[Photo story] The Cairo Conference and Taiwan’s liberation

In 1895, Taiwan was ceded to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Fifty years later, amid World War II, Taiwan was returned to China following the Cairo Conference involving the US’s Franklin D. Roosevelt, the UK’s Winston Churchill and the Republic of China’s Chiang Kai-shek. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao gives us a glimpse into those times.
25 November 1943, Cairo — State leaders of the US, the UK and the Republic of China and their chiefs of staff pose for a group photo before the Mena House Hotel in Cairo. Madame Chiang Kai-shek served as the interpreter for President Chiang Kai-shek. The one standing behind US President Roosevelt is Wang Chung-hui, secretary-general of the Chinese Supreme Defence Council and a former minister of foreign affairs.
25 November 1943, Cairo — State leaders of the US, the UK and the Republic of China and their chiefs of staff pose for a group photo before the Mena House Hotel in Cairo. Madame Chiang Kai-shek served as the interpreter for President Chiang Kai-shek. The one standing behind US President Roosevelt is Wang Chung-hui, secretary-general of the Chinese Supreme Defence Council and a former minister of foreign affairs.

(All photos courtesy of Hsu Chung-mao.)

In the spring of 1943, the Allied countries made gains in the Eastern and Western theatres of World War II, while the Axis powers saw a reversal of momentum from their initial victories.

In the European theatre, the Battle of Stalingrad ended in the early spring of 1943 after more than six months. Not only did the German army lose its elite troops and the initiative to attack, but they also experienced a fundamental decline in strength relative to the Allied troops.

During that time, in the Pacific theatre, the Allied and Japanese troops engaged in a terrible battle on land, air and sea in Guadalcanal, ending with a serious defeat for the Japanese. The Allied troops turned the tide in the Eurasian theatre with successive victories, and there appeared a glimmer of hope for final victory.

In December 1943, to plan for the new post-war world, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, head of China’s Nationalist government Chiang Kai-shek, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

The meeting was in two parts, with Roosevelt, Chiang and Churchill meeting first in Cairo, Egypt. The Soviet Union was not involved in the Cairo meeting as it had signed the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact in April 1941 and did not fight against the Japanese in Asia. The second part of the meeting was held in Tehran, Iran between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, where they discussed the war in Europe.

25 November 1943, Cairo — Three state leaders meet in Cairo to discuss military actions ending World War II and post-war international organisation. They pose for a photo outside the Mena House Hotel. (From left) Acting ROC President Chiang Kai-shek, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Madame Chiang. This is the most widely used photograph symbolising China’s elevated international status in the later years of the world war.
2 December 1943 — American newspaper The New York Times reported about the status of World War II, with the front page headline reading “Crushing of Japan Mapped at Cairo Parley: Empire Will be Stripped to Pre-1895 Status; 8th Army Drives On; U.S. Fliers Hit Against Reich” accompanied by a photo of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soong May-ling.

The front page article in the major US media reported on the details of the Cairo Conference, explicitly stating that Japan must be reduced to its pre-1895 status, meaning Japan must return Chinese territory it seized during the First Sino-Japanese War including Taiwan, Penghu. This issue of The New York Times has become an important historical document.
11 December 1943 – The Illustrated London News reported on the Cairo Conference, using a photo of the leaders of China, the US and the UK at the Cairo Conference on its front page. The conference was extremely significant for China, as it not only signalled the country’s right to have its seized land returned, but also affirmed China’s international status after the end of the war.

On 23 November 1943, Chiang led a 16-member delegation to Egypt. They stayed at the Mena House Hotel, near the pyramids of Giza in Cairo, where a series of trilateral and bilateral talks were held with Roosevelt and Churchill. It was agreed that the Allies would recapture Burma (now Myanmar), and Japan would have to return Chinese land after the war. On 26 November 1943, the US, China and Britain simultaneously released in Washington, Chongqing and London the Cairo Declaration, which said:

“The several military missions have agreed upon future military operations against Japan. The three great Allies expressed their resolve to bring unrelenting pressure against their brutal enemies by sea, land and air. This pressure is already rising.

“The three great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan. They covet no gain for themselves and have no thought of territorial expansion. It is their purpose that Japan, shall be stripped of all the islands in the Pacific which she has seized or occupied since the beginning of the first World War in 1914, and that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China. Japan will also be expelled from all other territories which she has taken by violence and greed. The aforesaid three great powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent.

