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The History of 814 Cigarette

The 814 ROCAF Cigarette Plant, originally located in Hsinchu, was the witness to a history of the monopoly system of tobacco in the military. 

In the early days of the war, soldiers would rely on cigarettes as their indispensable companion in office work and on the front lines to relieve pressure. The tuck shop in the military camp would also own machines for production to provide cigarettes to these soldiers as a benefit or sell as an extra-budgetary source of military revenue. 

The three branches of the armed forces (the army, navy, and air force) all had their own tobacco plants set up in the camps, but these would contradict the state monopoly on tobacco and alcohol, especially when the Treasury was in desperate need of revenue from the public sales of tobacco and alcohol such that earnings had to be turned over to the authority on a daily basis. As a part of negotiations with the Taiwan Provincial Government, the Monopoly Bureau would manufacture tobacco for the military, but the 814 ROCAF Cigarette plant was not officially disposed until 1964. 

“814” is basically synonymous with our Air Force. On August 14, 1937, the commander of the 4th Air Combat Brigade, Kao Chihhang, led his team to combat JMSDF Fleet Air Wing of Kanoya at Jianqiao, Hangzhou and set the first record of shooting down a Japanese bomber. August 14 has therefore become Air Force Day, which is celebrated annually by the Air Force. 

In 1949 during the period of national mobilization for suppression of the Communist rebellion, the majority of the Air Force officers and soldiers were preparing to retreat to Taiwan to conserve military strength. The Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, Chou Chihjou, was concerned about the future livelihood of the armed personnel’s families and ordered the captain of the 30th Squadron of the Air Force, Chen Tsulieh, to withdraw 100 gold bars and 100 thousand silver yuan from the bank to start businesses and industries once they arrived in Taiwan. The surplus was used as a welfare fund, for which the captain of the 20th Air Combat Brigade, Yang Jungchih, was put in charge of these affairs.

Chen Tsulieh, who was the squadron leader, had successfully completed 50 missions and was awarded 20 medals for his outstanding military achievements. However, he had never done business before. Being bound by his duty as a soldier, he was determined to complete the Commander-in-Chief’s order on all cylinders. As he sought assistance from business leaders, just the day before their retreat from Shanghai, the manager of Sion-US Tobacco Company that produced “Beauty” cigarettes suggested he open a tobacco plant in Taiwan and was willing to assist in providing machines and employees’ training. Unfortunately, the wartime situation was always changing rapidly, forcing him to retreat with the unfulfilled plan. A day later he lost contact with the manager.

After reporting to Captain Yang Jungchih, the squadron leader, Chen Tsulieh decided to set up a tobacco plant. He flew to Guangzhou on a business trip to study the business of running such a factory and purchased the necessary equipment and raw materials. In early 1950, the military-run tobacco plant was officially founded in Hsinchu, producing the “814” cigarettes. He even hired technicians from Guangzhou and visited Tang Paosen, the director of the Songshan Tobacco Plant, to improve the product quality, in which the cigarettes were exclusive for Air Force officers and soldiers as a benefit.

To avoid the impact of cheaper military cigarettes on the market, a serial number was printed on each cigarette package, and officers and soldiers were prohibited from privately selling or giving them as gifts to non-military personnel; otherwise, any violators were subject to court martial. There was once an incident where a purchasing officer for the tuck shop in Taoyuan was sentenced to one and a half years for such a violation. 

By working with the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau, only the tobacco plant of the Air Force remained open while the factories of the Army and Navy were closed because only the Air Force was able to strictly regulate its operation. After communicating with the director of the provincial department of finance and the Chief of General Staff, although the factory was temporarily renamed the “Tobacco Plant of the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau in Hsinchu,” the Air Force retained its control until it was officially disposed in 1964, when the brand of “814” cigarettes was then placed under the Bureau’s control and was manufactured by the Songshan Tobacco Plant, despite that the earnings were still given to the Air Force Welfare Club. 

After the Air Force’s tobacco plant ended its business, the squadron leader Chen Tsulieh returned the original venture capital given by the Commander-in-Chief to the Air Force Command Headquarters and was able to complete this daunting task with a monthly surplus in the end. Military cigarettes have since then turned into history as the government decided to adopt a state monopoly of tobacco and alcohol.