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.