Tue, Apr 12, 2016 - Page 12 News List

1 0H 1: Left is right, and right is left

Now that Taiwan has become a mature democracy, it’s easy to forget those revolutionaries like Linda Arrigo who made it so

By Jules Quartly  /  Contributing reporter

Linda Arrigo sits on a bench in 44 South Village in Taipei, where KMT soldiers settled soon after arriving in Taiwan from China.

Photo: Jules Quartly

Authenticity is a word that can easily be applied to Linda Arrigo (艾琳達), the veteran democracy and Taiwan independence campaigner, human rights advocate, environmentalist and proto-feminist.

She flourished and made a difference to people’s lives at a time when there was belief in the ideas of social justice, equality and even fraternity.

In the present era, when technocrats rule, the idealist is a dinosaur. The big social movements have died out, replaced by lawyers and bankers who seek a mandate from people who don’t believe a word they say. It’s now focus groups and polling numbers, the “economy stupid” and an acceptance among the herd that things will never change.

Arrigo probably wouldn’t like the idea of being painted as among the last of a dying breed, but does admit to being the spirit of a distant age, a conscience — when none is required.

History recalls that she was married to the democracy activist, former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson and democracy advocate Shih Ming-teh, (施明德), who once told her: “You’re the only one who hasn’t been corrupted” by power, money or life’s inevitable compromises.


At 67, she’s still a self-confessed “rabid radical.” Writer Jerome Keating* calls her “Taiwan’s resident Marxist.” Granted, she’s slowed down because of a hip problem, and tends to follow history rather than politics these days. But she’s lost none of her vim.

On the DPP’s recent election win, she’s not optimistic. This strikes me as odd, considering she helped give birth to the party. But she believes it has been “diluted” of its beliefs. Of former lawyer and academic Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who will be sworn in as president on May 20, she has little to say beyond “she’s a good administrator.”

In a recent blog, Arrigo called Tsai’s victory, a “culmination of long-term trends within the DPP — bloodless and rational technocrats in the service of Taiwanese and international capital subsuming the passionate anti-dictatorship movements of the 1970s and 80s that were jointly fueled by populist demands at the grassroots.”

Of her former comrade, the jailed dissident and current Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊), Arrigo didn’t have much to say either, except that the DPP politician gave her a red envelope on the same day as the presidential and legislative elections, which fell on her birthday.

“She was in self-protective mode,” Arrigo says. “Perhaps she was scared I would spill the beans,” she said about the DPP win and the party’s secrets.


The product of a Catholic school upbringing and the Kennedy era of idealism, Arrigo followed her soldiering father from the US to Taiwan as a young girl. She attended Taipei American School and mixed with the “great and good.” Yet, on wandering around Taipei, she found poverty, inequality and social iniquity. This revealed to her the “true face of US imperialism” and politicized her.

Though an American, she’s certainly not an apologist for the country. She says the US was pulling the strings of puppet Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) in a “very cynical way. It used Taiwan as a pawn, a bulwark against China and for capitalism. In the Shanghai Communique [acknowledging ‘one China’], it knew full well that Taiwan wasn’t a democracy. Taiwan has been boxed in ever since. And the likelihood is that it’s not going to change. It’s too late.”

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