In 1949, the Chinese Nationalist (Guomindang or GMD) regime retreated to the island of Taiwan, battered after a prolonged communist revolution. Responding to the allure of socialism, the Nationalists in 1949 began enacting their own land reform on Taiwan. Unlike socialist collectivization, GMD reform turned to a technocratic solution of capital and debt, wrapped in a welfarist discourse toward the landless farmer.
This presentation explores the role of imagined capitalism and socialism in constructing a new form of modernity on postwar Taiwan. As part of the three-step land reform program that began in 1949 and culminated in a “land-to-the-tiller” policy in 1953, Taiwanese bureaucrats and economists from the land economics school (dizheng) engineered a technocratic system of land redistribution. This resulted in forced sales of land from large landowners, who were then compensated with a variety of financial instruments, including equity in state-owned enterprises and land bonds floated by the government-run Land Bank of Taiwan. Dispossessed landlords were incentivized to invest their compensated capital in export-oriented enterprises, later laying the groundwork for a prominent model in agricultural and applied economics.
GMD land reform formed the basis of a modern, Taiwanese anticommunism in a global Cold War. Its architects crafted a capitalist (and thus “non-radical”) solution centered on financial ingenuity and social welfare. By the late 1960s, Taiwan turned its experience in land reform into a Global South-South enterprise, sending land reform experts to countries like Iran and Vietnam, while hosting dozens of Third World bureaucrats over several decades at its Land Reform Training Institute founded in 1968. Ultimately, the discourse and power of capital were critical for the representation of Taiwan’s own development modernity, both at home and abroad. Its key findings demonstrate the significance of swapping land for debt in the rise of global capitalist logics that undergirded greater 20th century social and economic transformations in Taiwan, Asia, and the Global South.