Dr. Wei-Ping Li: How Taiwan’s Media Environment Changed from Martial Law Era to Present

Felicia Lin
6 min readJan 10, 2024

I spoke with Wei-Ping Li about the laws and mechanisms of the censorship from Taiwan’s martial law era and the impact it had on Taiwan’s media environment, and how Taiwan’s media environment had changed since then.

[LISTEN to the Complete Episode HERE on APPLE PODCASTS or SPOTIFY]

These days Taiwan is known to be the most free and democratic country in Asia, but it wasn’t always that way. It’s hard to imagine that Taiwan has had a very dark period of history during which there was massive censorship. At one time Taiwan had the longest period of martial law in the world at 38 years. During the martial law period from 1949 to 1987, and the White Terror era that extended beyond the lifting of Taiwan’s martial law, there was no freedom of speech, expression or thought, and advocating for the independence of Taiwan was a crime punishable by death. This episode examines how Taiwan’s transformation from an authoritarian state to a democracy, has impacted Taiwan’s media environment.

Wei-Ping is speaking in a personal capacity (as a media scholar who studied Taiwanese media) and the views expressed in this interview were all her own personal opinions.

About Wei-Ping Li

Wei-Ping Li is a research fellow at Taiwan FactCheck Center. She collaborates with fact-checkers to monitor disinformation trends in Taiwan and produces analysis reports for both English and Chinese audiences. Her English analyses are published in Taiwan FactCheck Center’s biweekly newsletter “TFC Disinfo Detector.”

Li received her Ph.D. degree at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. Her research interests include propaganda, social media content moderation, free speech challenges faced by democratic countries, and privacy issues in the digital era. She has published scholarly articles in academic journals, books, and law reviews.

Before pursuing an academic career, she offered consulting services on digital human rights in Asia. She also worked as a journalist for media outlets in Taiwan for several years. She earned her LL.M. (Master of Laws) degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and has been admitted to the practice of law in New York State.

Here’s a little preview of what we talked about in this podcast episode:

  • Wei-Ping’s previous career in journalism that started in 2001
  • How Wei-Ping was one of the speakers in a discussion about America Skepticism Theory organized by GTI (Global Taiwan Institute)
  • How Taiwan is currently the most free and democratic country in Asia
  • Taiwan has had the second longest period of martial law in world history, and a dark period of extreme censorship and authoritarianism during and after martial law was lifted in 1987
  • The restrictions, and laws of Taiwan’s martial law era included two tracks one was martial law and the other was called The Period of Mobilization for the Suppression of Communist Rebellion
  • The mechanisms that enforced the restrictions, and laws of Taiwan’s martial law era, such as publishing laws, Article 100 of the Criminal Code and the Betrayers Punishment Act
  • Bans on the media, newspapers, songs, films, books
  • Why Mark Twain’s book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the wuxia novels of Jin Yong were previously banned in Taiwan
  • Some of the bureaus and departments that enforced censorship laws include: Taiwan Garrison Command, Information Bureau, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Interior, Council for Overseas Communities
  • How the Kuomintang extended their censorship to newspapers issued overseas
  • How private correspondence was monitored and surveilled
  • How the Kuomintang was trying to build a comprehensive mechanism of censorship in the 1950s
  • After martial law was lifted in Taiwan the government imposed a National Security Law
  • How it took the efforts of many advocates and advocates to break up the barriers and restrictions to gain more freedom
  • The Period of Mobilization Law was lifted in 1991by President Lee Teng-hui and the bans on newspapers were lifted in 1988
  • How in 1989 (a year after bans on newspapers were lifted) Cheng Nan-jung, the publisher of the Freedom Era Weekly or New Era Weekly barricaded himself in his office and set himself on fire in protest against the restriction of media freedom
  • The nature of the bans on newspapers that were lifted
  • How Criminal Code Article 100 did not allow people to advocate for Taiwan independence, or criticize high ranking officials or presidents
  • The article written by Cheng Nan-jung in 1987 that criticized the authorities’ methods of restricting freedom of speech
  • Topics that the Freedom Era Weekly addressed included the health of President Chiang Ching-kuo, power struggles inside the intelligence bureaus
  • The police that tried to arrest Chen Nan-jung on April 7, 1989 was headed by Hou You-yi, who is the KMT’s presidential candidate for Taiwan’s 2024 presidential election
  • How the Taiwan Independence Association led the repeal of the Betrayers Punishment Act, and amendment of Criminal Code Article 100
  • In 1998 Taiwan’s constitutional court made a decision that advocating for Taiwan independence is no longer a crime
  • How Taiwan’s history has affected its media environment
  • The trauma of censorship on the Taiwanese
  • Taiwan’s current media environment
  • Taiwan’s ranking on the World Press Freedom Index
  • Challenges in Taiwan’s current media environment
  • The self-censorship of businesses with close ties to China
  • How disinformation could flow into Taiwan through PTT (Taiwan’s bulletin board system)

