Stephen G. Craft is a social sciences professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and the author of three books: V. K. Wellington Koo and the Emergence of Modern China, Embry-Riddle at War: Aviation Training during World War II, and American Justice in Taiwan: The 1957 Riots and Cold War Foreign Policy. American Justice in Taiwan looks at the explosive Liu Ziran case. The acquittal of US Army Sergeant Robert Reynolds of murdering ROC officer Liu Ziran sparked a series of riots and protests across Taiwan, with the sacking of the U.S. embassy in Taipei creating an international crisis.
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How long did it take to write American Justice in Taiwan?
I began writing the book in 2002 after a research trip to the National Archives II in College Park, Maryland. At the time, I sketched out a handful of chapters with different titles. However, I was busy at the time trying to get my dissertation on V.K. Wellington Koo published and then I got pulled into working on a project writing a history of the institution where I teach. That project led to my second book but I always wanted to return to this one because of its connection with Taiwan’s history. Originally, I intended to entitle the book Black Friday because initially I thought the book would be merely on the riot. Although my conceptualization of the book changed considerably over the next ten years, it remained the title when I first pitched the book to several university presses in 2012 and 2013.
What research did you do for it? Was there much official resistance to your research in Taiwan?
Much of the documentation for the book came from the National Archives II, but I also did research at the Eisenhower Presidential Library as well as the Public Records Office or National Archives in London. At various times, I did research in Taiwan as well. The book benefited greatly from the opening of the government records that occurred in the early 2000s. When I tried to do research in official Foreign Ministry archives in the late 1990s for the Koo biography, I was told that documents for the Nationalist era were all closed. Within just a few years, the situation changed not only in terms of documents being available but everything was digitized. The book also benefited from the fact that Chiang Kai-shek’s diaries were deposited at Stanford University and were opened to researchers shortly thereafter. If this project had been my doctoral dissertation topic and I had published sooner, I do not think that it would have been as good a work for many reasons including tempering inclinations to say that the riot had been government-orchestrated. Lloyd Eastman, my original advisor, died in 1993 convinced that the diaries had been destroyed. Given the history of the ROC government silencing critics, it was easy to come to that conclusion. In my case, there was no official resistance. Archival staff in Taiwan were always quite helpful. If any entity showed disinterest or unwillingness to be forthcoming, it was the Guomindang Historical Commission. The mention of Liu Ziran still sparked questions in the 2000s and even after publication of my book, I heard second hand that the topic remained a sensitive one for those concerned about U.S.-Taiwan relations.
What kind of feedback have you had? Has any new material come to light since the book’s publication?
So far, all the feedback has been mostly positive and book reviews have generally been strongly supportive of the work. The book did not resonate in Taiwan as much as I had hoped despite the fact that it was translated into Chinese and serialized in Zhuanji Wenxue (Biographical Literature). Maybe if it had come out in the 1990s, it would have been more attractive to those generations who lived or grew up in that era and when the younger generation acquired most of their knowledge from reading books. During recent visits to Taiwan, I could see that reading tastes had changed and that many in Taiwan tend to be more interested in what they learn via social media.
I cannot say that new material has come to light but I can say that thanks to further research done by Yang Li, who translated the book into Chinese, that more has been learned about Ao Te-hwa, the wife of Liu Ziran. Her father was a close friend of the famous novelist Lu Xun and had also served as a Nationalist intelligence agent. However, he was executed by the PRC in the early 1950s even if he had leftist or communist leanings. Ao Te-hwa herself had an intelligence background of a sort and of course that knowledge would have only enhanced the speculation that the riot had been organized by Chiang Ching-kuo or others. Interestingly, Ao Te-hwa was a gifted artist in her own right since an early age and she apparently moved to Los Angeles and lived under a different name.
American Justice in Taiwan was published by the University Press of Kentucky. Why did you choose them? Was it because they had previously published your Wellington Koo biography?
UPK was not my first choice because of the topic and because UPK published my first book. I felt that this topic would be of interest to other presses interested in Taiwan and/or the U.S. presence in Asia during the Cold War. However, when I pitched the idea to several other presses, such as the University Press of Kansas, there was no response of any kind, not even an acknowledgement that they received the proposal. It is clear that one has to network with presses through conferences and so forth because such presses are probably inundated with book proposals. Going back to UPK was a kind of fluke. I asked George Herring, whom I had met several times since 2000, if he would read the manuscript. He was not a subject matter expert per se, but he obviously has written a great deal about America’s involvement in Vietnam and had just published a magisterial study of U.S. diplomatic history since 1776. He liked the manuscript and then said he was the editor for a new series called Studies in Conflict, Diplomacy, and Peace that is published by UPK and strongly encouraged me to submit a proposal. I hesitated at first because I wanted to just work with a new press but not wanting to wait months for an answer that might never arrive, I took advantage of the opportunity.
Camphor Press recently republished The Jing Affair. Originally released in 1965, it was written by James (Jim) Flood under the pseudonym D.J. Spencer, a Foreign Service officer who had been in Taiwan in the late 1950s. The novel has a Chiang Ching-kuo-like character as the main villain selling Taiwan out to Beijing. How common (and realistic) were those fears about CCK at the time?
To date, I have not seen any real evidence that suggests that CCK intended to sell out Taiwan to the PRC. Although recent scholarship shows that CKS and CCK were engaged in secret talks with the Soviet Union throughout much of the 1960s and very early 1970s, the purpose was purportedly to form a front against the PRC after the Sino-Soviet split which worsened to the point of near war in 1969. It may have also been an attempt by the ROC to maintain some independence from the U.S. which showed interest in improving relations with the PRC. The talks failed, in part, because of the ideological gap between the two sides.
