Friday, December 14, 2007

On December 11, 2007

Su Beng is pictured here in a photo from The Liberty Times (a Chinese language newspaper) protesting with a pro-independence group in front of the National Normal University in Taipei. They demanded that the university dismantle the Chiang Kai-shek statue standing at the entrance.

If you'd like to read the complete Chinese language article that appeared in The Liberty Times click here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ninety... nearly

Su Beng was born on this day in 1918, in the Shih Lin district of Taipei, Taiwan. So I called Su Beng earlier (due to the time difference between New York and Taipei) to wish him a Happy Birthday. Based on the Gregorian calendar, he would now be eighty-nine years old.

But according to Taiwanese custom, he celebrated his ninetieth birthday a few years ago. In Taiwan, a baby is considered one year old when he or she is born. When the new lunar year arrives, another year is added to a person's age, making him or her two years old. Since the first day of the lunar new year usually falls between January 20 and February 21st of the Gregorian calendar, by the end of February 1919, Su Beng was considered 2 years old. By November 18, 1919, he would still be two years old. Following this line of logic, Su Beng would have been eighty-nine years old in 2006. To complicate matters further, the number 9- and odd numbers in general- are considered unlucky by the Taiwanese, so people customarily skip the eighty-ninth year and just round up to ninety. So, Su Beng celebrated his ninetieth birthday in 2006.

We chatted briefly. I told him that I was planning to return to Taiwan in the new year and he told me that he recently published a short book titled, "Why Should Taiwan Be Independent." Once I'm back in Taiwan I will be back to work with him and plan to him help translate "Why Should Taiwan Be Independent" into English.

Draft pages from Su Beng's short book, "Why Should Taiwan Be Independent"

Monday, October 29, 2007

Being Su Beng's biographer

Finally, at long last, after over three years, I have dropped everything to focus exclusively on working on this project- to write and document Su Beng's life.

There are hours upon hours of video footage and audio recordings of interviews, which need to be translated and edited. I am still working out a balance between focusing on the actual writing of the biography and editing of video footage.

The network of people who's lives have been touched by Su Beng is extensive and rich. In working on the concept of a video documentary I have started interviewing some of these people, as another angle from which tell the story of Su Beng's life. It is amazing how I have come to find these contacts through my personal networks.

Since I've been back in North America I have interviewed someone who knew Su Beng in his youth, in Taiwan. This person now happens to live in the state of Massachusetts.

From 1981-1982, when Su Beng was still based in Japan, he began traveling overseas (to Europe and North America and Brazil) to mobilize overseas Taiwanese in the fight for Taiwan's independence. He traveled around reaching out to these Taiwanese communities. He would spread the word and speak about why Taiwan should become independent, and promote the Chinese language version of Taiwan's 400 Years of History which was published in 1980. In the process, he further broadened his underground network of activists and supporters worldwide. Of course there are some supporters and members of his underground network in the U.S. that I'll be reaching out to while I'm here.

Now I am based in New York, the publishing mecca of the world. Opportunity awaits.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Response to June 29 Reuters article about Su Beng

Ralph Jennings' article about Su Beng came out the day before I was to leave Taiwan to relocate in New York City. I have finally composed my response, which I've sent off to some major newspapers, and I offer it here in its complete unedited form:


While Mr. Jennings’ June 29, 2007, article, “Taiwan ex-communist on long march for independence,” succeeds in juxtaposing Su Beng’s involvement and eventual disillusionment with the Chinese communists, it also creates the false impression that Su Beng became a member of the Chinese Communist Party under the direct tutelage of Mao Zedong.

Being labeled a communist is certainly nothing new to Su Beng and it’s a label loaded with complexity. During his years of study at Waseda University, Su Beng became a Marxist devotee and he fully embraced Marx’s communist ideology. But to imply that Su Beng went to China to be trained by Mao to become a (Chinese) communist is deeply misleading.

When Su Beng left for China in 1942, he was already a “believer” of communism- of the purely Marxist variety. To him communist China was a utopian society that offered him the opportunity to be a part of the Chinese Communists’ resistance of Japanese imperialism. At that time he couldn’t even speak Mandarin, so it’s doubtful that he set out specifically to participate in the Chinese revolution. His motivation was to oppose Japan’s rising aggression.

