Tue, Oct 16, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Book review: Political Will and Common Sense

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

These two works can be hard going. Both are based partly on Shih’s study of international law while in prison (and the length of Political Will on Shih’s being allowed a pen and a hundred sheets of paper). That they both read so fluently in English must in part be due to the excellence of the translations. The translators are listed as Angela Hong, Paul Cooper, Perry Svensson and Terry Thatcher Waltz.

In the days of autocratic rule, Shih jokes, the saying went “Winners inaugurated; losers incarcerated.” In a more serious mode he notes that when Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was first elected president, the US sent a telegram praising Taiwan as a beacon of democracy. “Did Mr. Ma ever stop to think about where this democracy came from?” he writes. “Did he think about … all the refutation letters he himself, serving in the government of Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), wrote in response to international human rights organizations demanding the release of ‘the political prisoner of conscience Shih Ming-te?’”

One of Shih’s ideas, and it’s a characteristic one, is that Taiwan would benefit from a presidency of all the people. By this he means, presumably, a KMT president with a DPP vice-president, or vice-versa. He’s not the first person I know to suggest that the Taiwanese aren’t by nature suited to confrontational politics.

Contemplating Shih, you’d be justified in thinking that some men are punished for having ideas before their time. Galileo got into trouble for saying the earth went round the sun; this is now taught in schools. In 1962 Shih claimed Taiwan was an independent nation, and today most Taiwanese believe this, and say so as a matter of course.

You glean many incidentals about Shih from this book, such as that his blood type is AB and that he’s been diagnosed as suffering from liver cancer, but is living healthily under the care of his doctors. This is very good to hear. This book may not make electrifying reading, but nevertheless Shih Ming-te is, in D.H. Lawrence’s phrase, one of the great souls.

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