The Origins of Taiwan’s “Half-Mountain People” (Banshan Ren)
The world is made up of so many different ethnicities; making it a wonderfully diverse place. China can boast some of the highest numbers of different ethnic groups in its borders. Each ethnic group has its own culture and its place in history.
Taiwan has always been overlooked by Chinese historians and anthropologists, who have always been much more interested in the mainland, especially at the end of the Qing Dynasty which saw the end of imperial rule in China.
In Taiwan, however, from 1895 to 1945, the Japanese ruled Taiwan as an important colony in their growing empire. Instead, the Japanese built upon the base that made Taiwan a “model province” under the Qing “and raised Taiwan’s living standards well above mainland levels through the establishment and maintenance of strong administrative and police systems; the elimination of disease and improvement of public health; the provision of widespread primary education; the building of communications infrastructures; the development of new seeds for such key crops as rice, sugar cane, and pineapple; and the construction of light industry”.
Until the Japanese surrender in 1945, there were waves of Taiwanese moving to the mainland and mainlander Chinese coming to Taiwan. Those who worked with the Chinese Nationalist Party and became involved in Taiwanese politics became known as banshan ren. This means ‘Half-Mountain People’; in Hokkien, Taiwanese colloquially refer to the Chinese mainland as the “Tang Mountains”, which means the term “Half-Mountain Person” means “Half-Mainlander”. “Other frequently heard definitions such as “Taiwanese educated on the mainland” or “Taiwanese married to mainlander women” are incorrect.”
A large number of Taiwanese people fled to China because of several reasons; anti-Japanese reasons, their parents’ stressing the ‘Chineseness of being Taiwanese’, and even being pushed into going because of hatred of the Japanese. Most had relatives in China or other contacts.
The Japanese had used the Taiwanese as spies throughout their time in China, some Taiwanese studied in Japan. Because of this, the Chinese became increasingly suspicious of the Taiwanese. Many Taiwanese thus hid their origins and pretended to be mainlanders from Fujian or Guangdong Provinces.
It has been claimed that there were more than 40 anti-Japanese organizations that the Half-Mountain people established. When the war with Japan was over and the Chinese set about reclaiming Taiwan, the Taiwanese people had to prove to the Chinese the realities of their patriotism to the mainland. “In 1944 and 1945, “Half-Mainlander” Taiwanese devoted considerable efforts to educate China’s leaders about the realities on Taiwan and the patriotism of Taiwanese. They emphasized the high educational levels of Taiwanese, the extensive Taiwanese experience with local self-government, and the oppression of Japanese colonial rule.4 Furthermore, as noted above in the discussion of the Taiwan Party Headquarters, the post-war status of Taiwan remained undecided. Taiwan had achieved provincial status prior to the beginning of Japanese colonial rule and Taiwanese feared a status such as “special district” would imply a less than complete reintegration with the Fatherland. These “Half-Mainlander” Taiwanese clearly presaged the tragedy that an ignorant, unsympathetic Chinese post-war administration would bring to the island”.
Relationships between mainland China and Taiwan became strained for years. It was the Half-Mainlander Taiwanese, whose origins could be traced back to helping the Chinese overthrow the Japanese and their unique understanding of both the Chinese Nationalists and Taiwan, that would help bridge the gap between them. By the late 1970s, most of the “Half-Mainlander” Taiwanese had either died or had retired from the political scene, making the Half Mountain People of Taiwan gone.
Jacobs, J. Bruce (1990) Taiwanese and the Chinese Nationalists, 1937-1945: The Origins of Taiwan’s “Half-Mountain People” (Banshan Ren), Modern China, Sage Publications Ltd.