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."