Interview With Yang Huohui

Yang Huohui discusses his experiences in Japanese-occupied Taiwan and under the postwar Kuomintang government, discussing how he overcame poverty and served in the military in the Battle of Kinmen in 1958.

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Yang was born in 1935 in a hamlet in Wulai, Taiwan, as the third of four brothers. He initially used the indigenous Tayal name of “Shiran Yuhon”, inherited from his father. Under Japanese rule, he also took the name Shin’ichi Tomiyama. When he was six, his mother died of malaria, and he was raised by his father, but his father had a drinking problem, and he often got beaten when his father was drunk.

    He began his Japanese-language education at a public school in Wulai in 1944. Taiwan, then a Japanese colony, came under fire from American air raids in the closing years of the second world war (WWII). He could not study well with air raid alarms constantly going off throughout the year, and students would have to flee in the middle of classes. Students were allowed to graduate with even just a year of schooling. After a year, the war ended, with him barely having had any lessons.

    In 1945, Japan withdrew from Taiwan after suffering defeat, and the Kuomintang (KMT) government from the mainland took over. The rise of the new regime caused much chaos across Taiwan, and Yang’s life also changed drastically. His single father died of liver disease, and he was adopted by his father’s younger sister and her husband. But the couple physically abused him, leading him to return to Wulai alone. Still in his early teens, Yang was separated from his siblings and had to work to support himself. Having stopped schooling and finding himself homeless, Yang worked with other people, frequently moving to various places doing short-term jobs to feed himself. He was only able to start working independently when he turned 18. He worked hard digging fields in his youth, without tools or gloves, to the point of losing his nails. Further, jobs, goods, and manpower were all in short supply in the immediate postwar period. He began attending a church in Wulai. Yang had no guarantee of surviving the next day; the church provided him a place to belong, access goods, and became his psychological refuge.

    In the 1950s, Taiwan underwent rapid transformation, dismantling Japanese institutions and reconstituting itself as a Chinese society. One day he received a notice from the municipal office that his name had been changed to “Yang Huohui” in Chinese. But he could not speak Chinese. He could not afford return to school to learn it, being an uneducated laborer struggling to make ends meet. Thus, he learnt Chinese through immersion, practicing through everyday conversations. He became able to speak Chinese, Japanese and his native Tayal tongue, but not read beyond basic vocabulary.

    Aged 22 in 1956, he received a conscription notice from the KMT government. The KMT’s military, struggling in its protracted battle with the mainland Chinese Communist Party (CCP), had decided to bolster its ranks with the indigenous youth across the country. Yang joined fellow Tayal conscripts from his hamlet for military training in Dajia District. The young trainees did not understand Chinese, and the squad commanders were aged illiterate veterans who were only proficient in combat, making it difficult for them to communicate. But they worked well with their Chinese comrades in the unit, as the mainland forces were their common enemy. During training, he was paid 15 yen a month. 5 yen were used for equipment maintenance, and he saved the other 10.

    After graduating training, Yang and his native peers were all deployed to Kinmen as part of the First Battalion. He did not know where he was going. It was an island facing the mainland that both Taiwan and China laid rival claims upon, but was in practice governed by Taiwan. To the KMT, which had lost its place on the mainland, Kinmen was at the time a key fortress to be protected, as it allowed assaults to be mounted upon the mainland. 

    On 23 August 1958, Kinmen began to face shelling by the mainland People’s Liberation Army (PLA). By this time, Yang was deployed to the frontline as an artillery gunner. Combat began at 3 in the morning and lasted into the night. During battle, his unit repeated a pattern of firing and then hiding to avoid taking damage. The defense of Kinmen succeeded, but the troops suffered lasting damage to their bodies and spirit, including Yang’s unit. Most of the aboriginal youth lost their lives in combat. Their service term was extended past the initial 2 years by 7 months, and Yang lost most of his hearing ability due to his combat experience. Veterans were promoted directly from Privates to Second Lieutenants after the war. Yang was invited by the general, and felicitated by Chiang Kai Shek. However, his once reverential attitude towards the Taiwanese military faded as the KMT government grew corrupt over time. Most hamlet dwellers joined the party, but he kept his distance from politics.

    Being mostly illiterate and hard of hearing, it was difficult for Yang to find stable employment after his discharge from service. Upon returning to his hamlet, he resumed farming. He was finally able to provide for himself, but then married a Tayal girl through his church. Though they had 3 children, their financial situation became dire again. The fertile lands near rivers in Wulai were taken from the mountain natives by commercial interests from the lowlands. This caused relations between aboriginals and lowlanders to sour.

    In 1987, with the end of Martial Law, tourists began visiting Taiwan. Wulai became known as a hot spring destination, attracting clientele domestically and internationally. One day, he took pictures of some tourists with a simple camera, and realized that they were prized goods at the time. He studied camera technology, learnt to develop photo negatives, and sold photographs to tourists. That business expanded, requiring him to hire more assistants. He earned well, and juggled his business with farming in the morning to support his family, with little rest. Further, from 1998, the military pension system was amended to include Chinese Civil War veterans, providing him with 14500 Taiwanese dollars each month. He finally achieved financial security for his family. 

    Now in his 80s, the fact that a poor Wulai aboriginal like him could serve to protect Taiwan in a battle still commemorated in Taiwan annually remains a source of personal pride for him. He still attends church in the mornings, then climbs the mountains in the afternoons to do agriculture, poultry farming, and engineering work. He remains grateful to still be alive, and credits God for protecting him throughout the difficult times he had to overcome in the past.

幼少期 40年代

1935年、楊さんは烏來部落で4人兄弟の3男として生まれた。父から受け継いだタイヤル族のシラン・ユホンという名前に加え、日本統治時代につけられた日本名の富山信一、戦後に付けられた中国語名の楊火煇(ヤン フオフイ)という3つの名をもつ。6歳の時に母をマラリヤで亡くしてからは父親に育てられたが、父親は酒癖が悪く、良く殴られた。






青年期 50年代




















壮年期 80年代




Interviewer: Megumi Hagiwara

Interviewee: Yang Huohui

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Transcript Notes


  1.  In light of Yang Huohui’s recollections, discuss how the state, in both colonial and postcolonial eras, actively constructed an identity for aboriginal communities like the Tayal. Consider their experience of citizenship in Cold War Taiwan, and what parallels can be drawn to other aboriginal communities in Cold War Asia.

  2. Consider how poverty and deprivation shaped Yang’s experience of the Cold War in Taiwan.

  3. Assess the role of religion in helping Yang navigate the Cold War in Taiwan.