatally crushed one of her crew.

The commandant, Wan, was made to pay all the damage to the houses, and restore the fort to its original condition before Liu Yung-fu would have anything to do with the place.

Liu Yung-fu, in a memorial to the throne, impeached several other military officers, with the result that out of eight complained of, four were beheaded and the others were dismissed from the service. Such strict measures naturally had their effect, ridding the army of a number of undesirable characters.

3. Japanese Victories in Northern China

Affairs were now going badly in the north of the [Chinese] empire. The Japanese were gaining victory after victory, and it seemed quite probable that they might reach even Pekin [Běijīng 北京] itself. In this gloomy situation the Tsung-li Yamen [Zǒnglǐ Yámén 總理衙門, the central authorities in Běijīng] dispatched two decrees in succession, ordering Liu to leave Formosa and hasten up north to take command of the troops then fighting against the Japanese.

Liu, however, possessed of a large amount of good-sense, was not inclined to take any part in the north unless he could carry with him soldiers in whose ability and skill he had confidence; and, as there was no promise of this, he stated in a long memorial opinions which were not very complimentary to Chinese officials in general, and refused absolutely to stir from the island. No further attempt was made to induce him to accept northern service and he remained in command of the South Formosa forces, as had been first arranged.

4. Japan Captures the Pescadores (March, 1895)

The capture of the Pescadores [Pénghú 澎湖] by the Japanese threw the southern officials of the island into a considerable panic. In so great a fright was the Taotai [dàotái 道臺, a kind of magistrate] at Tainan [Táinán 臺南] upon receiving the news, that it was necessary to relieve him from his post. His character is amusingly exposed in a memorial which the acting-governor of Formosa, Tang Ching-sung [Táng Jǐngsōng 唐景崧], sent to the throne, stating that

… the said Taotai, upon the loss of the Pescadores to Japan, immediately became so panic-stricken that he suddenly presented [this] memorialist a petition requesting to be allowed to retire temporarily from office, in order to enable him to return to his home on the mainland to repair the graves of his ancestors; following this he telegraphed immediately afterwards the news of his father’s serious illness and his determination to resign, in order to go home at once to attend upon his parents. This thin veil to hide dastardly cowardice was immediately reported by [this] memorialist to the throne, and on the 5th of April last his Majesty’s edict was received cashiering the said Taotai of Tainanfu and dismissing him from service.

His successor was an expectant prefect, Chu Ha-chun [Zhū Hāchūn 朱哈春?] by name.

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5. Press Releases Falsely Claim Brilliant Victories Over Japan

With the Japanese at the Pescadores, an attack on the adjacent South Formosan coast was expected at any time. The Chinese took advantage of the probability of an engagement, and most wonderful tales, emanating from Takow and Anping [Ānpíng 安平], were circulated describing this event.

The Chinese press in Shanghai published a detailed description, actually telegraphed from Tainan, of a Japanese attack on Takow, during which the Chinese won a glorious victory, sinking five of the enemy’s ships and destroying a large number of soldiers.

On another occasion it is described how the Japanese appeared, and [their] after having been decoyed into close quarters the Chinese suddenly attacked them:

The Japanese fled for their lives, but in vain; those who did not die by fire perished in the water, so that by mid-day their losses amounted to twenty men-of-war and 20,000 men, and quite a large number of the warships of other nationalities were unintentionally damaged in the conflagration that ensued.

Again most circumstantial details were given of another great disaster that had befallen Japanese ships in Formosa, affording us new evidence of the strict discipline of old Liu. According to this report, the son of the Black Flag chief had destroyed, off Takow, fourteen Japanese ships, and only four out of the whole fleet had escaped. Exacting old Liu, upon learning this, fell into a great rage and chastised his son, by giving him sixty blows with the bamboo, for permitting the four ships to get away.

Another example of Chinese prowess was reported during the campaign, which is worthy of record among the memorial deeds of the war. Upon the approach of Japanese warships on a certain occasion, the Chinese fleet provided themselves with large numbers of empty wine-jars, to the mouths of which they fastened bladders, realistically painted to represent the heads of Chinese. These they floated out towards the Japanese fleet. The Japanese, greatly alarmed at the boldness of the Chinese swimming towards them, fired at the daring marines with such rapidity and wildness that they exhausted all their ammunition, and the defenders were therefore enabled to sweep down on their assailants and capture the whole fleet.

