By Dan Shea Photos by Dan Shea
In Taiwan on business, an acquaintance told me of a very nice small arms collection in a military museum. He gave me the English name of the museum, and a girl at the counter of the Taipei Regent translated it into Chinese characters for me. Armed with this talisman, I hailed a cab and handed him the character sheet, and we started out. In my usual manner, I had the business card of the hotel in my shirt pocket with both English and Chinese on it so I could give it to a taxi driver to get me back to the hotel, along with assorted small bills in local and US currency to facilitate the trip. The adventure began with several wrong stops at other museums I had previously been to, and after conferring with several other cabbies, my driver had the look of a man enlightened, and off we went again. This time, we pulled up in front of a building that said “Armed Forces Museum” in English, and he dropped me off none the worse for wear. Inside of this professional looking building, were some very helpful people who, once they had determined my legitimacy, permitted me to photograph the small arms section as well as the entire museum. They were most helpful, and through our language barrier, they made it clear that this was a military owned museum, and that any further articles would have to be cleared through channels. As an astute reader can determine from the photos, there is much worthy of further study here. – Dan
Chinese history is one of the richest stories in the world, with over five thousand years of recorded events. To the student of history, a lifetime can be spent devoted to any of a thousand events or periods of China’s past, and so much of this involves militarism that the student of war can do the same. Many Westerners have been fascinated by Eastern mysticism, and tried to adopt the lessons learned and the philosophies of the Chinese to the ways of the West. It is not for the novice to be able to decipher the intricacies thereof, and a lot of misinterpretation is done. Something as simple as the phrases at the core of the basic teachings of Master Sun Tzu in “The Art of War,” have left Westerners completely off track in what the Master was saying. The teachings are both elegantly simple and intricately complicated.
So it is with the current situation in China. Today, we have two Chinas; the People’s Republic of China (PRC) which is the mainland led by Beijing and is basically following Communist doctrine and slowly slipping towards Capitalism, and the Republic of China (ROC) which is the island of Taiwan led from Taipei, and other assorted islands in the vicinity. The ROC follows the model of freedom from the West and the original Chinese history. Beijing claims to do the same, and refuses to acknowledge Taiwan as an independent country. Beijing even now threatens force to bring Taiwan back into the Mainland’s control. Many loyal allies, including the United States, have backed Taiwan and, to date, we hope it is a rattling of sabers, not a drawing of them. To understand how China arrived at this place, one needs to delve into more current history, from the early 20th century. The Armed Forces Museum of Taiwan is devoted in part to this study.
In the 1920s, mainland China was divided into areas that were ruled by various warlords. There had been decades of the collapse of any central authority, and the warlords were in brutal control of the different regions. One of the great leaders of the early part of what the West calls the Twentieth Century, was Dr. Sun Yat-sen. The Revolutionary Party was formed and in order to train an army that was capable of protecting China, the Whampoa Military Academy was formed on June 16, 1924 and Chiang Kai-shek was installed as superintendent. In July of 1925, the new National Government was fully established.
The military forces that were under the control of the National Government were called the National Revolutionary Forces (NRF), and in October of 1925, just a few short months after the forming of the new government, and barely a year from the forming of the Whampoa Military Academy, the National Government sent the NRF on the Eastward Expedition to drive enemy forces out of Canton region, unify it, and bring it under the control of the National Government. In October of 1926, the National Government sent the NRF on the Northward Expedition to topple the warlords and in less than three years, they were completely successful. China was now unified after several decades of regional disarray.
Enter the Japanese
On July 7, 1937, what is referred to as the “Marco Polo Bridge Incident” occurred. Japanese Imperialism dictated their attempts to conquer the mainland and the Japanese were on the move all over the Pacific Rim and into inland China. The Chinese were plunged into war, a war of resistance to the Japanese occupying forces that poured into the mainland. Japan had a plan to conquer China in 3 months. The Chinese put all of their energy into these battles, and all citizens, regardless of age or military status were required to fight. The Japanese were stopped, but not evicted from the mainland. When World War II fully broke out in the Pacific after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese could no longer concentrate their attentions on China alone. This helped the embattled nations to eventually defeat Japan, and in August of 1945, Japan surrendered. The Chinese speak of the “Hundred Year Dishonor,” and felt that the re-uniting of the country along with the expulsion of foreign powers such as the Japanese had ended the dishonor.
The next four years were spent in a combination of exhilaration and turmoil; The National Government was trying to unify the country, and the Communist forces under Mao Tse-Tung were trying to take it over. By August of 1949, the fighting had gotten so intense that the National Government forces completely relocated to Taiwan, and ten years of bitter feuding and battles ensued. Today, there is a stalemate at the Straits, with Free China on one side in Taiwan, and Red China on the mainland. Both sides are heavily armed and committed to their beliefs; Taiwan claims independence, and Beijing considers Taiwan to be a renegade province and continues to threaten military force to control it. There is a delicate balance in the Straits between Taiwan and the Mainland.