To say that “Su Beng trained assiduously under Chairman Mao Zedong” is tantamount to stating that Su Beng was personally trained and shaped by Mao Zedong to follow the Chinese revolution. This a bit of a stretch; the reality of the situation is not so stark. The Chinese Communists faithfully used Mao’s teachings to indoctrinate all those within their reach; there was no choice in this matter and Su Beng was no exception.

Mr. Jennings’ description of Su as “disillusioned with his former party” brands Su Beng as a member of the Chinese Communist party. If Mr. Jennings had delved deeper or simply asked Su Beng about his relationship with the Chinese Communists; his article would not be leading the reader into such false assumptions.

In my discussions with Su Beng, he has talked about how the indoctrination of Maoism led to his disillusionment with the Chinese Communist party; Chinese communism bore no resemblance to Marx’s theory of communism. It was then that he vowed never to join the Chinese Communist Party. He has also talked of how the Chinese Communists kept a watchful eye on him and excluded him from party member meetings.

Mr. Jennings continues to describe Su Beng’s ongoing fight for Taiwan’s independence, but neglects to mention Su’s greatest legacy, which is authoring the mammoth “Taiwan’s 400 Years of History”- a veritable encyclopedia of Taiwan’s history, that has influenced generations of Taiwanese by awakening an awareness of their past and a sense of Taiwanese identity.

Two final points of clarification required. First, the charge of 50 days in jail now facing Su Beng, is for failing to stop a protest after being given 3 warnings. On April 27, 2005, Su Beng and his motorcade assembled outside of a jail to protest the immediate arrest of the taxi driver who- just the day before (April 26 2007)- had driven Su Beng during a high speed chase of Lien Chan’s (then chairman of the Kuomintang party) car en route to the Taiwan Taoyuan airport. On that day, mass protests erupted in the Taiwan Taoyuan airport in response to the visits of Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) officials with the People’s Republic of China officials.

Secondly, when Su Beng stowed away in a banana boat to Japan in 1952, he was immediately arrested for illegal entry and charged with four months in detention, despite his request for political asylum. It is an oversimplification to state that Su Beng “persuaded authorities to let him live in exile.” In a strange twist of fate, the banana exporting company reported Su Beng missing to the Kuomintang authorities in Taiwan, who in turn contacted Japanese authorities for their cooperation in arresting Su. Since Su was wanted for plotting to assassinate Chiang Kai-shek, this notification actually proved that Su Beng was in need of political asylum, and so he was released and allowed to live in Japan in exile.

Furthermore it is Mr. Jennings' opinion that the authorities wouldn’t let a 90-year-old man serve time in jail. When he asked me what I thought about the matter I said that I believed that Su Beng probably wouldn’t have to serve time since he has not yet served any time for previous arrest warrants. Su Beng has not been officially pardoned, but before President Chen Shui-bian’s inauguration in 2000, he honored Su Beng for his contributions to Taiwan.

Mr. Jennings has used broad statements that are open to wide interpretation to simply grab the reader’s attention without considering the damage done by putting such falsehoods on out record. There is still much more to set straight about the life of Su Beng- revolutionary, historian, educator and idealist.

Felicia Lin
Su Beng’s biographer

Reuters article about Su Beng

Ralph Jennings' article about Su Beng appears
here on Reuters. I have much to say on it. My comments will follow shortly.

Taiwan ex-communist on long march for independence
Fri Jun 29,2007 7:32PM EDT
By Ralph Jennings

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan-born Su Beng trained assiduously under Chairman Mao Zedong 60 years ago to be a communist, shunning marriage and refusing to have children so he could follow the Chinese revolution.

But more than half a century later, Su, weak and almost 90, is now back in Taiwan, long ago disillusioned with his former party as he cultivates a network to press for the self-ruled island's formal independence from China.

These days his tactics include traffic blockades and burning Chinese flags to dramatize his cause.

"In 400 years the Taiwanese have never been their own bosses. It's not independent yet," said Su, sitting in the study of his Tapei home, a room filled with books, four of which he wrote. Su's spirited tactics are aimed at promoting change from the bottom up, but they have also gotten him and his 2,000 Taiwan supporters in trouble at times.

Su, who walks with a limp and sports a mane of long white hair, is appealing a six-month sentence for setting off fireworks at the Taipei international airport in an April 2005 protest against a trip to China by a top official of the main opposition Nationalist Party.