Related Links:

GTI (Global Taiwan Institute) discussion event: “America Skepticism Theory”: Anti-American Propaganda and Its Impacts in Taiwan’s Information Environment: https://www.youtube.com/live/0fKbfn5FUzs?si=yeI8TLfihWyTp1uX

GTI (Global Taiwan Institute): https://globaltaiwan.org/

Taiwan ranked 35th in 2023 RSF press freedom index: https://www.ocac.gov.tw/OCAC/Eng/Pages/Detail.aspx?nodeid=329&pid=52995967

Taiwan’s ranking in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index released May 3 by France-based RSF (Reporters Without Borders): https://rsf.org/en/country/taiwan

Taiwan’s martial law era: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martial_law_in_Taiwan

AFTER 38 YEARS, TAIWAN LIFTS MARTIAL LAW : https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1987/07/15/after-38-years-taiwan-lifts-martial-law/6ba420e6-f061-467a-9647-63858e4956b3/

Taiwan’s White Terror Era: https://www.nhrm.gov.tw/w/nhrmEN/White_Terror_Period

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Terror_(Taiwan)

The Period of Mobilization for the Suppression of Communist Rebellion:

Criminal Code 100

Taiwan: Amendment of Article 100 of the Criminal Code (from Amnesty International): https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa38/003/1992/en/

Taiwan’s Long Walk to Freedom of Speech: https://www.nhrm.gov.tw/w/nhrmEN/Exhibitions_22051117150452803

Wuxia Wanderings (a website about wuxia novels): https://wuxiawanderings.com/what-is-wuxia/

Kuomintang (KMT): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuomintang

Taiwan Garrison Command: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwan_Garrison_Command

Lee Teng-hui: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Teng-hui

Cheng Nan-jung (鄭南榕aka Nylon Deng): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheng_Nan-jung

The article written by Cheng Nan-jung in 1987 that criticized the authorities methods of restricting freedom of speech: http://www.nylon.org.tw/main/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=322:2011-02-22-08-15-02&catid=2:2009-04-05-16-41-44&Itemid=9

This is the story behind Taiwan’s Freedom of Expression Day, which falls today: https://thechinaproject.com/2023/04/07/this-is-the-story-behind-taiwans-freedom-of-speech-day-which-falls-today/

Koh Se-kai (許世楷): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koh_Se-kai

Chiang Ching-kuo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiang_Ching-kuo

Hou You-yi: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hou_Yu-ih

Taiwan Independence Association film director sought history of recent times: https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2015/05/10/2003617938

Taiwan’s 400 Years of History: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_History_of_Taiwanese_in_400_Years

Su Beng’s wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Su_Beng

Su Beng’s website: https://www.tw400.org.tw/

About Su Beng website: http://aboutsubeng.com/

This is the story behind Taiwan’s Freedom of Expression Day, which falls today:

https://thechinaproject.com/2023/04/07/this-is-the-story-behind-taiwans-freedom-of-speech-day-which-falls-today/

China Times: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Times

Want Want: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Want_Want

Chung T’ien Television: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chung_T%27ien_Television

CTV News Channel (Taiwanese TV channel): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CTV_News_Channel_(Taiwanese_TV_channel)

Sanlih E-Television (SET): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanlih_E-Television

https://www.settv.com.tw/en/html/

Cheng Hung-yi to leave ‘Talking Show’: https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2012/05/26/2003533745

Revealing Xiao Meiqin’s emotional world and Zheng Hongyi returning: https://taiwan.postsen.com/celebrities/92941/Revealing-Xiao-Meiqin%E2%80%99s-emotional-world-and-Zheng-Hongyi-returning-with-full-blood-Ask-a-15-word-response–Entertainment-Star-News–Sanli-News-Network-SETNCOM.html

PTT Bulletin Board System: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PTT_Bulletin_Board_System

https://www.ptt.cc/index.html

Remembering Su Beng Taiwanese Revolutionary with Jiho Chang (Episode 156); https://talkingtaiwan.com/remembering-su-beng-taiwanese-revolutionary-with-jiho-chang-ep-156/

Commemorating the 228 Massacre: Taboos, Scars, Stigmas, and an Essential Lesson in Taiwan History (Episode 228): https://talkingtaiwan.com/commemorating-the-228-massacre-taboos-scars-stigmas-and-an-essential-lesson-in-taiwan-history-ep-228/

LISTEN to Episode 267: Dr. Wei-Ping Li: How Taiwan’s Media Environment Changed from Martial Law Era to Present HERE

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Felicia Lin

Felicia Lin is the producer and host of Talking Taiwan, the longest running Taiwan-related podcast, and Golden Crane Podcast Award Winner.