Further evidence of the wonderful strategical ability of the Chinese is afforded us in the following report. The Chinese filled long bamboo tubes with wasps and set them afloat, whereupon the Japanese, who mistook them for torpedoes, captured a large number, and took them on board their several ships. Upon breaking into them for examination —an unusual custom I believe— thousands of the wasps were liberated and flew about in a great rage, stinging the Japanese right and left. So great was the pain thus inflicted that the Japanese for the time being were placed hors de combat, and upon the appearance of the Chinese in battle array fell easy victims.

6. Falsified Reports Complete With Pictures

Two other oft-told tales were made the subjects of pictorial representation; one [plate 1] portraying the defeat of a party of Japanese infantry by Liu Yung-fu’s daughters, who, aided by a few Formosan savages with their primitive weapons, were finding the task not a difficult one; and the other [plate 2] representing an impending execution [in 1895] of the then Governor-General, Count Kabayama [1837-1922] who, in the picture in question, is seen standing with other prisoners before Liu and several mandarins, while the executioner is near with his heavy sword awaiting the final word.

Plate 1
woodcut print
[Davidson’s] Translation of the Chinese Text:
The Decapitation of the Japanese Admiral Kabayama Captured by General Liu Yung-fu
Letters received from Amoy merchants announce the capture of Admiral Kabayama by General Liu. The Japanese begged very strongly that their commander be released and offered through some foreigners to pay as ransom the sum of 5,000,000 dollars. General Liu would not grant this petition without the assurance that Formosa would be restored. This the Japanese refused to consider, and the prisoners were thereupon subjected, before Tang Wu-ting [?], to a severe examination and in accordance with the law were decapitated and their heads exhibited in public to the great delight of all the people.

Plate 2
woodcut print
[Davidson’s] Translation of the Chinese Text:
The Great Defeat of the Japanese Dwarf Slaves by Liu’s Daughters
An ancient precept ordains that if the sovereign is insulted his subjects should die. Since Tainan was defended by the great General Liu, we have received daily reports of victories. We now learn that the insolence of the Japanese slaves aroused great in dignation among Liu’s daughters, and that the latter assembled a number of female warriors and, strongly attacked the dwarf slaves at Taipeh. The female warriors were mighty in the fight. The Japanese, who were thrown into confusion, were unable to repel the attack, and their weakness was a pitiful sight.

7. Falsified Reports After the Treaty of Simonoseki

After the arrival of the Japanese at Taipehfu [Táiběi 臺北] in the north of the island, the scene of Chinese victories was transferred to the inland districts. Here we are told a clever “ruse of war” was effected by a number of Black Flags, who disguising themselves as savage aborigines, visited a Japanese camp to ask protection for their tribe against the terrible “Black Flags.”

The Japanese were much moved and at once dispatched “a few thousand men.” The tricky guides led them to a narrow pass through the mountains. Here mines were exploded, and taking advantage of the confusion resulting, the Chinese troops poured out from their ambush and cut down the Japanese to a man.

The above tales, and countless others [just] as improbable, were received with implicit confidence by the Chinese, and aroused much alarm among those who were under Japanese protection. Even foreigners gave occasional credence to the more probable of the reports, and one gentleman was so far deceived as to state in one of the Shanghai foreign journals that he had witnessed the destruction of a Japanese man-of-war during the fighting at Kelung [Jīlóng 基隆].

8. Foreigners

Events in which foreigners were concerned may be said to date from the first days of May, 1895, when the situation assumed so serious an aspect that Admiral Fremantle, commander of the British naval force in China, landed a body of fifty marines at Anping for the protection of British lives and property. The place was over-run with Chinese military rabble; and if any opportunity arose, it was quite probable that indiscriminate looting and marauding would find much favor with them.

The Japanese were at this time in occupation of the Pescadores, and although an occasional man-of-war was sighted off the coast, still no attempt was made to harass the Formosan authorities in any way. In fact on May 8th, for some unaccountable reason, the Japanese-fleet permitted the Chinese gunboat Chinghoi to steam unmolested into Takow [Gāoxióng 高雄] and land treasure and 5,000 rifles and ammunition for the Black Flags at the latter port. Fifty thousand rifles were, it is said, landed in Tamsui [Dànshuǐ 淡水] about the same time.

If we note that the island was ceded by the Emperor of China on the 17th of April, we obtain an insight into Chinese official methods by observing, three weeks later, one of the emperor’s ships still engaged in supporting a military force in active opposition to a nation with which His Majesty had signed a treaty of peace.

In early June, the Japanese took possession of the northern capital, the Republic was transferred to the south of the island, and Liu Yung-fu was declared sole president. [He fled to the mainland on October 19, where he lived until 1917. For more about him, click here—DKJ]


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