He faces another 50 days in jail for refusing to disband a traffic blockade.

Possibly because of his age, or because today's ruling party quietly supports him, Su may be excused from serving time, his biographer said.

"Su Beng has recently risen out of relative obscurity in the wake of China's growing aggression and the Chinese Nationalist Party's questionable exchanges with China," said Felicia Lin, an English teacher in Kaohsiung, who is writing the biography.

In her blog, Lin refers to Su as an "inspiring" man who believes it is not a question of if, but when, Taiwan will gain formal independence.

Taiwan has been self-ruled since the Nationalists, headed by Chiang Kai-shek, fled there in 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists. But it has never declared formal independence, and Beijing has threatened to invade if it ever does so.

Su, the nom-de-guerre for the man born as Shih Chao-hui, was anti-Japanese for much of his formative years, opposing Japan's colonial control of Taiwan during his time as a Waseda University student in Tokyo and later in China from 1942 to 1949.

Disheartened by what he describes as cruelty among the Communists, he returned to Taiwan shortly before the Communist victory, going back and forth between Taiwan and Japan since.

Shortly after his initial return to Taiwan, he fought Chiang Kai-shek's authoritarian rule by stockpiling old Japanese weapons, leading to charges that he was plotting to assassinate the late strongman.

He escaped the government's fury by stowing away in 1952 on a banana boat to Japan, where he persuaded authorities to let him live in exile. Su became a legend there by opening a noodle restaurant that trained revolutionaries on its fifth floor.

During his 40 years in Japan, he illegally entered Taiwan several times to try to destabilize the Nationalists and promote Taiwan independence. He returned to stay in 1993, and since then he has organized motorcades of slogan-painted taxis on weekends and started a foundation to promote his history books.

He expects local supporters to carry on his cause as he ages.

"It's their era," he says.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Speaking about Su Beng

My friend, Jerome Keating, who organizes monthly breakfast meetings up in Taipei, has kindly asked me to speak about Su Beng and the project I've been working on.

The meeting will be held at The Shannon, on Sunday, June 17 at 10:00am. The Shannon is located at: 6 Tun Hua North Road, just south of Nanking E. Rd., next to Dan Ryan's and across from the new baseball stadium, Tel: (02) 2772-0948.

After breakfast is served, I will begin my presentation. My project is still very much in progress, so I see this as a wonderful opportunity to not only share what I've done so far but to also bounce ideas off of fresh minds.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The charges are in

I always come away so re energized from my visits with Su Beng. It is always so inspiring and reaffirming to talk to this man who so steadfastly believes it is not a question of whether or not Taiwan will one day become an independent, normal country; it is a matter of when.

All legalese aside, Su Beng has told me that the Supreme Court has charged him on two counts.

First count- 50 days

On April 26th the taxi driver- who drove (Su Beng) right up beside Lien Chan's car on the expressway enroute to the airport- was arrested and held without bail. The following day, Su Beng led a motorcade of taxis in protest outside of the jail where his driver was held. He has been charged with serving 50 days in prison for continuing to protest after being given 3 warnings to stop. He will not be able to post bail in lieu of serving the 50 days.

Second count- 6 months

Su Beng has also been charged with serving 6 months in prison for setting off fireworks in the Taiwan Taoyuan Airport on April 26, 2005 during the mass protests of Lien Chan's trip to China.

Su Beng's assistant, Bin Hong has been charged with 8 months for her involvement in the activities at the Taiwan Taoyuan airport on April 26th.

Su Beng and Bin Hong may post bail for over NT$600,000 total- for both of their 6 month and 8 month charges respectively.

He is currently seeking legal advice on how to proceed with this.

Deciphering fact from fiction

Certainly those who have heard tall tales about Su Beng may wonder what is fact or fiction and here I will offer some points of clarification.

History buffs should be the first to note that Su Beng, who was born in 1918, would have only been about 16 years of age when the Long March began in October of 1934. So, no, he did not participate in the Long March, which was the yearlong military retreat of the Red Armies of the Communist Party of China as they attempted to dodge Kuomingtang forces.