The Armed Forces Museum is an excellent display format to tell the story of the Whampoa Military Academy, the National Revolutionary Forces, The Eastward Expedition, The Northward Expedition, the battles leading up to and during World War II, the fights with the Communists, and the relocation to Taiwan. Modern battles are covered very well, many with interesting dioramas or wax figures. The current Taiwanese military forces are well represented showing their air and ground weaponry, as well as the various unit displays.
For our interest, the displays are fascinating. Since Taiwan has been so heavily involved in military events, the weaponry ranges from improvised to very modern, and the display cases are well laid out and very informative. Displays generally have English language translations, which is very thoughtful and courteous on the part of the museum staff.
There were many pieces on display that are deserving of much more detailed investigation and photography, and the museum is considering our request to come back and do the work in detail. We hope to bring that to the readers in an upcoming issue of SAR. For now, we can only present some photographs of the displays. All in all, an excellent museum and well worth a visit if you are in Taiwan.
Armed Forces Museum of Taiwan
(National Military Museum)
Hours: 9am to 4pm Monday thru Saturday
Closed on Sundays and National Holidays.
Group Visits: reserve by telephone (02) 2331-5730
243 Guai Yang Street Sec. 1
Zhong Zhen District, Taipei, Taiwan R.O.C.
Getting around; The world as your adventure
Many readers are enthralled by reports from far off lands, the museums, the back rooms of the military depots and manufacturing facilities, battlefields and scrap piles. Others couldn’t care less, feeling they will never own the items seen in these places, nor will they ever get there. It is my position as SAR’s Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, that many times the reports we bring back are either fully intertwined with U.S. history, our technical developments in small arms, or are things that may soon end up on the surplus market and thus be very relevant to the small arms consumer. Frequently our stories touch upon weapons that our on-duty readers are running into in the field or in battle. We will continue to try to bring a balance of what is available to the U.S. market to our readers, along with the oddities, curiosa, and newest technological advances. We try to give the information to those lucky enough to travel, so that they may visit these places as well, and there are many readers who have done so on their overseas visits and emailed us their adventures.
People frequently ask me about the costs of travel related to business. It is a blessing to be able to travel and see the infinite variety of the world, as well as to be in the small arms community while doing so. However, I do this after devoting most of the last thirty years of my life to the study of small arms, and making my businesses grow in such a direction that I can see things to write about while conducting business. Museum trips and factory visits are usually a sidebar to some other business venture I am on, but these adventures frequently lead to interesting stories for SAR readers.
In answer to questions regarding the cost of traveling, there is the cost out of pocket, and the cost overall. To me, there is quite a cost in never having gone, or in never having gained, the memories or adventures. You have to step up to the plate and try things. You have to figure out what it will take to just “Go.” I was in the Atlanta airport, preparing to exchange some US Dollars for Euros. (A bad place to do it as it will be expensive. Better to change your money at your own bank, pre arranged, where there shouldn’t be much extra fee to exchange.) There was an elderly American man in line who asked for Hungarian money. The teller looked at him a bit oddly, and said there was none at the terminal. He seemed distraught, so I took a moment to ask where he was going. He had never traveled anywhere, it seems, and was alone in his retirement. He was bored, and one day, for no particular reason, he decided to have an “adventure.” He got his passport, booked an airplane flight to Budapest, and was prepared to take a tour up the river into Germany, for all of three weeks on the touring boat. I took some time to speak with him, told him where he could exchange US money for Hungarian Forints, but that the Euro would probably serve him better. It was amazing to hear how he had simply “decided to travel” and that he had picked this trip for no particular reason other than it sounded interesting. I hope his trip worked out well.
In Asia, your costs can run from more expensive than the U.S. to unbelievably cheap. A good example would be that a 45 minute cab ride from Narita Airport to Tokyo Bay would be about $225 USD. A 45 minute cab ride from Chiang Kai-shek International Airport to downtown Taipei in Taiwan is about $45 USD. A trip from the new Kuala Lumpur International Airport to downtown KL is 45 minutes, but it only costs $15 USD. Hotels, meals, etc., all generally match those kinds of prices.
I think that if you are interested in traveling and seeing the museums, the battlefields, or any other aspect of the rest of the world, you should go do it. Save fifty bucks a week for four months, and you have a war chest of twelve hundred bucks – enough to get an off season ticket to England, get a hotel outside of London for a week, meals, train and bus fare, and you can go to the Imperial War Museum, the Royal Armouries at Leeds, Fort Nelson’s Artillery Museum, and a day’s jaunt under the Channel to the beaches at Normandy. Obviously you will be pinching pennies, but at least you will go see for yourself. And they do, after all, speak a decipherable variation of what we in America loosely call “English.”
My point should be clear enough. If you want to go, it takes making the first step. Reports are that only about 8% of Americans have passports, and only about 10% of those actually have used them outside of say, the Caribbean. There are adventures that come up, and there are adventures you can invent for yourself. If you are married, make a deal – take her to Italy or Germany, go sightseeing, but reserve your time for the museums and battlefields. If not, then figure a way to treat yourself to a journey into an area that interests you. A bit of study beforehand and you can be relatively safe and have a nice adventure. There are also package adventures for shooters, from dove hunts in Argentina to the small arms “Living History” type adventure in Yugoslavia. – Dan
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V8N9 (June 2005)|