Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), a contender for Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairperson, has been a premier and vice president, but to compare him to democracy pioneer Peng Ming-min (彭明敏) would give him a higher status than he deserves, as well as be disrespectful to Peng. The contrast between the two men’s vision and demeanor perfectly illustrates two types of Taiwanese produced under the KMT’s authoritarian rule: the spineless, opportunistic political hack versus the noble and principled intellectual.
Former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) picked Wu, among others, when he was looking for talented young Taiwanese to serve in government. Several decades later, in order to get elected as KMT chairman, Wu can still be seen shedding tears in Chiang’s memory. This sight is enough to give you goosebumps. Wu is a coward who only knows how to cling to others’ coattails, expecting charity from a regime that is alien to Taiwan. There are plenty more like him, and they have held back the development of Taiwan’s democracy.
Long before Chiang began promoting young Taiwanese, Peng had already made outstanding academic achievements.
Chiang’s father, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), wanted to hold Peng up as a model for others and arranged for him to become the youngest-ever chairman of National Taiwan University’s Department of Political Science. He also appointed him as an “adviser” to the Republic of China’s delegation to the UN in the hope that he would help counteract Taiwanese independence.
Had Peng’s vision been as limited as that of Wu, showing his “gratitude” by playing along with the KMT’s script, he could have climbed far above the likes of Wu, but he chose instead to follow his conscience as an intellectual by jointly authoring the Declaration of Formosan Self-Salvation, a manifesto announcing the reality that Taiwan and China are two separate nations and calling for Taiwan to apply for UN membership under its own name.
As a result, Peng and a number of other outstanding young people were sent to jail.
The KMT’s martial law regime suppressed Taiwan by persuasion as well as by force. The persuasion part used the education system and media to brainwash the population, while the forceful part involved the army, police, spies, gangsters and judicial repression. Depending on whether dissenters came from China or Taiwan, they were accused of being “communist bandits” or “Taiwan independence elements.”
Maybe the two Chiangs thought that Peng was a mere bookworm and not very useful, so it would be better to cultivate some spineless political hacks.
Then-Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) thought differently. He understood that Taiwanese independence supporters were no fellow travelers of the Chinese Communist Party, and he had a clearer idea about what intellectuals could achieve.
In his secret negotiations with then-US president Richard Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger, Zhou showed scant regard for Chiang Kai-shek, because what he was really afraid of was the Taiwanese independence tendency that Peng represented.
The two Chiangs have long since been dead and buried. Often mocked by his own party, Wu tries to win support with his spineless sobbing.
In contrast, Peng is stalwart, a man with real backbone. Throughout his life, he made sincere contributions to this land, this nation of Taiwan. Despite never having held high office, he was a leader in his own right, and his example has helped form the “natural independence” tendency in the new generation of Taiwanese.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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