“With these objects in view the three Allies, in harmony with those of the United Nations at war with Japan, will continue to persevere in the serious and prolonged operations necessary to procure the unconditional surrender of Japan.”

On 27 November 1943, with arrangements by the British government, Chiang Kai-shek, Soong Mei-ling, and others visited the sights in Egypt under tight protection by British troops. The photo shows Sir Robert Hyde Greg — a long-time resident of Cairo — telling Chiang and Madame Chiang the history of the place.
In November 1943, after the Cairo Conference ended, Chiang Kai-shek and Madame Chiang visited ancient sites near Cairo, including the pyramids and temples. The photo shows them at Sultan Hassan Mosque.
27 November 1943, Cairo — ROC acting President Chiang Kai-shek and Madame Chiang are escorted to tour scenic spots of Cairo after the Cairo Conference. At the far left is Lt. Gen. Claire Chennault, commander of the USA 14th Air Force, and to Chiang’s right is Lt. Gen. Ralph Boyce, commander of the USA 9th Air Force.

The most important factor in the post-war map of East Asia was that Japan had to return to China the territories it had taken, including northeast China, Taiwan and the Pescadores (Penghu islands), while the Korean peninsula gained its independence.

It has to be noted that on 18 September 1931, the Japanese army launched a sudden attack on Manchuria; the following year, it gave its backing to the last emperor of the Qing dynasty Aisin Gioro Puyi and established the puppet government of “Manchukuo”. However, China filed a complaint with the League of Nations against Japan’s invasion, and investigations confirmed that Manchukuo was a product of Japan’s invasion and not the choice of the people of Manchuria. So, it was internationally recognised that Manchukuo should be dissolved and the land returned to China after the war.

A US C-46 transport plane flies over the mountains of western China, January 1945. This model was in service from 1942 to 1945, and was one of the main aircraft flying the “Hump” route — the name given by Allied pilots in WWII to the eastern end of the Himalayan mountains. With Southeast Asia occupied by Japanese troops, the Hump route connecting Chongqing and India became China’s most important supply line.

People of Taiwan’s resistance against the Japanese

However, the international legal status of Taiwan and the Pescadores was a different story.

In 1894, the First Sino-Japanese War broke out and Japan won the battle on land and sea. In 1895, both sides signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki, where China had to pay heavy war reparations and ceded Taiwan and the Pescadores to Japan on a permanent basis.

This photo taken in 1889 during the reign of Emperor Guangxu shows Scottish Presbyterian missionary Thomas Barclay with students at Tainan Theological College and Seminary. In 1860, following the Second Opium War, China opened up its coastal areas, including Anping and Takao (now Kaohsiung), and Western diplomats, merchants and missionaries came in droves. At the time, Taiwan was a prefecture of Fujian province. With China’s opening up, Western merchants and missionaries also showed up at Taiwan’s ports.
Taipei prefecture’s northern city gate during the Qing dynasty, 1895. The Sino-French War made Taiwan’s maritime status more important, and the Qing court decided to establish Taiwan as a province with Taipei as the provincial capital.
An earth hut in Taiwan’s countryside, 1901. The residents migrated from Fujian and Guangdong provinces in mainland China, taking on farming work.
On 7 July 1943, Joseph Warren Stilwell, commander of the Allied troops in the Chinese theatre of World War II, represented US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in presenting Chiang Kai-shek with the Legion Of Merit. General Stilwell took charge of the transporting of US army equipment and supplies, and also helped train the Nationalist troops, building a strong team equipped with modern weapons, significantly raising their fighting capabilities.
Chiang Kai-shek and Madame Chiang in India, February 1942. Chiang ignored the objections of the British government, and they met with independence leader Gandhi (second from right), Nehru (first from left) and others. He made it clear that even while fighting against Japan alongside Britain, he was still supportive of India’s independence movement.
At the end of 1943, on the way back to Chongqing after the Cairo Conference, Chiang Kai-shek stopped in India, where he inspected the Chinese troops there and gave a speech to encourage them. The Chinese troops that retreated to India from the Burma campaign were reorganised and trained and fitted with the latest weapons, and became China’s elite troops, and returned to Burma in 1945 to join the British and US armies in defeating the Japanese army.
December 1943, Ramgarh, India — After making an inspection of Chinese soldiers being trained in this US-established training centre, Chinese and American leaders are standing in a trench: (from left) Gen. Cheng Tong-kuo (Zheng Dongguo), commander of the New First Army of Chinese Expeditionary Forces in India, Chiang, Gen. Chiang Wei-kuo, Madame Chiang, and Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asian Command of the Allied forces. Gen. Chiang Wei-kuo, son of Marshal Chiang, had been assigned to Ramgarh as an officer in the armoured artillery.
December 1934, Ramgarh, India — Chinese soldiers are standing in formation in this US-established training school while awaiting inspection by Marshal Chiang Kai-shek, who is stopping over on his return trip from Cairo to Chungking. Technically under the command of Gen. Joseph Stilwell, the Chinese Expeditionary Forces in India consist of the New First Army (made up of the 38th Division and the New 30th Division), with army commander Gen. Cheng Tong-kuo, and deputy commander Gen. Sun Li-jen. The New 22nd Division and New 50th Division were merged in 1944 into the Army. After receiving American training and equipment, this Chinese army was considered to have the highest combat capability and readiness.
Chinese troops in India, December 1943.
Chiang Kai-shek and Madame Chiang watching exercises by Chinese troops in India, December 1943. On the left is Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander Southeast Asia. Previously, the Chinese Expeditionary Force rescued British troops trapped in Burma, stunning the world and winning accolades from the Allies.

