Winberg CHAI

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of Taiwan was established on 28 September 1986, when martial law was lifted in Taiwan, allowing the formation of political parties.

The origins of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) can be traced to two main groups: political prisoners jailed in Taiwan by the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party in Taiwan) government, and exiled dissidents living in Japan and the United States who were members of Taiwan independence movements. Together the two groups were referred to as Dang wai (Outside the [Kuomintang] Party) before they established the DPP.

The DPP’s ideology was formulated by the intellectual dissident Peng Ming-min, who drafted a number of manifestos. Peng in 1961 became the young chairman of the Department of Political Science at National Taiwan University. In 1964 Peng was arrested for trying to circulate a manifesto calling for the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek’s exiled government in Taiwan. The main points of his manifesto can be summarized as follows:

1 Historical relations between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China should be minimized.

2 Taiwan is more “modern” than old China.

3 Taiwan’s experience with Japan is more beneficial than its experience with China.

4 Taiwan’s history has mainly been the record of Taiwanese seeking self-determination and self-rule.

5 Taiwan needs a complete change of government.

6 Taiwan’s independence movement is in accordance with the prevailing tendencies in the world.

Taiwan’s leader at that time, Chiang Kai-shek, had, of course, always maintained that Taiwan is a province of China.

In January 1970 Taiwanese dissidents in Japan, Europe, and the United States formed the Taiwan Independence Alliance. The founding members included Tsai Tung-jung, Chang Tsan-hung, Wang Yu-te, and Huang Yu-jen. Growing impatient with Chiang’s authoritarian, one-party rule in Taiwan, they practiced terrorism in an attempt to overthrow Chiang in the 1970s. One example was the assassination attempt on Chiang Kai-shek’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, the powerful vice premier, by alliance member Huang Wen-hsiung, when Chiang Ching-kuo was visiting New York City on 24 April 1970. Other examples include the attempted murder of Kuomintang representative Teng Yung-kong in Paris on 29 March 1973; sabotage of a power plant in Taiwan, causing minor damage, in January 1976; and the attempted assassination of the Kuomintang governor of Taiwan, Hsieh Tung-min, in October 1976.

After the so-called Kaohsiung Incident (a demonstration by dissidents to commemorate Human Rights Day, 10 December 1979, which led to violence and the alleged injury of 183 police officers), dissident activists in the United States launched massive attacks against Kuomintang offices in the United States. These attacks included ransacking Kuomintang government offices in Los Angeles (14 December 1979), Seattle (15 December 1979), and Washington, D.C. (19 December 1979), as well as the headquarters of the Kuomintang newspaper Shi Jie Ri Bao (World Journal) in New York City (22 December 1979). Other violent incidents were reported in San Francisco, Chicago, and other major cities with Kuomintang offices. Finally, Li Chiang-lin, the brother-in-law of Kaohsiung city mayor Wang Yu-yun, was murdered in Los Angeles on 28 July 1980. No clear evidence links the DPP directly to any of these terrorist activities. However, many participants were welcomed back to Taiwan during President Chen Shui-bian’s administration (2000–2008).

It is easy to dodge a spear that comes in front of you but hard to avoid an arrow shot from behind.


Míng qiāng yì duǒ, àn jiàn nán fang

Major Factions

The DPP is a complex organization with a variety of members and factions. Some are well known, the first being the Formosa Group, which began publishing Formosa Magazine in the 1970s to advocate democracy and Taiwan’s independence as well as to criticize the Kuomintang for its authoritarian rule. Second major is the New Tide Faction, founded by Chou I-jen. Chou helped organize many demonstrations and protests, including large farmers’ protests on 20 May 1988. The New Tide Faction is considered one of the more radical groups within the DPP; many of its members advocated using the concept of the Philippines’ “People’s Power” to overthrow the Kuomintang government. In addition to these two largest factions, numerous small interest groups are centered around various DPP personalities.

However, the Formosa Group members seem to have had the most influence within the DPP in terms of political positions. After Chen Shui-bian was elected president, one prominent former Formosa Group member, Yao Chia-wen, became head of the Examination Yuan, one of the five co-equal branches of Taiwan’s government. He had also been elected to Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan in 1992. Another member, Chang Chun-hung, was the DPP’s secretary-general and a member of Taiwan’s Legislature (2000–2005). He had been the editor of two prominent magazines, The Intellectual and Taiwan Political Review, during the 1970s.

Another important member, Huang Hsin-chieh, was, in fact, at one time during the 1960s a member of the Kuomintang. (He left the Kuomintang in 1964 to support the independent candidate Kao Yu-shu for mayor of Taipei.) Huang became chairman of the DPP for three terms from 1988 to 1991. He had been arrested after the Kaohsiung Incident and was sentenced to more than seven years in jail. In the summer of 1997 Huang accepted Kuomintang president Lee Teng-hui’s appointment as vice chairman of the National Unification Council, ironic for a man who in his earlier years had supported Taiwanese independence. Some DPP members called without success for Huang to be expelled from the DPP. He died in 1999 and thus did not live to see the DPP win the presidency of Taiwan.

Former Formosa Group member Hsu Hsin-liang, also a former Kuomintang member, served as the DPP’s chairman from 1996 to 1997. After the Chung Li Incident—a protest that Hsu was involved in and that led to violence in the city of Chung Li in 1977—Hsu fled to the United States, where he established a DPP branch in San Francisco. He returned to Taiwan in 1988. However, he resigned from the DPP in 1999 in order to run for president as an independent. Later he became especially critical of Chen Shui-bian’s policies toward China and led a popular sit-down demonstration in front of the Taiwan presidential office in 2007.