On getting a vasectomy

Su Beng did indeed get a vasectomy before the age of thirty, while he was in Shanghai (1942-1945) working as an undercover agent for the Chinese Communists; his reasons for electing to get a vasectomy include some “colorful” and practical reasons. It was common practice for the Chinese Communists to pair up male and female undercover agents, thereby assigning them to live as a “married” couple. And so they did- live under the same roof and sleep in the same bed. Inevitably, some “couples” ended up consummating their relationship, and if this resulted in offspring, the agents were transferred away to remote areas, abandoned by the Chinese Communists and considered to no longer be of any use. Su Beng saw this and decided that he didn’t want to meet such demise. He had followed his Marxist, socialist ideals to come to China in order to resist Japanese imperialism; nothing was going to prevent his revolutionary purpose.

Was this a man who simply knew himself- that he was just human and that he would have these undeniable urges which he wouldn’t be able to control? Some might say he could have just used some self-control and restraint, but just how realistic is that view? Were there more noble reasons at work in Su Beng’s decision? Decisions like this are not always as simple as they seem.

The one person that Su Beng said he’d have to “answer to” for this life decision would be his grandmother- who raised him like a son. Su Beng's mother was an only child, so he was given his mother’s maiden name Shi (施)rather than his father’s surname Lin in order to continue the Shi lineage.

On being a Communist

Su Beng went to China (1942-1949) a socialist idealist; working for the Chinese Communists was a means to resist Japanese imperialism. He became disillusioned with communism as the hypocrisy and brutality of the Chinese Communists became apparent. He resisted and did not join the Communist party, he knew he'd have to devise a way to escape their clutches. It wouldn't be easy.

And there’s more…

There’s the woman who’s said to be the love of his life- a Japanese woman that Su Beng met in Beijing, who fled with him out of China (in 1949) and away from the grip of the Chinese Communists to Taiwan. After his involvement in a plot to assassinate Chiang Kai-shek, he fled from Taiwan by stowing away in a banana boat to Japan (in 1952). Later she reunited with him in Japan.

During the 40 years or so (from 1952-1993) that Su Beng lived in exile in Japan, he illegally entered Taiwan several times in order to continue his underground efforts to destabilize the KMT and promote Taiwan independence.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Just what ARE the charges?

Though the charges facing Su Beng and his assistant, Bin Hong were reported in the Chinese language Liberty Times newspaper today, Su Beng himself and his assistant have not yet received an official notice of the charges.

So the exact terms of the charges have yet to be confirmed; it is not clear how much bail may be posted in lieu of serving time or whether bail will be even be allowed to be posted.

No comments yet on how Su Beng or Bin Hong will proceed or whether Su Beng will post bail, or actually serve the time.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

This just in from The Liberty Times

Today The Liberty Times reported on the charges levied against Su Beng and his assistant Bin Hong for their involvement in protesting Lien Chan's trip to meet with Chinese Commmunist leaders on April 26, 2005.

On September 15, 2006 the Liberty Times newspaper reported that Su Beng had received a charge of serving 50 days in prison. It wasn’t clear just what the charge was for, but it was most likely related to Su Beng’s involvement in the events surrounding the April 26, 2005 protests of Lien Chan’s trip to China to meet with Communist China’s leaders. On that day, as Lien was departing from the Taiwan Taoyuan airport (then known as the Chiang Kai Shek airport) violence sparked between pan-blue and pan-green protestors at the airport.

And earlier that day, as Lien Chan's motorcade made its way to the airport from his residence, several taxis (under Su Beng's instructions) followed behind in hot pursuit. While on the expressway, one of the taxis, in which Su Beng was riding, drove right up to Lien Chan’s car window and Su Beng held out a note for him to read, which read “Don’t sellout Taiwan.” The driver of this taxi was soon arrested and put in jail without bail.

Su Beng and his people also went to the Taiwan Taoyuan airport that day to protest Lien Chan’s trip to China. They had fireworks in their possession, some of which were set off while they were there.

Here's a more detailed explanation behind the charge of 50 days:

I've spoken to Bin Hong to get clarification on what exactly the charges are and for comment on how she and Su Beng are going to proceed. More details to come when they become available...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A weekend of commemoration (April 5-7, 2007) continued

Picking up where I left off and after spending my first evening at Su Beng's residence in Sinjhuang

The first day of my visit (April 6th) we set off early in the morning to pick up some offerings for Su Beng’s ancestral tomb.

