An Essay about Su Beng for the Taipei City Tsai Jui-Yueh Dance Foundation (September 22, 2012)

From September 21-23 Su Beng was honored by the Taipei City Tsai Jui-Yueh Dance Foundation and I was invited to write an essay about him, which was shared on September 22. 

Here's the essay I wrote in English:  

Su Beng, A Renaissance Man

By Felicia Lin, Su Beng’s Biographer

Most know Su Beng as an outspoken activist, advocate of independence for Taiwan, and historian. Now in his nineties, he maintains a very active schedule frequently speaking to the youth of Taiwan, and appearing at political rallies and demonstrations. Since 1994, his Taiwan Independence Action motorcade has been making weekly rounds in Taipei and delivering messages about self-determination. Now also in Tai Chung and Kaohsiung, he and the motorcade are an ever-present fixture at major rallies in Taiwan.

For some, Su Beng is a controversial figure. A self-professed Marxist revolutionary, this label has earned him a great deal of misunderstanding. During the seven years that he worked undercover with the Chinese Communists, he grew increasingly disillusioned and refused to join the Chinese Communist party. Eventually he escaped from the party and out of China back to Taiwan in 1949. By 1951 he had begun plotting to assassinate Chiang Kai-Shek. Consequently he was forced to flee to Japan in 1952 where he was eventually given political asylum. There he turned his food stall into a thriving noodle shop selling Chinese fried noodles and dumplings in the 1960s. In 1962 and 1980 respectively, Su published the Japanese language and Chinese language versions of Taiwan’s  400 Years of History. Written while Taiwan was still under martial law, much of the data cited in the book was actually smuggled out of the Kuomintang’s secret files and out of Taiwan into Japan through Su Beng’s underground network. This seminal work will certainly be one of his most lasting contributions. But there’s even more to this man. He’s more than just a public figure, a man of conviction, opinions and vision.

What many do not know about Su Beng is that he is a man with a deep appreciation of music, art, literature and fine food. In fact, he’s quite a classical music fanatic. In one of our many interviews for his English memoir, he told me that as a student at Tokyo’s Waseda University, he was so obsessed with classical music and that he had a collection of 8, 000 records, which included Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Debussy and Ravel. As you can imagine, to get to a collection of that size, he went to considerable lengths– spending his entire monthly allowance, and even pawning personal items.  It seemed like nothing else mattered. On one occasion, he was supposed to visit Hokkaido with one of his classmates, but Beethoven’s Fifth had just been released, and Su Beng just had to have the record. After a trip to the record store, he had spent most of the 20-30 Japanese yen that his grandmother had sent him for the trip to Hokkaido. The story doesn’t end there. Su Beng kept up the ruse by writing out a postcard, and asking his classmate to mail it to his grandmother in Taipei from Hokkaido. That’s how obsessed he was with classical music.

Su Beng has had a lifelong love of music. At an early age he was exposed to classical music by his uncle, who was a pianist and countertenor. Incidentally, this uncle was also his adopted father. Since Su Beng’s mother was an only child, Su Beng’s maternal grandmother adopted a boy to carry on her husband’s family name, which was of course also Su Beng’s mother’s maiden name. When Su Beng was born, he initially took his father’s surname of Lin. Later, when he was adopted by this uncle, his surname was changed to his mother’s maiden name Shih. Su Beng remembers his uncle fondly for teaching him how to sing many Japanese children’s songs, which brought him great joy in his childhood.  And when his uncle went off to Tokyo to study music, he would often bring Su Beng special toys from Japan, unlike any that could be found in Taiwan.  This made him the envy of the other children in the neighborhood.  Su Beng has said that even now, when he listens to classical music, it reminds him of his uncle.  As a young boy he frequently accompanied his mother to Peking opera performances in Taipei and developed an appreciation of it. So naturally, when he was in Beijing and Shanghai in the 1940s he took advantage of the opportunity to watch Peking opera.

Music has been an important part of Su Beng’s life.  During the years in which he built an underground network of Taiwan independence activists, he composed a song called “Taiwan Nationalism” to inspire and motivate his underground operatives. This song has indeed become Su Beng’s “theme song.” His Taiwan Action Motorcade propaganda trucks also feature live percussion instruments. And even nowadays, when Su Beng writes, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning, he likes to listen to music. He once told me that he loves to listen to the songs of Joan Baez while he writes.

Su Beng’s love of art and culture also extends to literature. As a student at Waseda University, new worlds opened up to him when he read the works of Tolstoy, Emile Zola, Mountpassant, and Victor Hugo. Rainer Maria Rilke is among his favorite poets.

And Su Beng also draws; he drew the cartoons in the Cartoon Version of Taiwan’s 400 Year History book. And finally he is a true connoisseur of fine food. The first time I visited him in his home in Shin Zhang, he had prepared a lunch of cold Japanese style noodles. Whenever I eat with him, I know that I will eat well. Su Beng grew up in an era in which families commonly made their own soy sauce, and grew and pickled their own vegetables. So as young boy, Su Beng developed a taste for fine food. This skill also helped him in recreating recipes for the Northern Chinese style fried noodles and dumplings he sold from his food stall in Tokyo. That business was so successful in the 1960s, that in a few years time Su Beng was able to expand it into a noodle shop.

With all of these talents, I’d say that Su Beng truly is a renaissance man. The Taipei City Tsai Jui-Yueh Dance Foundation couldn’t have chosen a better person to honor. I join you in recognizing and thanking Su Beng for his invaluable contributions to Taiwan.


