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.