Zhang Anle, the Sunflower Movement and the China-Taiwan Issue

Zhang Anle (source:
On April 1, 2014, tensions escalated between the supporters of the Sunflower Student Movement and the supporters of president Ma Ying-jeou’s pro-China policies. Zhang Anle (張安樂/张安乐, pinyin: Zhāng Ānlè, in Taiwan spelled Chang An-le,or An-lo), a notorious gangster, and hundreds of his followers, staged a demonstration near the Legislative Yuan to voice their support for the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement between China and Taiwan. Zhang used to be the leader of Taiwan’s most powerul criminal syndicate, the Bamboo Gang (竹聯幫; pinyin: Zhūliánbāng).

Zhang, also know as the ‘White Wolf’ (白狼), has a background worth of a mystery novel.

According to Wikipedia, Zhang Anle was born in 1948 in Taipei City. But other sources claim he was born in mainland China. This is, for instance, what author Chin Ko-lin states, but without specifying Zhang’s alleged birthplace. 

In his youth, Zhang had already established connections with Taiwan’s underworld, a sort of mafia generically known as ‘the Black Society’ (黑社會). In 1964 he joined a criminal organisation that was going to become one of the most powerful and notorious of the island, the Bamboo Gang. Zhang rose to the leadership of the ring, and he was considered by the Taiwanese media the “brain” of the gang (Chin Ko-lin: Heijin: Organized Crime, Business, and Politics in Taiwan. 2003, p. 37).

The Bamboo Gang gained international notoriety in 1984, when members of the syndicate assassinated Henry Liu (Liu Yiliang), a Taiwan-born US citizen who had written a critical unauthorised biography of the then President of the Republic of China Chiang Ching-kuo (the son and successor of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek). The murder was carried out in Daly, California, where the writer lived at the time. 

FBI investigations uncovered the links between the assassins and Taiwan’s military intelligence, causing a major row between Washington and Taipei. It appears that the killers were backed by KMT and state organs, possibly Chiang’s ambitious son, Chiang Hsiao-wu (Alan M. Wachman: Taiwan: National Identity and Democratization.1994, p. 142). The KMT and the underworld had powerful links from the very beginning of the party’s history, when it was still a secret society operating illegally. Sun Yat-sen was relatively familiar with China’s secret societies, and Chiang Kai-shek had strong ties with some of the most important criminal gangs during KMT one-party rule on the mainland.

It should be pointed out, however, that after the murder Chiang Ching-kuo unleashed a crackdown on organised crime. The head of the military intelligence, Wang Xiling, and two major Bamboo Gang leaders, Chen Qili and Wu Dun, were sentenced to life imprisonment (though they were released in 1991). Chiang’s son was sent to Singapore, where he headed the local Taiwan’s trade office (ibid., p. 142).

When the Liu murder took place, Zhang Anle was in Los Angeles, and although he did not kill Liu, he tried to help Chen Qili. Following the investigations in the US, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, but for another crime, drug-trafficking. He returned to Taiwan in 1995 (Chin 2003, p. 138).

However, the next year the ROC government unleashed another major crackdown on organised crime, and Zhang fled to China (ibid.). He lived there for 17 years, and returned to Taiwan in June 2013. Upon arriving at Songshan Airport, he was arrested by the police, but released just a few hours later on a NT$1 million (about US$30,000) bail.

Ever since, Zhang has started a ‘new life’, taking part in TV shows and founding a new party that advocates the reunification of China and Taiwan – the Party for the Promotion of Chinese Unification (中華統一促進黨; simpl. Chinese: 中华统一促进党, pinyin: Zhōnghuá tǒngyī cùjìn dǎng). Zhang has invented pro-unification mottos such as: Peaceful Unification, One Country Two Systems (和平統一、一國兩制), and Taiwan’s Independence Means War (台獨就是代表戰爭).

Zhang Anle is one of those personalities whose allegiance to the KMT, the CCP, and pan-Chinese nationalism is blurred and apparently easily exchangeable (see my post about CCP-KMT-relationship). He is openly pro-KMT, and in some cases he even offered his ‘services’ to them. For instance, in November 2013, he threatened to deploy 2,000 of his men to protect President Ma Yingjiu, who was the target of fierce protests at the time. During the 19th National Congress of the Kuomintang in Taichung, on 10 November 2013, angry protesters even tossed shoes at Ma

However, Zhang seems to have become a tool of China’s united front policy in Taiwan. As the Liberty Times reported, in 2013 Zhang was interviewed by the PRC’s state-owned paper Global Times (環球時報). He is reported to have said: 

In Taiwan, I want to nurture the grass-roots level red electorate ” (我要在台灣基層培養紅色選民). 

Journalist J. Michael Cole, who visited the headquarters of Zhang’s party, reports having seen a large PRC flag in a conference room. Rather than a pro-KMT attitude, Zhang’s intentions are tantamount to replicating on Taiwan the KMT vs CCP confrontation that took place on the mainland. If that was the case, it would be a disaster for Taiwan.

On March 18, Zhang Anle and his supporters had already clashed with students of the Sunflower Movement. According to J. Michael Cole, on different occasions “his goons turned up at the site [of the protest] and attempted to pick a fight with the students, threatening them with knives, firecrackers, and homemade bombs.

Pictures of the Sunflower Student Movement
(source: Wikipedia)

The following scene, reported in the Taipei Times, is particularly revealing:

At one point, Chang, apparently upset by pro-Sunflower supporters calling him a gangster, angrily shouted: 

“You are all fucking offspring of Chinese, but you do not deserve to be Chinese. Chinese people do not want you.” 

The students responded with applause and laughter, with many shouting: “We are not Chinese anyway. We are Taiwanese.” (note)

This episode shows how potentially explosive the ethnic, subethnic, and identity issues in Taiwan can be. 

Anti-KMT commentators have argued that Zhang Anle’s actions may be a proof that the KMT is resorting to criminal organisations to end the current deadlock by force. The KMT ties with the underworld are notorious, but it should also be noted that the KMT often persecuted gangsters, for example during the 1996 crackdown under Li Teng-hui’s presidency. Moreover, what would be the KMT’s interest in allying itself with Zhang? After all, he is in favour of the PRC swallowing up the ROC, and this puts the KMT again before the old dilemma: to co-operate with or to fight the Communists? We know that the KMT has paid a high price for not being able to solve this issue during its rule on the mainland, so why should it allow the CCP to establish itself in Taiwan, the last Nationalist stronghold in the Chinese-speaking world? That would undoubtedly mean the end of the KMT.

So the question is whether Zhang Anle and the KMT are allies by chance or by design. If the KMT is using Zhang’s illegal tactics to intimidate the students, then it should be condemned, and it would discredit the KMT as a democratic party. But if the KMT is not co-operating with Zhang, one may wonder if this is all but a strategy of anti-KMT groups to delegitimise the KMT and depict it as criminal and anti-democratic.

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