If the Second Cross-Strait Crisis had not come along, do you think the sacking of the embassy would have had far more serious consequences or would it likely have blown over anyway?
The Second Cross-Strait Crisis occurred over a year after Black Friday. By then, both sides had managed to put the riots behind them. If anything, the Cross-Strait Crisis of 1958 may have done more harm than good in the sense that Americans seemed less willing to fight a war over the offshore islands. Recently declassified documents also show that Eisenhower was less willing to defend those islands with nuclear weapons despite his previous assertions that ballistic missiles were necessary for those islands’ defense. As I speculated in the book, it is possible that the riots and 1958 crisis impacted U.S. public opinion but I did not find any opinion poll data to support such an assertion.
Your American Justice in Taiwan, with its narrative drive, shows touches of a writer who could have been a journalist. Did you ever consider writing as a possible career?
I never intended to become a writer but I did have a brief journalistic career in the early 1980s when I worked as a stringer and full-time for three small newspapers in Virginia as a photographer covering a broad range of news events. Even then, I saw myself solely as a photographer/darkroom technician despite being immersed in journalism and copy editing. I do not recall ever writing a story with a my own byline. If I did, such stories were few. I left the newspaper business burned out and ready to change careers. Although I was tempted to go back into it, one could see even in the 1980s the future of print journalism. In the 1990s, I did get approached by one of the English language newspapers, not the China Post, to take over the Kaohsiung bureau but I was committed to a career in academia. I am not even sure if that particular newspaper is any longer in existence or if it merged with another.
As a historian, though, I do believe in the notion of writing in a manner that is readable and interesting without academese Of course, the subject matter for American Justice in Taiwan made that task easier. There was already drama and tension but I wanted to write in a way that sustained that tension and kept the reader interested.
You first came to Taiwan in the mid-1980s. What brought you here?
When I was in college, I decided that I wanted to spend a year outside of the United States by doing an internship. Initially, I intended to work with a children’s orphanage, an American-run, church-supported NGO, outside of Lo-tung, but I actually spent most of my time teaching English. During that year, I made several trips to Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung including Kenting.
You returned to Taiwan seven years later and lived here from 1993 to 1998. Where were you and what were you doing?
In 1991, I returned to Taiwan for a summer to do initial research for my doctoral dissertation. William Widenor, who became my advisor after Lloyd Eastman became ill, encouraged me to write a biography of V.K. Wellington Koo. It was originally my idea but I had qualms about the project. It meant years of writing and research and although I found plenty of documentation, there were gaps in his life in which there were no diaries prior to 1937 and others had already at least written about his career prior to WWII. At one point, I wanted to just focus on writing about the impact of World War I on China but Widenor, who wrote a biography of Henry Cabot Lodge and had served in the U.S. Foreign Service, preferred that I stick with the Koo project. Most of the time, I resided in Taichung, just off campus from Zhongxing University, but I managed to do some archival research that gave me a sense that there were at least diplomatic documents for the early Republican years that would fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge about Koo’s career.
It was also that year that I met my future wife though that was not obvious at the time. She was a nurse trying to improve her English so that she could work in the U.S. Several months after I returned to the U.S., we decided to pursue a relationship, which, with the exception of visits back and forth, was a long-distance one. Although I had e-mail access, she did not, so expensive phone calls and letters kept us going. By 1993, though, I had completed all of my course work and we decided to marry that year. We lived in Taichung where I continued to research and write the dissertation while teaching English. I also managed to teach American History and International Politics at Tunghai University for three years. By 1996, my wife was pregnant with our first child and I was ready to defend the dissertation which I completed in 1997. However, I taught for a year at Wen-Tsao Ursuline College in Kaohsiung for a year before I landed a full-time, non-tenure track position at Valparaiso University in Indiana.
What do you teach at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University?
I teach a range of courses: U.S. Military History, 1775-1900, and 1900-present; U.S.-Asian Relations; U.S. Intelligence History; Introduction to Global Conflict Studies. I also teach an online graduate course entitled “The Internet, Security and Governance.”
For an academic working at a university, what are the pros and cons of publishing a book rather than papers?
When it comes to writing a monograph, you obviously have more space to devote to a subject that can only be fleshed out in an article of 10,000 words or less. The downside is that, depending on the subject and approach, a book requires a lot of time to research and write. Typically, my books have required more multiarchival research than the papers even though most of the latter that I have published also involved research at one or more archives. Another downside is that it is not always easy to quickly get the monograph published because of the vagaries of the publishing world which is facing its own challenges in the digital age. I need to even caveat that statement because I have had both the experience of getting refereed articles published quickly and having a journal sit on a piece for months and decide not to publish without even bothering to send it out to referees. A few colleagues over the years have had to wait as long as five years for their paper to get published and I think at least one had the experience of the journal shutting down leaving the article sitting in the queue. For someone seeking promotion and tenure at some institution, relying on either approach can be maddening depending on the circumstances but typically it should be easier to produce papers.
Are you working on a book at the moment?
Currently, I do not have a specific project in mind. I have been pondering doing a project that looks at Taiwan in the context of the Vietnam War or writing a survey of America and Taiwan from beginning to date. My research has been sidetracked to a certain degree by administration work that I hope to shed at the end of this year.
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