It was a dark rainy morning which made the walk down to the tomb from the top of a hill quite precarious.

It’s a shame that it was so dark, dreary and rainy; it must be quite a view from there usually. Funny thing is, I’ve been told that in Taiwan, much of the prime property on hillsides with a view like this, have in large part, been occupied by ancestral tombs.

After the all the rites were performed we went off to pick something up to bring over for lunch at Mr. Lin’s.

We drove for what seemed like more than an hour. When we arrived I saw that we could see the ocean from the back of Mr. Lin’s house. We entered the house through the back via Mr. Lin’s art studio.

Mr. Lin has been working on this clay bust of Su Beng for the past four months, since December of 2006. He will be using the clay bust to make a mold and finally a bronze sculpture. The entire process will take about 6-7 months, so the bronze bust should be complete in June or July.

Do you see a resemblance?

Su Beng and Mr. Lin have known each other for over twenty years now; they met in 1982. During the summers of 1981-82, Su Beng began making annual trips from Japan to North and South America, and Europe to make connections with overseas Taiwanese and to distribute copies of the Chinese version of Taiwan's 400 Years of History (which was published in 1980). At that time Su Beng had been living Japan since 1952, when he was forced to flee there after the Kuomingtang discovered his involvement in a plot to assassinate Chiang Kai-shek. He remained there in exile until he returned to live in Taiwan in 1993.

During one of Su Beng’s trips to Europe in 1982, some friends in the overseas Taiwanese community there introduced Su Beng to Mr. Lin, so Su Beng went to Austria to spend a week at Mr. Lin's. Mr. Lin recounted how Su Beng would start off every morning by faithfully doing yoga exercises, how they’d have a drink together over lunch and have enlightening conversations. As Mr. Lin reminisced about those days, so long ago, he remarked that they were both young then- Su Beng was 64, about the age that Mr. Lin is now.

The following morning (April 7, the second day of my visit) we went to the Freedom Era (自由時代) Weekly magazine office pay our respects to 鄭南榕, Mr. Cheng Nan-jung (aka Nylon which is his anglicized name). Mr. Cheng was publisher of the Freedom Era Weekly magazine and that day was the 18th anniversary of Mr Cheng's tragic death. Su Beng decided to take his Taiwan Independence Action ( 獨立台灣會) motorcade out in the morning for its rounds, instead of the afternoon, en route to the Freedom Era Weekly office.

The troubles that led to Mr. Cheng's death that fateful day began in December of 1988, when he published a draft of a new constitution for a new independent Taiwan in his magazine. In January and February of 1989, Mr. Cheng was summoned to appear in court on sedition charges. He refused to appear, and on April 7, 1989 about a hundred riot police prepared to attack the Freedom Era Weekly's office by assembling at the Chung Shan Primary School, which was just across the street. Mr. Cheng set himself on fire in his office rather than be arrested for sedition charges. The burnt remains of Mr. Cheng's office have been preserved and it is now a commemorative site; it is a truly haunting scene that will remain etched in my memory. For the complete details of what happened on April 7, 1989, please click on this link:

The Taiwan Independence Action motorcade arrives at the Freedom Era Weekly office

The Taiwan Independence Action (獨立台灣會) motorcade has been making its rounds every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, for more than 10 years, since April 1994. Since returning to Taiwan in 1993, Su Beng has cultivated a grass roots following amongst taxi drivers and in 1994 Su Beng began organizing a group of taxis and trucks that form the weekly Taiwan Independence Action motorcade. On those afternoons, Su Beng himself would stand on a truck painted taxi cab yellow, with the words “獨立台灣會” or “Taiwan Independence Action” emblazoned on the side; he would speak over a megaphone and there would also be about 10 taxis in the procession. For nearly 2 hours, they would make their rounds around Taipei city and Taipei county.

Now, others in lieu of Su Beng have taken up the cause of delivering messages over the megaphone. To paraphrase, their messages are that: the Taiwanese must throw off the shackles of post-World War II colonization to become a normal country, and the Taiwanese need to stand up for themselves and Taiwan. Taiwan should be independent. The Republic of China is not the Taiwanese people's country.

