Social Investigation and Economic Mobilisation on Taiwan, 1950-1955

Dr Tehyun Ma

28.Apr.2010 17.00 - 18.30
The Conference Room, Humanities Research Institute - Sheffield

Tehyun Ma is a Research Associate on the China’s War with Japan Project at Oxford University. She recently completed her PhD in History at the University of Bristol. Her research probes the ideological and administrative preoccupations of Chinese Nationalist leaders as they strove to mobilise Taiwan for conflict with the Communists after 1945. Her current project explores how the Nationalist Government planned the rehabilitation and reconstruction of territories occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War.


This talk will examine one of the state-building strategies of the Chinese Nationalists (GMD) in Taiwan during the early 1950s. In 1949, the Nationalists were exiled to Taiwan, an island they had inherited from Japan just four years earlier. Over the course of that short period, misgovernment and economic malaise had spurred a major uprising against the GMD, and after its brutal suppression, Chiang imposed martial law on a hostile population. Yet despite these inauspicious circumstances, the volatility of the early Cold War era, and the anticipation of a long attritional conflict with the Communists persuaded the GMD leadership that it needed to mobilise the island for total war. They knew all too well from their experience of fighting the Japanese that such a goal had an economic as well as a military component. My paper explores how they conceived and set about the task of economic mobilisation. I will argue that GMD reformers saw economic development not only in terms of increasing industrial production but also in the state’s ability to produce a willing and productive labour force out of the disaffected mass of islanders. To do this, the party’s influential Central Reform Committee insisted, required the gathering of information on the work rhythms, social relations, and interaction with government of the population through a series of investigations. Commencing in 1950, and undertaken by newly-reorganised party cells, these investigations sought to establish the presence of the state in the everyday life of the islanders, offered a means for gathering intelligence that proved all too useful to the GMD’s surveillance apparatus, but most importantly perhaps provided the government with a body of knowledge to help in planning the mobilisation of the island’s economy. My paper considers how this improvised form of state building began to reshape the political economy of Nationalist rule on Taiwan in a period in which state actors believed they were besieged by external and internal enemies.