Monday, July 21, 2008

How it all got started (Part II)

….continued from here

So after reading the Taipei Times article, I wondered about the author. As I sat in the living room of my parent’s Kaohsiung apartment, I turned to my Mom, who always seems to be in the know about people in Taiwan and Taiwan’s current events, and asked if she knew who he was. It turns out she did.

She told me that Su Beng had spent several years in China working with the Chinese Communists and had participated in the Long March*, that he voluntarily elected to have a vasectomy before the age of thirty in order to remain committed to the life of a revolutionary, and that he wrote the mammoth book, Taiwan's 400 Years of History.

I was intrigued.

There was something about Su Beng's life story that gripped me- there was an intrepidity, tenacity and idealism. For days and weeks, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I knew that I had to meet him. I had a feeling that this could be big; it could be epic; that there was a story here to tell and that this was the story I was meant to write about.

Now the exact details and sequence of events that followed are already kind of hazy in my memory.

One day I just asked my Mom if there was some way that she could put me in touch with Su Beng. I'm still not sure what made me think that I could do this, that I could just ring up Su Beng and expect him to agree to pour out all the details of his life.

At some point in all of this, my Mom must have mentioned that there was a relative who knew Su Beng and had kept in touch with him.

In the 80s Su Beng had come to Ottawa, and someone in the Taiwanese Canadian community had contacted my maternal grandfather asking if he knew this person (Su Beng) from Shih Lin. This was not long after Su Beng had written the Chinese language version of Taiwan's 400 Years of History. Though the encyclopedic volume was selling for around one hundred Canadian dollars (which quite a pretty penny in those days), my grandfather encouraged each his five grown children to purchase a copy of Su Beng's Chinese language version of "Taiwan's 400 Years of History" for their families.

All at once I had this unshakeable feeling that I HAD to pursue this story. Looking back on this, I had a certain naivety about what I was about to take on. On the other hand, I had also let my imagination run wild with ideas, which had only convinced me more that I had to do this.

It is amazing how fast things become a "fiction" if memory doesn’t serve you. This further reinforces in me why it is so important to document history in a timely, accurate fashion.

*It turns out that Su Beng did not participate in the Long March, as I’ve explained here:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Diaoyutai: secret passage to Taiwan

The Diaoyutai islands were not always such a hotbed of controversy, in fact, they were a sort of loophole.

After the Kuomintang authorities discovered Su Beng's involvement in a plan to assassinate Chiang Kai-shek, he fled from Taiwan to Japan. Taiwan was under strict martial law, so in order to get out of the country Su Beng stowed away, for several days, in a boat exporting bananas to Japan.

During the 40 years (from 1952-1993) that Su Beng was exiled in Japan, he managed to illegally enter Taiwan a few times via the Diaoyutai islands. How did he do it? With a bit of planning and the help of his underground "Taiwanese gangster" connections, he first traveled to Okinawa; making his way to the unclaimed Diaoyutai islands; there he got on a Taiwanese fishing boat going back to Taiwan. His earliest "trip" back to Taiwan was in 1967 and the last one, was in 1993.

Clearly, 40 years of exile in Japan didn't put a dent in his work for Taiwan's independence. In fact it was quite the contrary.

In those 40 years he was among the first to bring the authentic taste of Northern Chinese style fried noodles and dumplings to Japan. It was a huge success; in a just few years he went from running a humble food stall to purchasing a building which served as a noodle shop, personal residence and underground revolutionary training center. Activists from Taiwan were invited stay at the noodle shop where they were secretly trained by Su Beng. Su Beng had reestablished contact with underground activists in Taiwan, many of whom were probably associated with the Taiwan Independence Armed Corps. He had formed this group in 1950 after returning to Taiwan from China. The group stockpiled weapons and kept surveillance over Chiang Kai-shek; their ultimate goal was to assassinate Chiang Kai-shek. The noodle shop's earnings were funneled back into Taiwan to support the underground Taiwan independence movement.

Of course one of his greatest accomplishments during those 40 years of exile was the research and writing of Taiwan's 400 Years of History. Much of the research for the Japanese language version (which came first) was readily available in Japanese public libraries. But in order to get accurate facts, statistics and data for the Chinese language version, bribes were paid and documents were smuggled out of Taiwan to Japan. Even before Su Beng was able to publish the book, Kuomintang authorities tried to stop Su Beng by trying to buy the publishing rights from publishers of the book. Today Taiwan's 400 Years of History is still considered to be the one of most complete and accurate records of Taiwan's history and facts of its time.