Riding back to Sinjhuang after visiting the Freedom Era Weekly office

Monday, April 23, 2007

Official Book Release: Su Beng's The Ideology of Democracy

The official book release for Su Beng's latest book, The Ideology of Democracy (民主主義) will be held on Saturday, May 5, 2007 at 2:00pm, at the National Taiwan University Alumni Building (JiNan Road Section 1, No. 2-1, 4th Floor) . Click on the image below to enlarge- for complete details.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Waseda and the world at his feet

Su Beng, who's given name is Si Tiâu-hui (施朝暉, Hoklo Taiwanese language: Si Tiâu-hui, Pinyin: Shī Cháo Huī), was born on November 9, 1918 in the Shih Lin district of Taipei, Taiwan. He grew up in Taiwan during the second half of Taiwan's Japanese occupation period (1895-1945).

A good student and ambitious, Si Tiau-hui, like most promising young men of his day, aspired to become a medical doctor- the pinnacle profession of Taiwan's society at the time. Later he began to realize that perhaps this was not the way he wanted to serve society. His mother had expected him become a medical doctor, but he yearned to learn more outside of the limited higher education opportunities available in Taiwan. Fortunately his family had the means to send him to Waseda University (in Tokyo, Japan) where he obtained a degree in political science and economics. This was against his family's expectations; they expected him to study something practical, that would lead to a stable career, perhaps in the field of business since he could not be persuaded to become a medical doctor. Once Si Tiau-hui was at Waseda, the worlds of literature, arts, music, world history, and political theory opened up for him in a way that wouldn't have been possible in Taiwan.

During World War II when books on political thought were being banned in Japan, Si Tiau-hui learned of students who "went underground", forming secret reading societies where they read, shared and discussed these forbidden works. His studies at Waseda and involvement in these secret reading societies formed the base for Si Tiau-hui's understanding and study of Marxism and socialism.

He saw Japan as a rampant imperialist force that needed to be reigned in. Communism was an ideal form of socialism which led him to go to China in the pursuit of understanding. With high ideals he set off for China upon graduating from Waseda in 1942- to work with the Chinese Communists in the resistance against Japanese imperialism.

Friday, April 13, 2007

What is my role as Su Beng's biographer?

I was not always "Su Beng's biographer", well at least it didn't start off that way. When I started working on this project it was simply about the seeds of an idea for a story, a story about the pursuit of social justice, and a life lived and led by ideals. But that's a story for another day...

In my capacity now as Su Beng's biographer, I've been largely focused on documenting his life as I should, discussing the major events of his life and doing such things like dutifully drawing up his family tree. So it only seemed natural that I accompany him during Ching Ming Jie (清明節, also known as the tomb sweeping festival) on a visit to his family's tomb. Though visiting his ancestral tomb was fascinating- I learned who exactly was kept in his family's tomb and about the rituals and customs performed in paying respects- the most revealing moments came in unexpected things and events in the days that I spent with Su Beng.

The first evening of my two day visit (April 5), Su Beng had gone through many of his personal files and dug up his old notebooks, many of which revealed his intense, near lifelong study of Marxism- an interest which began while he was a student studying political science and economics at Waseda University in Japan. It was at that time that he became influenced by socialist ideology.

We also chatted about Zheng Hong Yi (鄭弘儀) quoting statistics from Taiwan's 400 Years of History, which prompted Su Beng to flip through the book and point out precious pages of data that he and his underground network of people had stealthfully procured from the Kuomingtang.

Su Beng is now working on a 30 page book entitled Why Should Taiwan be Independent? As he spoke about his latest work, other works he'd like to write, and all the things he feels he still has to do, even before writing his own autobiography in Chinese, I felt his sense of urgency in this. I offered to help translate the book into English.

Su Beng drew this image and is now considering using it for the cover of his next book entitled, Why Should Taiwan be Independent?

Sunday, April 8, 2007

A weekend of remembrance (April 5-7, 2007)

I just got back from spending an extended weekend Taipei. Since I had a few extra days off- Thursday through Sunday- for the annual Tomb Sweeping festival, or Qing Ming Jie* (清明節) here in Taiwan, I thought it'd be a good opportunity to spend some time with Su Beng. The plan was spend a few days with Su Beng at his residence and to accompany him on a visit to his ancestor's tomb/grave site.

Well it turned out to be a very full weekend of activities... which I'll report on soon.

Needless to say, I ended up shooting about 10 hours of video footage!


