Lately, I feel like I've been doing a lot more talking and explaining about Su Beng- more than ever before. I suppose that I've been getting out there more lately- networking and socializing, trying to keep a balance in life. I've also started looking for a job since I had only saved up enough money to take a year off for this project. I've also started talking to people who work in the publishing industry to get some general advice and an idea of how the publishing industry works. No major deals are in the works just yet. I'm just trying to educate myself and to think ahead about what needs to be done, how to get it done, trying to understand the role of one's agent and editor, and how to protect my interests. Also in the works is the process of understanding how to write grants in order to fund raise money for future projects.
What's interesting is how in the midst of some these recent conversations (some of them not so "high powered")- new ideas and angles have come to me.
Usually I'm asked, "How did you get started on this project? How did you hear about Su Beng?" So my standard answer to these questions goes something like this: When I was in Taiwan I read this article written by Su Beng which had been translated into English. I was curious about him after having read this article, so I asked my Mom if she knew who this person was and if he was a well-known person in Taiwan. She told me that he had spent 7 years in China working for the Chinese communists- at which time he had elected to get a vasectomy before the age of 30 in order to remain committed to the cause of being a revolutionary, and had written Taiwan's 400 Years of History. And something about his story captivated me. I wrote about that in detail here.
On a recent road trip, with a few hours of driving ahead of us, my friend, who was not very familiar with my work on documenting Su Beng's life asked me quite simply and directly, "Why? Why or how did you decide to write about the person who's biography you're working on now? Why him and not someone else?"
I thought about it and gave him an answer very different answer from my "standard" answer. The question that he had put to me seemed more like a challenge; a challenge to justify why I had decided to work on documenting this man's life. Unlike most people who ask me about Su Beng- I feel they are looking for a factual answer or an account of how this project evolved for me.
I think that the way I answered my friend's questions reveal what it is about Su Beng that sets him apart as a man of substance, the ideal person through which to tell the story of Taiwan. So I thought I'd paraphrase my thoughts and answers to my friend's questions (with some explanations added for clarification) here:
To me Su Beng is significant because he is one of the earliest people to have fought for the cause of Taiwan independence. He is someone who has not veered from his ideals or become corrupt by power over the years. There have been some political activists, who have entered mainstream politics and have somehow become corrupt by power or personal interest. Some have changed their stances along the way. And some would say that this has happened to the first directly elected president of Taiwan Lee Teng-hui and to some extent, also to the man who ran against Lee Teng Hui as the Democratic Progressive Party's presidential candidate, Peng Ming-Min (who wrote the "Declaration of Formosans", calling for a new democratic constitution and Formosan independence in 1964). I am not implying any charges of corruption on these two men but one cannot help but compare each of these three men's contributions to, stances on and involvement in the Taiwan independence movement.
Su Beng has always been very Marxist and socialist in his approach. He has always been very idealistic and yes perhaps he's been able to maintain this because he made certain choices very early on, that he wanted to work outside of the system, that he didn't want to run for an elected office, that he didn't want to work within the Republic of China framework and that he wanted to reform the system.
My friend also asked me, "What did he do/what has he done for Taiwan? What is he doing now?"
Well he was one of the first native Taiwanese to write about Taiwan's history from a Taiwan-centric point of view. Before that, Taiwan was always written about as, or considered to be a part of China or Chinese history. His book "Taiwan's 400 Years of History" influenced a generation of intellectuals who began to see and realize that Taiwan had its own unique history and culture, it made them think about what Taiwan was and what it meant to be Taiwanese and have a Taiwanese identity.
He has spoken publicly and given lectures educating people about Taiwan and its unique history and past. As a Marxist/socialist, he has always believed in grassroots movements, so it is not surprising that much of his following are taxi drivers.
When Su Beng returned to Taiwan in 1993 he established the Taiwan Independence Action Motorcade, which I wrote about here:
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.
Later on, my friend and I also got into a discussion of Taiwan's international status. I explained how the Republic of China (ROC) was one of the founding UN members, but that after the Chinese Communist Party took over control of China as the People's Republic of China (PRC), the US and UN switched diplomatic recognition from the ROC to PRC in 1971. I explained that Taiwan was part of the Chinese empire in the Qing dynasty (1683 to 1895) , but that it was regarded as some backwater island in the middle of no where full of barbarians... how the Dutch (1624-1662) and Portuguese had been in Taiwan in the 1600s... that Koxinga a Chinese pirate had ruled the island after the Dutch... then in the first Sino Japanese war, Taiwan was given up to Japan in 1895 and occupied by Japan for 50 years until Japan surrendered to the allied forces at the end of World War II. In the process Japan gave up to claim to Taiwan, but it was never clearly stated in whose custody Taiwan would be left.
When the Nationalist Chinese party aka Kuomintang party (KMT) fled to Taiwan in the late 1940s, General Douglas MacArthur did not stop them. The KMT was basically the ROC government in exile that had fled to Taiwan. Their intention was to be in Taiwan temporarily as they plotted to take back the motherland, i.e. China. During their authoritarian rule over Taiwan, they systematically brainwashed and reeducated the Taiwanese to speak Mandarin and believe that they were Chinese.
My friend and I also talked about the Taiwan Relations Act, Taiwan's importance as an ally and a part of the US' strategic line of defense in the Pacific rim and, I explained how Taiwan does not have any official embassies or consulates in other countries, nor do other countries have embassies or consulates in Taiwan. But Taiwan does however have "cultural/economic" offices in the US and Canada which function like an embassy would, and in turn the US has something called the AIT aka American Institute In Taiwan, there is a British Trade and Cultural Office and a Canadian Trade Office in Taipei- all of which provide embassy-like services in Taiwan.
Such is the complicated, convoluted status of Taiwan.
If you'd like to know more about Taiwan's political situation, Michael Richardson of the Boston Progressive Examiner has recently written extensively about Taiwan's "political purgatory" in a 5 part article here: http://www.examiner.com/x-1969-Boston-Progressive-Examiner~y2009m4d6-Roger-CS-Lin-vs-United-States-A-lawsuit-to-change-the-course-of-Taiwans-history-1-of-5