That year, Japanese troops went to take ownership of Taiwan, but the people of Taiwan put up intense armed resistance. Over 50 years of Japanese rule, the Taiwanese resistance movement carried the spirit and sentiment of Chinese nationalism. The Japanese colonial authorities responded with armed — and bloody — suppression of anti-Japanese groups, including the Tapani incident of 1915 targeted at ethnic Han resistance groups, and the Musha incident of 1930 targeted at resistance groups consisting of indigenous people from the mountains. Its methods were so cruel that there was criticism within Japan.

With the Truku War of 1914, the Japanese colonial government engaged in armed suppression of resistance by Taiwan’s indigenous tribes. Here, they have gathered survivors regardless of age including women and children, pointing their bayonets at them at the instructions of the Japanese photographer while looking at the camera, leaving a memento of victory.
Truku people captured and gathered by Japanese troops during the Truku War of 1914. Adult men are tied up and pressed to the ground, while the young people shrink in a group. A frightened, confused three-year-old boy sits beside his father, tied up on the ground.
After the Japanese army suppressed the resisting Truku people in the Truku War of 1914, they generally razed their homes to the ground as retaliation, leaving survivors homeless.

The colonial authorities also wooed the Taiwanese with infrastructure and economic benefits, but many intellectuals in Taiwan rejected Japanese rule and chose to move to mainland China to join China’s resistance efforts, to which they made major contributions.

When the Pacific war broke out, Japan conscripted about 200,000 Taiwanese and sent them to the Nanyang region. However, as the Japanese army did not trust the Taiwanese, they became dogsbodies assigned to logistics work. By the time Japan surrendered, over 30,000 Taiwanese had died on the battlefield.

A Taiwanese man with his family before he leaves to fight in the Nanyang region as part of the Taiwanese special troops, 25 April 1943. The Japanese colonial government conscripted about 200,000 Taiwanese men into the Japanese army, but did not trust them. Taiwanese soldiers in the Japanese army were mainly dogsbodies in charge of moving weapons and food supplies, and were not involved in actual fighting.
A group of Taiwanese volunteers headed to mainland China to join the resistance, October 1939. Their children formed the youth group, in charge of publicity and medical aid.
Chinese troops being warmly welcomed by Taiwanese female students on arrival in Taiwan following Taiwan’s liberation, October 1945. After 50 years of colonial rule under Japan, the Taiwanese celebrated the moment of returning to the motherland. While running his revolution, Sun Yat-sen visited Taiwan three times, and the Hsing Chung Hui (兴中会, Revive China Society) also owed its beginnings to the First Opium War, which made Taiwan’s liberation an important achievement in realising Sun’s legacy.
A huge crowd gathers outside the Taipei City Public Auditorium (now Zhongshan Hall) to witness the historic moment and celebrate Taiwan’s liberation as Japanese representative Rikichi Ando signs the surrender documents on 25 October 1945.

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