* During Qing Ming Jie people visit the grave sites of their ancestors to pay their respects, to clean the grave site, and make offerings. To learn more about Qing Ming Jie, click on this link:
This site provides a detailed description and explanations of Qing Ming Jie and its customs. It also states that, "Qing Ming Jie (...) is a traditional festival and a national holiday (as it coincides with the date of death of the famed President Chiang Kai-shek) and is usually celebrated on April 5." This seems to imply that Qing Ming Jie is a national holiday because it often coincides with the death of Chiang Kai-shek; that is not the case.

Check out this website for more information about how and why Qing Ming Jie was designated a national holiday:

The date for Qing Ming Jie is determined by the solar calendar, not by the date of Chiang Kai-shek's death. It falls on the fifteenth day of the spring equinox and is one of the few Chinese holidays that follows the pattern of the sun. As a result, Tomb Sweeping Day usually falls around April 3 or 5 on the Gregorian calendar, or the modern-day solar calendar.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Let the statistics stand

Today, on a popular nightly political talk show here in Taiwan, 大話新聞, the host, 鄭弘儀 (Zheng Hong Yi), discussed how the Kuomintang's civil servant examination system and procedures discriminated against the Taiwanese. During the Kuomintang rule in Taiwan, qualified applicants for civil servant positions were calculated according to a quota system. This quota system was based on ratios of persons from each of the 35 + 1 provinces of China (which are detailed here on Wikipedia)- with Taiwan being the + 1 province. The 36 provinces of China, or more precisely the Republic of China, are shown in this map from Wikipedia:

If one compares the number of Chinese (that came over to Taiwan with the KMT forces) to the Taiwanese already living on Taiwan, it isn't difficult to see how this quota system favored the Chinese over the Taiwanese. The Taiwanese were highly discriminated against in the selection process for civil servant positions. Most certainly the KMT's quota system guaranteed civil servant positions to the Chinese who came over with the KMT forces.

Statistics documenting the number of Taiwanese vs. Chinese that were considered for civil servant positions (during Kuomintang rule) were quoted directly from Su Beng's Taiwan's 400 Years of History. The statistics and data tell us that the systematic discrimination against the Taiwanese that began when the Chinese Nationalists arrived, continued until 1991.

鄭弘儀 (Zheng Hong Yi) also quoted (from Taiwan's 400 Years of History) the skyrocketing inflation index figures from 1945- after the KMT had arrived and administered Taiwan. The high inflation rate has been said to be one of the factors that contributed to the 228 Incident* which happened on February 28, 1947.

Certainly, this shows that Taiwan's 400 Years of History is truly one of the most veritable and complete encyclopedias of data on Taiwan's colonial era.

What's more interesting to me are the stories behind how Su Beng obtained this classified information while Taiwan was still under the KMT's martial law.

*To learn more about the 228 Incident, please click on these two links: 1) 60th commemoration of 228, 2) more complete details about the 228 Incident.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Ideology of Democracy

Today I received this in the mail from Su Beng. It's his latest book, the title of which I'll translate as The Ideology of Democracy (民主主義).

For the past half year or so I have had less access to him because he was hard at work trying to finish this book.

In the forward of this book, The Ideology of Democracy (民主主義), Su Beng writes that he started writing his memoirs because he felt that many have misunderstood and misjudged him, but while in the midst of this, he realized that he couldn't complete his memoirs yet because he needed to write this book about democracy first.

Su Beng has published another book and here I am still working on writing the English version of his biography. Onwards I tread- doing the best that I can, alas, writing this biography and documenting Su Beng's life is not actually my full-time job, nor is it my only job.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Grand plans

My first interview with Su Beng wouldn't be until August of 2004. In the beginning I had a very simple motivation- curiosity, but the more I thought about it, the more I became thoroughly convinced that there was a story worth telling here. That summer I went back to the States for my annual visit and consulted some trusted friends about my ideas and motivations for writing this story. Fortunately, one friend in particular had the foresight to advise me to video record all of my conversations with Su Beng. I had only planned to audio record our meetings for later reference- when I'd begin writing. What did I know about camcorders, video recording, camera angles or lighting?

From the beginning I had a lot of grand plans for this story, but I had no idea how it would mushroom.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

What's in a name?

If you haven't already noticed, this image, which is used in this blog's profile, consists of the stylized Chinese characters: 史明 in the shape of the main island of Taiwan.

