Taiwan is famous for its advanced high-technology, but it has received even more fame for the Sunflower movement against President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) for the secretive operation to negotiate the cross-strait service trade agreement. Protesters occupied the legislative chamber for 585 hours, or 24 days. The highlight was a huge rally with 300,000 to 500,000 participants.
As founder of the nation’s feminist movement and one of the leaders of the democratic movement, I cannot help but reflect on the past.
In 1951, the San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed by 51 countries. Under Article 2 of the treaty, Japan relinquished Formosa. In 1945, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Command in the Pacific authorized Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) to accept Taiwan from the Japanese.
With the arrival of Chiang’s troops, there began a period of pillage, rape, murder and economic depression in Taiwan. At dawn on March 9 1947, a week of naked terror began, when 13,000 troops sent by Chiang arrived in Taiwan following the 228 Incident. In all, an estimated 10,000 people were killed and 10,000 were arrested and executed. A whole generation of Taiwanese leadership was virtually wiped out.
Two years later, Chiang was expelled by Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and fled to Taiwan with 2 million followers. Prior to his arrival, he declared a regime of martial law, on May 19, 1949. The military police, special agents and secret informers were used to monitor meetings, tap telephones, inspect mail and carry out surveillance. Provocateurs were also recruited to break up meetings or create disturbances.
As gloomy as the political climate was on Taiwan, intellectuals attempted to fight the repression and censorship of thought. While radio, newspapers and TV were entirely controlled by the government, the opposition published magazines and ran for public office as vehicles for their advocacy of democracy.
The Free China in 1960 and the Taiwan Political Review in 1975 were the two prominent examples, both ending up with the same fate — the magazines were banned; their publishers and editors imprisoned.
Elections in Taiwan have never been clean, as bribery and fraud were general practices of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidates. On November 19, 1978, a massive protest against the party took place in my hometown, after election officials were caught ballot-stuffing. It was the first time that the unfairness in elections was challenged by the people’s power.
Most astonishingly, no one would have dreamed that 20 years after the military trial following the Kaohsiung Incident on Dec. 10, 1979, a defense lawyer, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), and a defendant, me, would be elected in March 2000 as the president and vice president at the crowning moment of Taiwan’s struggle for democracy.
The half-century-long one-party autocracy was thus peacefully overthrown … in the election that led to the first transfer of power at the highest level of government in 55 years. Autocracy had ended.
It was tough to win the election, but much tougher to take over power to govern the nation, especially when the old regime still controlled the majority in the legislature and branches of government. Indeed, Chen went through a really hard time during his eight years as president. It can be imagined that I, as the first woman elected to be vice president from an opposition party, endured many challenges and difficulties.
My position as the first female vice president certainly was a culture shock for society. Whenever I said something political or sensitive, the media and public felt uncomfortable and tried to silence me, to render me powerless.
This situation made the first two years of my vice presidency incredibly miserable. China blasted me as a “lunatic” and “the scum of the nation” for my assertion that Taiwan was an independent state.
On March 19, 2004, one day before the presidential election, at about 1:45pm, two bullets were fired. One hit my right-knee joint and one hit Chen’s stomach. Incredibly lucky, both of us survived. However, our fortune led to the pervasive suspicion that the incident had been faked and was an attempt to earn sympathy and support for Chen.
The 2004 presidential campaign started with a good bid in favor of our opponents up until a month before voting day. We launched a nationwide hand-in-hand campaign, which resulted in a breakthrough for our popularity.
The most regretful and difficult time of my vice presidency to reflect upon was not the bullet incident, but rather the involvement of corruption by the then-first family and president.
Corruption is something that politicians always use to attack rivals. Ironically, it is also something that politicians can hardly resist in power.
During my eight years as vice president, I traveled to our allies in Latin America and Africa and made acquaintances with the heads and deputy heads of those countries.
On many occasions, I attended their presidential inaugurations and heard newly elected presidents swear to fight against corruption once they took office.
To my regret, when they stepped down from their presidencies, only a few of them have been able to maintain their reputation as clean and honorable.
I am aware of all these problems happening among our allies. Never had I thought of the possibility that Chen and his wife would have also been involved in corruption and money laundering.
Of course, Chen refused to admit to the accusations, claiming the charges were part of a political purge. The Constitution provides a judicial exemption for the president from criminal procedures until his term of office ends. Shortly after Chen finished his second term, he was indicted and has been kept in custody ever since. Throughout a series of unfair and even illegitimate judicial procedures, Chen was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Taipei District Court, which was reduced to 20 years’ imprisonment by the Supreme Court.