Here is a Chinese language translation of my essay: 


眾所周知史明是一位毫不忌諱直言追求台灣獨立的倡導者和台灣歷史專家. 現今以他九十多高齡, 他還持續著他活耀的行程, 經常對台灣的年青一代演講及座談. 同時也出現在各種不同的政治造勢活動及遊行行列中. 自從1994他成立台灣獨立行動宣傳車隊以來, 每周車隊都風雨無阻地在台北大街小巷傳遞台灣必須獨立自決公投的訊息. 目前同時在台中, 高雄以及其他主要政治集會中都經常有他的宣傳車隊出現.對某些人而言史明是一位爭議性人物. 他自稱馬克斯社會主義的革命家, 這個標榜對他造成很大的誤解. 在中共作了七年的地下工作期間, 他對中共的幻想逐漸破滅, 拒絕加入共產黨. 到了1949年決心逃離中國返回台灣. 1951年他開始策化暗殺蔣介石的計畫. 結果計畫失敗,1952年被迫潛逃日本, 最後終於獲得政治庇護. 在那裡 (東京 )擺麵攤渡日,到了1960年前後才改成賣炒麵,水餃的小吃店. 分別在1962及1982年出版‘台灣人四百年史’日語版及中文版. 當他寫台灣史時正逢台灣處於戒嚴令期間,書中資料先取自於國民黨的秘密檔案, 然後再透過史明安排的地下網路潛送日本. 這艱辛的行動是台灣地下工作的啟蒙, 確實是最有效及永續性的方法之一. 他不僅是公眾人物, 也是一位信念堅定, 意見清楚及有遠見的人.

史明有一個為人不知的文化面相, 他對音樂, 藝術,文學及美食品賞有深度的涵養. 他是十足的古典音樂迷. 我 (台美人第二代 )是他英語回憶錄的作者, 某次的訪談中得知他在東京早稻田大學就讀時, 他十分著迷古曲音樂, 收集將近8000張的唱片, 其中包括巴哈, 韓德爾, 莫札特, 貝多芬, 蕭邦, 舒伯特, 德布希, 拉維兒的作品. 任何人都可想像出這樣完整的收集一定要花費非常多的金錢. 他就是花費所有的零用錢甚至典當他私人用品換取的代價. 對他而言似乎其他的事都比不上古曲音樂重要. 有一次,他和同學相約將一起去北海道旅行, 正巧貝多芬第五交響曲的唱片上市, 他決心非要買那張唱片不可, 不暇思索毅然地拿了阿嬤寄給他的北海道旅費約二,三十日元買下那張唱片. 其中還有一段小插曲, 他竟然寫好明信片, 托他的同學從北海道替他寄給在台北的阿嬤. 這就是他著迷古典音樂的最好証明.

史明一生喜愛音樂, 小時候就受到鋼琴家及聲樂家的舅舅引導接受古典音樂的薰陶. 主要是舅舅就是他的養父. 原來史明的母親是獨生女, 史明的阿嬤領養了一個男童以延續夫家 ‘施’ 姓 的香火. ‘施’ 也就是史明母親的本姓, 當他出生時從父姓 ‘林’.後來被舅舅領養改從母姓 ‘施’. 史明記憶中舅舅喜愛教他唱很多的日本童謠, 這也帶給他喜樂的童年. 當舅舅到東京進修音樂, 他常帶回特別与眾不同的玩具給他. 這種在台灣無法見到的玩具, 讓其他同年玩伴羨煞不已. 既使現在每當聽古典音樂時也往往引起對舅舅的思念. 到了少年時代, 他經常陪伴母親到台北欣賞京戲, 培養他對京戲的嚐好. 1940年代, 他在北京及上海時, 也藉機多觀賞京戲.

音樂是他生活中重要的一部份. 當他成立台灣獨立活動地下工作網時, 他自作 ‘台灣國’ 一曲以提高成員士氣. 後來,此曲正式成為台灣獨立宣傳車隊主題曲, 當車隊進行時又加上現場伴奏配樂. 清晨人靜他書寫文章總是喜歡聽著音樂為伴. 某次他告訴我, 他最愛在寫文章時聽瓊拜茲的曲子.

史明對藝術和文化的熱愛也延伸到文學的領域, 當他在早稻田大學學生時代, 新世界打開了他的視野, 促使他閱讀經典文學的機會, 如托爾斯泰,左拉,莫泊桑和雨果的名著, 里爾克是他最愛的詩人.

史明也善於繪畫, 多年前他曾親手繪製 ‘漫畫台灣人四百年史’.

他是真正的美食行家. 當我第一次到他新莊家訪談時, 他準備了可口的日本涼麵. 不論何時, 我要與他進餐時, 我都確信一定會吃到他的佳餚. 史明童年生長的環境是一般家庭自製醬油, 自己種菜作醬菜的時代. 年幼的他已漸漸地培養他品賞美味的飲食習慣. 這個技巧幫助他創新中國北方麵條和水餃的食譜. 這些美味都在他東京的麵攤販售. 到了1960年因生意興隆,才能在短短幾年內擴張為麵店.

就是因為他有各種不同的長才天份, 我十分肯定史明是一位真正多才多藝文武全才的人. 貴基金會絕無法選擇另一位比他更適當,更值得尊敬的人選. 最後,我與你們大家共同推崇及感謝史明寶貴無私對台灣的貢獻.

作者簡介: Felicia Lin (林佳敏)

翻譯者: 林潘美鈴