Thursday, April 17, 2008

Making progress... and history

On Tuesday, Su Beng and I talked via Skype for the first time! With the help of his assistant Bin Hong (敏紅), he (in Sinjuang) spoke to me (in Kaohsiung). This is a crucial development- to be able to interview him via Skype. It actually worked surprisingly well since I think that Su Beng can actually hear me more clearly through the headset he wears to converse with me via Skype. During our live, in person interviews at his home in Sinjuang, I sometimes need to be reminded to "turn up the volume" since I'm a little too soft spoken.

With every interview I'm more and more excited about the details I'm able to "unearth" about Su Beng's life story. I am really beginning to see how I've earned Su Beng's trust.

Su Beng has been so generous with his time from the outset. When I first approached him about four years ago, I simply asked if I could talk to him about his life experiences as inspiration for a possible novel. He agreed, simply saying, "Yes, this is to further things for Taiwan."

And now it has all grown into a project to document Su Beng's life. I have so many people to thank along the way- for helping to make things happen with this project.

I'm planning to schedule regular Skype interviews with Su Beng as I continue working on his biography while I'm in Kaohsiung and later, after I return to New York in late May.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How it all got started (Part I)

Since deciding to take a year off or so to focus exclusively on working on Su Beng's biography, I often find myself explaining who Su Beng is and how I ended up working on this project. The answer is not really a simple one. So first, let me start with how I first heard of Su Beng. It happened nearly five years ago when I read this article written by Su Beng; it had been translated into English and appeared in the Taipei Times newspaper.


What is the legal basis for human rights?

The UN Declaration of Human Rights is the backbone of many constitutions but still enjoys scant respect under the world's authoritarian regimes

By Su Beng

Friday, Dec 12, 2003, Page 9

The idea of human rights did not exist in ancient societies based on slavery and feudal societies in the Middle Ages, when people were not treated as human beings.

This idea only started to take shape when the feudal system began to collapse, the existence of "humanity" was discovered during the Renaissance, and capitalism began to develop.

Only after the British philosopher of liberalism John Locke and the French philosopher of naturalism Jean-Jacques Rousseau theorized the rights of freedom and equality in the 17th century were human beings deemed entitled to "human rights" as soon as they are born.

After the human rights declaration in the US Declaration of Independence was published in 1776 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was made public in 1789 during the French Revolution, the idea of human rights started to develop extensively across Europe.

Since then, citizens' rights to property, and freedom of speech and publication have been institutionalized and popularized. They were also recorded in the constitutions of democratic nations.

'Real freedom,democracy and equality are still unseen in colonial societies and authoritarian countries because what they advocate is fake.'

By the end of World War II, member states of the UN believed that basic human rights were an important factor in maintaining world peace and international order. Therefore, on Dec. 10, 1948, the UN's General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and designated the day as International Human Rights Day.

The concept and systems of freedom and human rights finally secured a stable basis in the constitutions of various countries.

The preamble of the declaration states:

"Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

"Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.

"Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom..."

In addition to general concepts about freedom of speech, assembly and residence, the declaration's 30 articles also include some important human rights clauses:

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."

"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

"Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person."

"No one shall be held in slavery or servitude."

"No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. "

"All are equal before the law."

But real freedom, democracy and equality are still unseen in colonial societies and authoritarian countries because what they advocate is fake -- freedom, democracy and equality in name only.

Su Beng (史明) is a Taiwan independence activist and founder of the Su Beng Educational Foundation.

Translated by Jackie Lin

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

April 3rd Deadline

It's done! I just finished writing a preliminary draft of the biography which encompasses research from interviews that I've done with Su Beng over the span of three years. What I have now is still far from what I consider publishable since there's still a lot of work and research to be done, but it is quite rewarding to finally have some sort of a product.

I've been holed up for the last three weeks, working to get the draft into a readable format. And it's been quite a marathon to say the least. I've never liked deadlines, but deadlines are a good thing, so I've been told.

A few weeks ago, I was forced to take a long, hard look at how I was going to utilize my time here in the most efficient way in order to get what I need done. So I made a plan to arrange weekly interviews with Su Beng during the month of April- the first of which was April 3rd. At our last meeting in March I gave him a third of what I've written and promised to give him the remainder by April 3rd. I wanted to give him a copy of the draft so that he can give me feedback on it. Having the draft also helps me to figure out what details I need and what periods of his life we still need to discuss in order to round out the biography.

The "ultimate" deadline, i.e. the date I will be leaving Taiwan to return to New York is the end of May. In the meantime I will do what I can to continue my research and to collect other documents needed.

I've compiled loads of questions for Su Beng at our next meeting. And I'm going to talk to him about how we can continue communicating and collaborating on the biography when I'm back in New York. Su Beng's assistant had mentioned using Skype. Yes, Su Beng actually has a Skype ID!