He was jailed in a small cell without a bed to sleep on and his health has deteriorated. It is reported that his brain has degenerated much faster than that of an ordinary person, and his urinary tract disease is the result of encephalopathy.
While I had made the transition from prison to power, he went from power to prison. What an irony, what a tragedy for democracy!
In 1972, a Taiwanese doctoral student studying in San Diego, California, murdered his wife, after he discovered her infidelity and she asked him for a divorce. He dumped her body in the trunk of his car, drove to the airport, and fled back to Taiwan. At the murder trial, the public lionized the husband as a hero, claiming he was the victim of a promiscuous wife, while treating the victim as the villain.
Unable to restrain myself, I wrote a furious commentary. Many people supported me and I was invited to speak and to write a column for the media to advance Taiwan’s fledgling feminist movement.
For the next few years, I was very active promoting equal rights for women, founding a printing press to publish feminist books, establishing a coffee shop where people could discuss women’s empowerment and creating a hotline to provide counseling services to battered women.
Gradually, the secret security apparatus came to see my movement as a threat to social stability and began to infiltrate my organizations to undermine my work.
The manager of the House of Pioneers, a coffee shop serving as a women’s activity center, turned out to be a secret agent sent by the Investigation Bureau.
An editor of the Pioneer Publishing House that published feminist books was required to report on my daily life. A couple of my most enthusiastic supporters were later proven to have special missions.
In addition, nearly all the books published were banned and confiscated shortly after they came out, driving me into bankruptcy.
At the time I initiated the feminist movement, a considerable percentage of women in Taiwan did not go to school, and very few went out of their homes to work.
Today, the number of women gaining college degrees or higher honors has increased more than tenfold, and women now occupy 44 percent of technical positions and one-third of business ownership.
Business and professional women now hold top positions across a spectrum of professions, including the field of high technology. Already women are presidents, general managers and CEOs of many well-known companies.
During the eight years that I served as vice president, women’s roles and positions in political and government offices experienced an unprecedented surge.
Thirty-five women were appointed to hold ministerial or vice ministerial positions, two served as vice premiers — one of them, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), was a presidential candidate in 2012.
In the 1970s, only 7 percent of legislators were women, now the figure is 33 percent. In municipal councils, women capture about 35 percent of seats.
As more women enter the legislature, they push through legislation to protect and enhance women’s rights, including the Gender Equality in Employment Act (性別工作平等法), Gender Equality Education Act (性別平等教育法) , as well as the Sexual Assault Prevention Act (性侵害防治法), the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (家庭暴力防治法) and the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act (性騷擾防治法).
Today, the impressive achievements of Taiwanese women are widely acclaimed in the international community. When measured by the UN Development Program’s indicators to compare gender development — access to education and positions of gender empowerment in the job market, as well as elections to parliament — Taiwan’s women rank fourth in the world and first in Asia.
Taiwan’s achievements in terms of empowering women and improving women’s lives are attributed to the fact that, women’s liberation went hand-in-hand with the political liberation from autocracy to democracy.
Throughout my career, I have promoted new feminism on the one hand and democracy on the other hand. I firmly believe that advocacy alone is not enough because power is needed to make a difference, and that political will, financial resources and actions are indispensable to accomplishing desirable objectives.
To reflect the development of human rights and democratization in Taiwan, I am proud to say that first it has been largely non-violent and bloodless, and second, it has achieved women’s emancipation and participation.
Throughout the five decades of struggle, despite the heavy sacrifice that the freedom fighters and their families have made, violence was never applied and it was almost bloodless.
Because of the nonviolent nature of the struggle, no physical damage was suffered by the public, nor destruction to society.
I started the feminist movement seven years before I joined the opposition movement.
Women’s participation, sacrifice and contribution were key factors contributing to the success of Taiwan’s democratization.
Because of this, women share the fruit of democracy equally with men and they are now as active and vigorous as men, politically, economically and socially.
The opposition fought against the authoritarian regime, and the Democratic Progressive Party administration consolidated democracy and human rights and illuminated the issues of Taiwan’s identity.
In 2008, the KMT took back power. Taiwan’s democracy is thus grounded with the peaceful switching over of political parties on two occasions.
Annette Lu was vice president of Taiwan between 2000 and 2008.
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