史明 is the pen name that Su Beng used for the first version of Taiwan's 400 Year History, which was written in Japanese and published in 1962. A larger, more complete Chinese version was first published in 1980 and an English abridged version was published in 1986.

In choosing his pen name, Su Beng wanted to express his motivation for writing Taiwan’s 400 Year History. Su Beng believes that once the Taiwanese people understand their unique history, they will be able to know where they have come from, who they are, and what they want for themselves and their nation. The two characters which make up his name are 史 (Hoklo Taiwanese language: sú, Pinyin: shĭ), which means history and 明 (Hoklo Taiwanese language: bêng, Pinyin: míng), which means clear. Taken together, these two characters can interpreted to mean, "history clearly", "clear history" or "to know history clearly."

史明 is roughly pronounced as "Su Bing" in Hoklo Taiwanese, which is Su Beng's native language. For this reason, I have chosen to use the Hoklo Taiwanese romanization: Su Beng, which has been used in many English translations of Su Beng's writings, rather than the Mandarin Chinese pinyin: Shi Ming.

Monday, February 26, 2007

First encounter

The first time I met Su Beng in person was on February 29, 2004. Su Beng had been invited to come down to Kaohsiung from Taipei to speak about the significance of the 2-28 massacre and Taiwan's unique culture and identity.

That evening I went the auditorium of the 國軍英雄館 (Heroic Soldier's Hall building) on 五福路 (Wu Fu Road) and waited. When Su Beng walked in assisted by a small entourage of people, I turned around and saw an old, frail-looking man in the twilight of his life grasping a wooden cane as he was helped up onto the stage. Looks can be deceiving, for he proceeded to speak practically nonstop for what turned out to be more than an hour!

As he spoke about Taiwan, he spoke in great detail, rattling off dates and statistics. Not only was this man's memory quite intact, but he was a veritable fountain of knowledge. He certainly didn't disappoint. He is the author of Taiwan's 400 Years of History after all. The Chinese version of Taiwan's 400 Years of History (which was first published in 1980) has been called an encyclopedia of Taiwan's history.

As I looked around the auditorium, I realized it was only about a quarter full. Most of the audience were late middle-aged or older. These were people who had not only heard of Su Beng before, but were staunch supporters of what he stands for, and had most likely read the massive volume of Taiwan's 400 Years Of History. What a shame I thought- that all of this knowledge and expertise wasn't being transmitted to the bright, young minds of Taiwan, in whose hands are the future of the country.

The audience listened intently and to me it seemed that they (those aged 50 and above) are one remaining segment of Taiwan's population who actually knew who Su Beng was and the value of his words. What the audience lacked in numbers seemed to be compensated by the attentiveness and enthusiasm with which they listened to and interacted with Su Beng. I felt as though I'd uncovered a long, lost, forgotten treasure trove of knowledge.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Fact or fiction?

When I first "discovered" Su Beng I heard many tall tales about him.

I heard that he'd spent many years in China involved with the Chinese Communists- perhaps he'd even participated in the Long March. He'd had a vasectomy before the age of thirty, presumably because when he'd decided to commit himself to the life of a revolutionary, he realized that he couldn't bring any children into the world because his revolutionary activities would always come first.

Some have viewed him as violent and radical. In the 1950's he established the Taiwan Army Corps and was later wanted for plotting to assassinate Chiang Kai-shek. He was also the first to document and write a book about Taiwan's History. After the Chinese version of Taiwan's 400 Years of History was published in 1980, Su Beng traveled around the world promoting Taiwan independence movements amongst overseas Taiwanese. When he made contact with some relatives in Canada, his relatives, unsure of his motivations, didn't even know whether they should receive him or not. Having spent many years in China, most assumed that he was a Red Communist. In the end, the relatives reluctantly received Su Beng and ended up buying several copies of Taiwan's 400 Years of History for the sum of US$100 each.

To many, Su Beng may have seemed like a loose cannon. He is definitely a man who walks to a different drum. When I heard these tales, I knew that I just had to know more.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Going public

I have spent much of the past (nearly) three years of my life in Taiwan working on the biography of one of Taiwan's oldest living independence activists, Su Beng. And I think it's about time that I share some of what I've been working on and collected. It's time for it to finally see the "light of day."