Tue, Jun 27, 2017 - Page 13 News List

‘A long journey full of tears’

The Indonesian daughter of executed independence activist Chen Chih-hsiung recently spent a month in Taiwan, visiting her father’s memorial and pondering his legacy and cause

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Vonny Chen holds a photo of her father on a recent visit to Taiwan. She last saw her father when she was seven years old.

Photo courtesy of Sherry Huang

Vonny Chen’s (陳雅芳) voice breaks as she talks about Taiwan’s long-time independent activists, even though she has lived her entire life in Indonesia.

“Sometimes I say I’m Taiwanese because my father’s blood is running through mine,” she says, adding that she loves Taiwan.

Chen does not feel optimistic about Taiwanese independence, citing China’s political and economic strength. But the “dream” carries emotional significance as her father, Chen Chih-hsiung (陳智雄), was the first independence activist to be executed, which occurred on May 28, 1963.

Although Chen, 67, is in poor health and doesn’t speak Mandarin, she insisted on visiting Taiwan last month for the unveiling of her father’s monument at Nantou County’s Holy Mountain Ecological Educational Park, where other human rights, democracy and independence activists are honored. She spent a month in Taiwan, traveling to Green Island where her father was incarcerated and meeting with independence activists and former political prisoners who knew her father. On the 54th anniversary of her father’s execution, she prayed in front of his ashes.

FROM HATRED TO PRIDE

Chen says she used to hate her father for abandoning the family, often thinking that he loved Taiwan more than his children. It wasn’t until she had her own child that she tried to contact her father, only to learn in 1979 through Taiwan’s representative office in Indonesia that he was dead. She made her first trip to Taiwan in 1980, but did not learn much because of martial law.

It was only on her seventh trip, in 2013, that she learned the reason for his execution. She received documents about her father from the National Archives, including his will and final letter to his three children, which stated, “I died for the people of Taiwan,” in Japanese.

“I don’t know why [they] kept these letters for so many years without giving them to us, and why they preserved them when they didn’t care about them,” she says.

Chen also learned of the way her father was executed through his prison-mate Liu Chin-shih (劉金獅). Liu told Vonny Chen that a rag was stuffed in Chen Chih-hsiung’s mouth to prevent him from yelling “Long Live Taiwan Independence” and his feet cut off so he couldn’t stand with his head held high.

“I’m old, and it’s not easy for me to move on,” she says. “Every time I think of that, I feel heartbroken.”

Chen is now proud of her father, stating that she could never do what he did. She’s more upset that the government kept her father’s will, in which he asked a friend to take care of his children.

“When my father left my mother, we had nothing,” she says. “My father used all the money to help Taiwanese [in Indonesia]. My mother said she cooked a lot because they came to eat at our house. If they didn’t have anything, my father helped them.”

She wonders if life would have been different if the friend had received the news.

“[In a sense], they tried to kill us too,” she says.

NOT A HERO

Chen Chih-hsiung first arrived in Indonesia in 1945 as a translator for the Japanese army. He stayed in the country as a jewelry dealer after the war and, according to his daughter, traveled the area to buy weapons to support the Indonesian independence movement.

In 1946, he fell in love and eloped with his landlady’s niece, who was 16 at the time, but eventually returned to stay with her family. Vonny Chen, the second of three children, was born in 1949. Chen says her father had arranged for the family to leave Indonesia with him in 1951, but her grandmother prevented them from going to the bus stop. He would still visit every now and then, and Chen last saw him when she was seven years old.

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