Lin Yi-hsiung, yet another former Formosa Group member, became the eighth chairman of the DPP in 1998. He began his political career in the provincial assembly of Taiwan in 1977 and previously served time in jail for his role in the Kaohsiung Incident. He went into exile in Japan and also lived in both the United Kingdom and the United States before returning to Taiwan in 1989. He ran Chen Shui-bian’s successful presidential campaign in 2000. However, in 2006 he left the DPP and criticized Chen publicly for causing worsening ethnic relations within Taiwan.

Nationalistic Platform

In terms of its organizational structure, the DPP followed the Kuomintang model, with power concentrated in the Central Committee, which has a party chairman as its leader. In 1991 it adopted a nationalistic platform proposing a new draft of the Constitution for the renamed “Republic of Taiwan” (as opposed to Republic of China on Taiwan). The DPP has tried to unite its factions around a distinctively Taiwanese identity, using as bait the ultimate goal of an independent Taiwan nation in its efforts to consolidate intraparty debates and disagreements on other political issues.

However, fierce infighting has been a mainstay of the DPP since its founding. For example, during the Third Plenary Conference of the DPP in October 1988 competition by the Formosa and New Tide factions for the position of party chairmanship led to outright violence, including not only quarrels and personal attacks on members’ character but also physical attacks. Although the Formosa Group won the chairmanship, the bitter infighting almost split the DPP. Other serious intraparty squabbling has continued to the present.

The DPP also suffered credibility problems from the outside. Vote-buying, gift-giving, and lavish “free” banquets and all-expenses-paid trips for politicians were widespread during the period of Kuomintang rule in Taiwan (1949–2000). Although the DPP promised voter reform, the DPP, in fact, found itself accused of using many of the same tactics, known as “black gold politics” in Taiwan.

As a result, although at one point the DPP had offered itself as a “fresh” alternative to the corruption of the Kuomintang, the DPP ultimately suffered a loss of voter confidence. In the 2000 election, when Chen Shui-bian was elected to the presidency, he won a mere 39.3 percent of the votes cast—and mostly from traditional DPP strongholds in southern and central Taiwan (Kaohsiung County, Kaohsiung City, Tainan City, Tainan County, Pingtung County, Chiayi City, Chiayi County, Yunlin County, and Changhua County). In fact, the DPP could not have won the presidency if the Kuomintang, in a case of its own infighting, had not split into two parties just before the election: the Kuomintang (with its candidate, former vice president Lien Chan, receiving 23.1 percent of the vote) and the Independent Party (former Taiwan governor James Soong receiving 36.8 percent).

The future strength of the DPP will be dependent on several factors, perhaps most important being able to convince the Taiwanese public that it can improve Taiwan’s economic woes as well as distancing itself from corrupt elements within the party in order to again be able to present itself as a fresh alternative to the Kuomintang. However, the results of the January 2008 legislative elections suggested the DPP had a long way to go before it would regain its previous popularity.

Legislators at Large

The January 2008 legislative election was the first time Taiwan used the “single constituency, two ballots” electoral system. Under this system voters from Taiwan’s seventy-three constituencies cast one vote to choose the candidate they prefer to represent their district in the Legislative Yuan and another vote for their preferred political party, which determines the seat of the so-called legislators at large. This second category of legislator is elected in numbers proportional to the votes that each party wins. However, only parties that win more than 5 percent of all valid ballots can win one of these at-large seats.

The DPP nominated seventy-one candidates for the legislative election, while the Kuomintang nominated seventy-four candidates (not including at-large seats). In addition, 109 candidates from smaller parties plus 42 independent candidates ran for seats. The DPP and the Kuomintang each nominated thirty-four candidates for the legislator-at-large vacancies. Before the election DPP officials hoped to win some fifty district seats, whereas the Kuomintang was expected to win sixty-eight seats. Pundits expected that the scandal-plagued DPP would thus become a minority in the Legislature. However, the actual results ran counter to even the most cynical pundits and the most optimistic Kuomintang predictions.

In fact, the 2008 legislative election proved to be a national referendum on the DPP and Chen Shui-bian. The DPP suffered a resounding defeat, winning a mere 27 seats, whereas the Kuomintang gained 81 seats in the 113-seat Legislative Yuan. Taking responsibility for his party’s defeat, Chen resigned his position as party chair. DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh assumed the chairmanship. Analysts felt that the chances for the DPP to win the March presidential election were greatly damaged by this defeat and blamed Chen’s increasingly bellicose and provocative calls for Taiwanese independence in the waning days of his presidency as well as the declining Taiwanese economy as major factors in the DPP’s spectacular defeat. Ma Ying-jeou, the Kuomintang candidate, won the presidential election with a landslide 54.5 percent of the vote, compared to Frank Hsieh’s 41.6 percent.

As of 2006—the last time such figures were made public—the DPP reported that it had a membership of 530,000, made up almost exclusively of Taiwanese with origins in Fujian Province and with only 50 percent paying their party dues. At the same time the Kuomintang reported a membership of 1.1 million. The majority of Taiwanese are independents, with only a small percentage of the remaining citizens officially affiliated with other minor parties.

Further Reading

Kerr, G. H. (1965). Formosa betrayed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Peng Mingmin. (1972). A taste of freedom. New York: Holt, Rinehard and Winston.

Mendel, D. (Ed.). (1970). The politics of Formosan nationalism. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Rigger, S. (2001). From opposition to power: Taiwan’s democratic progressive party. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

Source: Chai, Winberg. (2009). Democratic Progressive Party. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 598–601. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Democratic Progressive Party (Mínjìndǎng 民进党)|Mínjìndǎng 民进党 (Democratic Progressive Party)

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