By Barry Martinson
For The Wild East Magazine
A museum featuring Chang Hsueh-liang, Chiang Kai-shek’s kidnapper, has become the star attraction of Chingchuan, Hsinchu County for the past few years.
Chang Hsueh-liang was brought to Chingchuan as a political prisoner when the Kuomintang army (KMT, Chinese Nationalists) fled to Taiwan and lived here under house arrest for 14 years. The Chang Hsueh-liang Museum in Chingchuan is a reconstruction of the actual Japanese house where he and his wife lived during this time.
Chang Hsueh-liang, nicknamed “The Young Marshall”, was a legendary warlord who played a historic role in the kidnapping of Generalissimo Chiang kai-shek in 1936 in order to persuade Chiang to form an alliance with the Chinese Communist guerrillas in fighting against Japanese aggression. In contemporary Chinese history this is known as the “Xian Incident.”
So, you could say Chang Hsueh-liang performed a daring act for the sake of Peace and reconciliation in his country.
The “Sian Incident”, which had a profound impact on modern Chinese development, took place on Dec 12, 1936, when Generalissimo Chiang flew to Xian in Shaanxi province to order Chang Hsueh-liang, then a general in the Kuomintang-led army, to attack the Chinese communists.
Instead, Chang detained the Generalissimo. After complex negotiations and a verbal offer from Chiang to review the situation, Chang freed the Chinese leader and ended his two-week coup.
Chiang’s army did later fight in a loose, short-lived “united front” with communist forces against the Japanese. But Chang was court-martialed for insubordination and sentenced to prison. When Chiang and his government lost a civil war to the communists and fled to Taiwan in 1949, they took Chang with them and kept him under house arrest.
Police guarded Chang’s villa in Chingchuan, but he and his wife were given freedom to enjoy the nearby surroundings, including the natural hot springs, accompanied by guards. During this time, Chang, who had become a Christian, spent his time reading the Bible and doing historical research. He is still regarded as a leading authority on China’s Ming period of the 14th to 17th centuries.
Chang was later relocated to other facilities in Taiwan, and did not regain full freedom until 1990. The next year he and his wife Edith left for Hawaii, where he outlived both the Generalissimo and martial law in Taiwan. Perhaps it was the clean air and water of Chingchuan that gave him such a long life. At any rate, Chang died in Hawaii at age 101.
Until recent years, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have held different views of Chang’s historical status. While Mainland China hailed Chang as a great hero and patriot, Taiwan, during martial law days, regarded him as a criminal who was partly to blame for the Communist Party’s rise to power. Although there is still no consensus on the question, what is most significant is the fact that Chang’s “Sian Incident” prompted the start of China’s war of resistance against Japanese aggression and changed forever the course of modern Chinese history.
Aren’t we privileged to have such a great man memorialized in our village!
Barry Martinson, a.k.a. Father Ding, is a jesuit priest who has resided in this village since the 1970’s, and the published author of several books on his experiences serving on Orchid Island, among others. His most recent work is “Ghost Friends.”
A Book Review of Barry Martinson’s Song of Orchid Island by David on Formosa.
Ghost Friends, by Barry Martinson is published by Tau Books, Taiwan.