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US Embassy, May 1957
Email: Virgil Johnson
American Embassy in Taipei, Taiwan sacked on May 24, 1957, leaving only the walls of the building standing. 13 Americans injured including one Marine Security Guard.
Chapter 19: Formosa's "Republican Decade"
The Attack on the American Embassy in May, 1957
In the twenty years since surrender I have talked with scores of Americans who have been involved in the Formosan problem either at Taipei or at Washington. These conversations have left me with a profound impression that we are over- confident, that we flatter ourselves to think that Chiang is a willing puppet or, if a reluctant dragon, at least one who has become so dependent upon the United States for goodwill and military supply that in crisis he will always do our bidding. But if Americans at Taipei flatter themselves that they successfully "manage" General Chiang Ching-kuo by indirection, they should remember the sacking of the American Embassy on May 24, 1957. The official story of that strange affair is retold by Ambassador Rankin. The unofficial story has been retold by Captain William Lederer (USN, ret.) in A Nation of Sheep and by Formosans publishing at Tokyo.
On the night of March 20 an American Army sergeant shot and killed a prowler discovered in his garden at Taipei. An American military court tried the case, acquitted the sergeant on May 23, and flew him out of the island. The victim was described as a minor employee in a Chinese government agency and a reserve officer. In time-honored Chinese custom his widow demanded "consolation money" which was not promptly forthcoming. On the day following the acquittal (May 24) she took up a position in front of the American Embassy gates to scream hysterically that she had been denied justice. This, too, is a time-honored Chinese custom. According to the official story her noisy clamor attracted a crowd, the mob spirit took over, a stone was thrown, and soon the crowd poured into the Embassy compound. The American flag was torn down, cars were overturned and the offices were sacked. Some local employees and American officers were injured (MEGA Edit: MSG injured as well) before they could retreat from the premises. The rioting began about one-thirty in the afternoon and continued with brief lulls until well after nightfall. Files were broken open, cipher books and coding equipment were tossed about, and confidential and secret papers were strewn through the building.
After many hours of uninterrupted rioting Chiang Ching- kuo's security forces took over the gutted Embassy. Ambassador Rankin returned from Hong Kong during the height of the riot. He visited the site during a lull in the affair but was asked by the Chinese to leave the premises; for they anticipated further violence. When he returned soon after daylight next morning, accompanied by Embassy officers, he was gratified to find the Chinese had been so helpfully attempting to restore order to chaos and to sweep up some of the debris within the building. Approximately fourteen hours had elapsed. The ladies of the American community promptly volunteered to assist in sorting scattered file materials. Some 90 per cent were recovered. No classified materials "of consequence" were missing and enough of the cryptographic material was recovered to satisfy the Ambassador that the codes were intact. Prompt official protests brought equally prompt apologies and indemnities.
The unofficial accounts add disturbing detail to this story and raise troublesome questions. According to Captain Lederer certain Chinese and Formosans and some foreigners had been warned of possible trouble days in advance. It is maintained that the dead "minor official" was a Major in one of Chiang Ching-kuo's secret organizations and that other members of Chiang's organizations were identified as ringleaders whose faces appeared in news photos made during the riot. The screaming widow is alleged to have been provided with a prepared text which she obligingly read into a recording apparatus conveniently at hand when the riot began.
Behind all this lay the odd circumstance that so spontaneous a riot took place precisely on the day when Madame and the Generalissimo were far away at a mountain retreat, the Ambassador was not on Formosa and the chief officers of the Army administration were across the channel on the offshore islands. In a city notorious for its elaborate secret services and policing agencies -all under Chiang Ching-kuo - why was a riot such as this permitted to go unchecked for hours? And why was not a strong police cordon established around the premises, leaving only Americans or Embassy employees to handle scattered cryptographic materials and secret papers? Was someone seeking for documents recording American views on the internal situation or confidential notes which might incriminate anti-Nationalists in communication with the Embassy?