(Left: 福島安正, Fukushima Yasumasa, the first Japanese Administrator of Danshui)
After the loss of Keelung, Danshui was the only remaining port accessible to the Qing soldiers in northern Taiwan. They managed to arrive by following either the coastal roads from Keelung by way of 金山Gin-Shan, or the railroad tracks from Keelung to Taipei and then traveled along the northern shore of Danshui River. By early June, 1895, about 5,000 men (?) waited impatiently on the shipping docks in front of the 媽祖宮MaZu Temple hoping to catch a boat ride back home to China. At that time, there were supposedly still 300+ battalions (360 men in each battalion) of Qing soldiers on the island ready to fight. However, it is known that the Chinese officials often inflated the number of enlistees and pocketed the pay of the ghost soldiers. So the true strength remains unknown.
Most of the soldiers who ended up in Danshui were from Canton previously brought over by 唐景崧Tang Jing-Song to fortify the defense of Taiwan. They owed no loyalty to the people of Taiwan and in fact ran away en masse at the first sight of the Japanese Forces. In retreat, they wrecked havoc wherever they went. The looting and killing in Taipei had prompted the merchants, both Taiwanese and European, to seek Japanese intervention. (Needless to say, these merchants are now branded as traitors of China.) On June 7, the Japanese cavalry pretty much trotted into Taipei unmolested. In so doing, they had also underestimated the resolve and the fighting capabilities of Taiwanese resistance south of Taipei and later paid for this oversight dearly.
There are two versions of what had happened to the Qing soldiers in Danshui:
The Chinese version (from "喋血台湾岛" published by 中国国际广播出版社, 1995):
June 5: Chinese merchant ship 駕時(the Cass) took a number of the soldiers back to Shanghai.
June 9: A Japanese force of about 500 men entered Danshui. There was some sporadic shooting from the Qing side. At 10AM, two Japanese warships 浪速Naniwa and 高千穗Takachiho sailed into Danshui River and fired warning shots at the soldiers. The Qing soldiers were now under Japanese custody. In the afternoon, 60+ men led by Col Fukushima Yasumasa arrived on warship 八重山Yaeyama and set up a Township Office quickly to register the soldiers. The Qing men did not comprehend the Japanese process believing that if they took off their uniforms and discarded their weapons, then they'd be free to go as civilians. The Japanese, however, saw this as a violation of the surrender and started shooting and killing those who tried to leave. It was unclear how many died. The estimate was 2,000 because it appeared only about 3,000 out of the 5,000 eventually made it back to China:
June 10: At 8:30PM, 1,200 boarded the Japanese ship 磯浦丸(? - might have been the 有磯浦丸 owned by 南嶋間作) which sailed for Hong Kong.
June 11: The remaining 1,700 were put on board of the Chinese ship 萬國號 and arrived back in Amoy.
The Japanese version (according to "淡水新政記", a 14-day diary written either by Fukushima Yasumasa himself or possibly recorded by his subordinates - several editions now exist):
June 9: Sent back 1,000+ Qing soldiers whose luggage was inspected by the military police and then allowed on board a British ship which then sailed for China. A hectic day with no time for meals. From early afternoon to dusk, representatives from several villages came to request protection from pillaging by the Qing soldiers.
June 10: Announced the exchange rate of Japanese and Qing monies. Hired 36 locals to do a census survey and purchase foodstuff plus cleaning and cooking. There was a report of a 14-men gang robbing 新莊Shin-Juang. Dispatched one military police with 11 soldiers to catch these bandits who ran off upon learning the impending confrontation.
June 12: Reported to the headquarters that 1,700 Qing soldiers were sent back to China yesterday. Decided to distribute rice to the local poor.
June 14: Appointed locals as policemen to maintain law and order. The eligibility included:
滬尾街有家屋者 (owns a house in Danshui)
年齡20-30歲 (is 20-30 years old)
娶妻成家者 (has a wife and family)
不抽鴉片者 (is not an opium addict)
能取得二人具保者 (can obtain guarantees from two others)
June 15: Announced the hygiene law. There was a one-day delay for a British ship to take on some Qing soldiers who were therefore given a one-day's ration. They were quite uncouth leaving filth and garbage scattering on the docks, had to force them to clean up at gun point. Census showed 1,019 families residing in Danshui.
June 16: The patrol found one dead Qing soldier, had to force 5 surprisingly unsympathetic others to bury their comrade. Distributed 308 boarding passes. In the afternoon, sent back 350 Qing soldiers. Paid 15 local laborers and 10 carpenters.
June 19: To speed up the repatriation process, negotiated with 3 Chinese ships, one could take 60 to 溫州Wen-Zhou, and the other two, 136 and 62, respectively. Finally, the repatriation was finished. Caught two escapees, a 44 year old tailor from 江西Jian-Xi and a 20-year old peasant.
The Japanese version is probably closer to the truth. The Chinese version argued for 2,000 massacred based on conjecture and an unsubstantiated estimate of 5,000 at the beginning. For one thing, the many westerners in town (including Dr George Leslie Mackay) would have taken notice as they had done during the Sino-French War and reported any large-scale killings to the outside world - not to mention the logistics needed for the burial of 2,000 that Danshui certainly did not have. [Note: JW Davidson's 1903 eyewitness account also did not report such an incident.] The Japanese house-keeping log indicated that in 10 days, around 3,300 Qing soldiers were repatriated. It was probably close to this number, not 5,000, who had arrived in Danshui. Fukushima also had written to the Chinese Government in Canton requesting humane treatment of these returning poor souls.
These poor souls came back 50 years later to re-claim the island. On Oct 8, 1945, the 9th Company (106 men) of the 4th Regiment of KMT Military Police (國軍憲兵第四團) arrived in Danshui on junks. They were called 雨傘兵 (the umbrella troop), disappointingly, by the welcoming residents of Danshui. Because, for some inexplicable reason, most soldiers carried on their backs a folded umbrella (on top of the pots and pans plus some rifles and bags of rice that they were also carrying). Yes, the rag-tag army had just landed. And Danshui-ren were stunned by their disheveled appearance not knowing that these soldiers had gone through hell before arriving in Danshui - not until recently anyway.
A postscript: In the 228 Incident of 1947, all three battalions (with the 2nd Battalion joining in from Foochow) of the 4th MP Regiment played a brutal role in northern Taiwan.