In the mid-to-late 1980s, I was a postgraduate student at National Taiwan Normal University’s Department of History. My time there coincided with the final few years of the presidency and life of political strongman Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). In those days my Taiwan consciousness had already awoken, but, being timid by nature, I did not dare to delve into political history and turned to the history of medicine instead.
In the course of my research, I discovered that during the years immediately following World War II, more than 60 percent of medical doctors in Taiwan were Christians. To find out why this was so, I interviewed several people, one of whom was the Reverend Kao Chun-ming (高俊明), who passed away on Feb. 14.
I found out that Kao’s grandfather Kao Chang (高長), who lived from 1837 to 1912, was the first believer to be won over by Scottish missionary James Maxwell when he was preaching the Gospel in Taiwan. Kao Chang became the first native Taiwanese Presbyterian evangelist. Among Kao Chang’s five sons, two became pastors and three became physicians, one of them being Kao Chun-ming’s father, Kao Tsai-te (高再得).
Of Kao Chang’s 20 grandsons, three became businessmen or engineers, while five, including Kao Chun-ming, became pastors, and 12 became physicians, including Kao Chun-ming’s cousin Kao Tien-cheng (高天成), who used to be the superintendent of National Taiwan University Hospital. From this, the close connection between the church and the medical profession can be clearly seen.
The presidential election in 2000 was a fierce fight between three strong candidates. While campaigning was under way, I attended a worship service at the Gikong Presbyterian Church in Taipei, having been introduced to it by Kao Chun-ming.
From then on, I was in closer contact with him and his wife, Ruth Kao (高李麗珍), and remained so until 2003, when the two of them moved from Taipei back to Tainan. Those three years of close observation provided answers to a number of questions I had.
I found out that, following the 1980 trial of people accused in connection with the 1979 Kaohsiung Incident, because members of the dangwai (黨外, outside the party) opposition were sent to prison, many of their family members stood in elections using slogans such as “joining the battle on behalf of our husbands.”
Nearly all of them were elected by wide margins — the only exception being Ruth Kao. When I looked into what happened, I found that all women who “joined the battle on behalf of their husbands” had to do at rallies was weep, while somebody else spoke for them. Ruth Kao, on the other hand, spoke for herself in a rational manner. No wonder she failed to win voters’ support. This shows what an honest and straightforward kind of person she is.
When Kao Chun-ming published his memoir in April 2001, some of his former codefendants and fellow prisoners, including Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) and Chang Chun-hung (張俊宏), attended the book launch.
They told the story of how, when they were locked up together in the Jingmei Detention Center, they had to take turns to perform tasks such as washing dishes and cleaning toilets. As they were all young men and only Kao Chun-ming was middle-aged, they all wanted to do his tasks for him, but he politely insisted on doing the work himself. Everyone at the book launch was moved to hear about his nobility and integrity.
Finally, Kao Chun-ming came to the stage and received a lot of laughs when he joked: “I feel as though I am attending my own funeral!”
Sophia Lee is a member of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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